It’s a truly horrible thing to live in fear, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But when you have anxiety, living in fear is a way of life.
When my anxiety was at its worst my fear never left me – not even for a minute. It would be there in the morning when I woke up and it would be there when I went back to bed at night.
It was never-ending and it was awful.
If your anxiety is anything like mine was then you know all this first-hand.
You might be thinking that your constant fear is just the way you’ll always be, that your anxiety makes it impossible for you to feel any different. But I’m going to show you that there are simple things you can do to stop living in fear.
That’s what this post is all about.
There are several key ideas I’ve learned about fear over the past few years, and they’ve helped me to almost entirely eliminate anxiety-based fear from my life.
After I’ve shared these ideas with you I’m hoping that they turn out to be as helpful for you as they have been for me.
Before I share these ideas with you, a quick warning: these ideas are weird, and when you first hear them your instinct will be to dismiss them. But stick with me until the end of this post.
Listen to what I have to say with an open mind, and by the end of this post I think you will look at fear in a completely different way than you ever have before.
The impact these ideas can have on your anxiety and on your life in general are huge.
The Revealing Truth About What Fear is and How It’s Not Anxiety
Your fear is there to protect you, and you’d never survive without it. It’s a horrible thing to experience, yes, but it’s something you can’t live without.
Because it’s the most basic and important defence mechanism you have.
Fear has evolved in us for thousands of generations and become a highly-tuned “internal early warning system.” And it’s there inside us every minute of every day, protecting us from dangers of all kinds.
What’s the purpose of fear? Simple. It’s there to make us act.
Fear is not paralyzing, as many people believe. It’s energizing. Fear prepares you to fight, to run, to avoid danger.
Genuine fear is always a brief signal that comes in response to true danger. It sets off a chain reaction of events in your brain – in a fraction of a second you analyse the fear, interpret it, and consider all the possible outcomes of what might happen next.
Let me give you a quick example to show you how genuine fear works.
Imagine you’re confronted by a menacing man on a dark street late at night. For a fraction of a second, you’ll experience intense fear. But the moment the threat becomes real and the menacing man does something unpleasant, the fear will be gone.
In place of the fear will be the reaction the fear is there to provoke: to fight, to run, or perhaps even to comply.
So fear is simply an “internal early warning system.” It’s there to get your attention and to get you to take action to avoid danger and keep yourself safe. Once the fear has done that it’s useless to you and vanishes.
How long fear lasts is a great way to identify genuine fear from anxiety-based fear.
One is short-lived and lasts only a second or two (genuine fear), and one is long-lasting and may seem to never stop (anxiety-based fear).
When you begin to get a better understanding of what fear is, you’ll soon start to notice the differences between genuine fear and anxiety-based fear. From that point on, you’ll have much greater control over the fear you experience, whether it’s genuine or anxiety-based.
Why Genuine Fear is a Blessing That’s the Secret to a Life Free From Fear
Genuine fear is a blessing because you can only be scared of something that isn’t happening.
I know that sounds strange, so let me explain.
Believe it or not, you never experience fear over something that’s happening. And that even includes very unpleasant things like disease, violence, and abuse.
You fear that you might be the victim of these things, but once you experience them you no longer fear them.
To show you what I mean, let me quickly go back to the example I used just now about encountering a menacing man on a dark street late at night.
But this time, I’ll take the example to another level so you’ll see how fear really works.
Let’s say you’re out at night, alone, and it’s late. Maybe it’s a not-so-nice part of town, and you’re already a little nervous.
A man’s heading towards you on the same side of the street. He’s wearing a hooded top. The hood’s up over his head, hiding his face.
Your internal early-warning system (fear) kicks in. A handful of thoughts flash through your mind:
- will he stop and talk to me?
- will he try to take my wallet or purse?
- is he going to hurt me?
- is he carrying a knife or a gun?
This is a typical “fear” reaction to this kind of situation. Most people would have almost identical thoughts and fears in the above scenario.
But notice how everything you fear at this point is not happening.
- he hasn’t stopped to talk to you. But you fear he might
- he hasn’t tried to take your wallet or purse. But you fear he might
- he hasn’t tried to hurt you. But you desperately fear he might
So what happens after your fear flags this guy as something to be scared of?
You begin to make predictions.
That’s what fear does. It causes an immediate, gut-instinct series of predictions of what might happen next.
You see the man coming towards you and right away your fear kicks off a series of predictions: he might talk to me, he might mug me, he might hurt me.
These predictions will help if any of these possible threats come true. Subconsciously your mind will already be at work on what to do if any of them happen.
But here’s the interesting part.
The moment any of these fears come true you’ll immediately stop feeling fear.
Because it’s impossible to fear anything that’s happening.
This is a vital concept to grasp, because what I’m going tell you about anxiety in a moment requires this idea to be fully understood.
You might think this sounds nuts.
After all, say the man in the earlier example pulls out a knife. You may be finding it hard to believe that if he does that you’ll no longer be feeling fear.
And you’re right, you may still be feeling fear.
But here’s the thing – you’ll no longer be fearing that he’ll pull out a knife.
You can’t fear something that’s happening. You fear the idea of a knife being pulled on you, but the moment one is you no longer fear it.
When the knife comes out the fear that the man might have a knife is gone, and a new fear takes its place: what he might do with the knife.
If you then fear that he might press the knife against your neck, that fear will make way for a new one if he actually does place the knife against your neck.
I know these examples might seem a bit absurd. After all, what good is no longer fearing that a knife might get pulled on you when the knife’s pressed against your throat?
But these examples are great at revealing fear to you for what it really is, and that will be hugely beneficial in a moment when we get to the heart of how it interacts with your anxiety.
This concept of not being able to fear things that are happening is vital to understand and you can apply it to any situation where you’d feel fear.
Say you’re lying in bed at night and you hear a noise downstairs. You fear it’s an intruder. You go to the top of the stairs and look down, and you see a masked man rifling through drawers in the hallway.
Your fear that there’s an intruder will immediately give way to a new fear – what the intruder might do next. And when he makes his next move, your fear will switch again, and again.
It’s a constant cycle of thoughts that are there to help you out by predicting what will happen next.
Even now, before we move on to anxiety and how it relates to fear, there’s already a very powerful lesson to be learned from these examples of how fear works:
- whenever your anxiety causes you intense fear, be reassured that the fear itself is proof that nothing terrible is happening
As I’ve already shown you in the earlier examples, fear is a defense mechanism, an internal security system to protect us from immediate dangers.
Fear causes us to go into “predictive-mode,” a state where we’ll analyze the fear and guess at what might come next as a result of whatever danger we might be facing. These predictions are at the heart of all our genuine fears, because it’s things that might happen that we fear, not things that are happening.
So from now on, when you experience fear as a part of your anxiety, embrace it as a reassurance – feeling fear is solid proof that the outcome you dread is not happening.
Now that you have a better understanding of fear, let’s get onto anxiety.
Why Your Anxiety is Imaginary and Has No Real Power Over You
If your anxiety is anything like mine used to be then you’re probably foaming at the mouth when I say it’s imaginary.
But hear me out.
I’ve talked about fear, and by now you’ll see that fear is as genuine and as real as it gets. And the reason I went to such lengths to explain fear is because of its very close relationship to anxiety.
Anxiety is fear too. But here’s the massive difference:
- anxiety is an artificial form of fear and we create it voluntarily to serve some other hidden purpose
When I discovered this concept it took me by surprise, and it was a while before it dawned on me just how important a discovery it was.
If you’d like proof that the fear we experience due to our anxiety is artificial, and essentially not real, just think back to something that caused a panic attack.
Or think of a subject that fills you with extreme anxiety.
Chances are, you’ll go into a state where you feel what seems to be genuine fear.
The fear you feel will probably last for several minutes – maybe even longer. And because we’ve already established that genuine fear lasts for only a fraction of a second, this anxiety-induced fear cannot possibly be genuine.
So the next question is this: If your anxiety is artificial, then why does it affect you so powerfully, and more importantly, how do you stop it?
In a nutshell, here’s what I’ve found:
- our anxiety is a subconscious choice we make that serves us in some other way, and discovering how it serves us is also discovering the cause of our problems
Another quick example. Let’s take a look at the fear of public speaking.
This isn’t the kind of problem you or I suffer from – our anxiety will typically be much more random. But it’s a good example that we can all relate to, and supposedly it’s the thing the average person fears more than anything.
For many people, when they’re faced with having to speak in public, they’re filled with anxiety. This will result in one of two things happening:
- they’ll refuse to speak
- they’ll speak and do it terribly
These two outcomes are the subconscious ways that the anxiety is serving the person with stage fright.
If they can’t face going out to speak then their anxiety is how they will justify not going through with it. If they actually make it out on stage and get through their speech, and the speech is awful, then it’s all the fault of their anxiety.
In other words, their anxiety takes the blame, whatever the outcome.
This is a much more obvious example than anything you might be facing, because your anxiety is more random and more subtle in the way it presents itself.
But do you see how in many cases anxiety is a choice, and how that choice usually serves you in an indirect, subconscious way?
Once you realize that most of your anxiety is voluntarily manufactured by you in order to produce some other reward, it suddenly becomes much easier to see the true root-cause of many of the things you react to.
Perhaps you manufacture anxiety to:
- avoid change – as long as you’re thinking, worrying, and feeling anxiety about something you know needs to change you aren’t actually having to change
- admit powerlessness – if you truly are in a position of powerlessness over a problem you have then there’s really nothing you can do – except worry
- defend against future disappointment – if you take a test and you’re sure you’ve failed, you may manufacture anxiety and worry to enable you to “rehearse” the disappointment you’re sure is coming
- create the illusion of taking action – if there’s a problem you don’t want to face or deal with then worrying may allow you to feel as if you’re doing something productive
There’s a subtle pattern to the majority of your anxiety. Once you start looking at your own situation from the new perspective you’ll have after going through this post you’ll begin to see it very clearly.
The pattern and the underlying cause is:
- anxiety, unlike genuine fear, is always caused by uncertainty and the uncertain predictions you make
Think back to those examples of genuine fear – being confronted by a menacing man on a dark night, or facing an intruder in your home.
When you face genuine fear like this, what happens?
You immediately make predictions about what will happen next, and then the fear is gone. When you’re struck with genuine fear like this your subconscious mind prepares you for all potential outcomes by playing each possible scenario out in your mind.
And these predictions you make are always right, and are always certain.
The stakes are too high, and your subconscious mind knows it. So it doesn’t allow itself to be distracted or side-tracked by anything. It thinks clearly, calculates everything in a fraction of a second, and then you act on what it comes up with.
This is how the mind has evolved to work – it’s an incredible survival mechanism.
But when you experience “artificial” fear, typically caused by anxiety, your ability to make predictions crumbles.
No longer is there immediate danger that requires your subconscious mind to make all these calculations and predictions in a fraction of a second. With anxiety, you normally have as much time to think about something as you like.
So what you predict will be dramatically different:
- you’ll make more predictions
- you’ll make less likely predictions
- you’ll make impossible predictions
- you’ll take each prediction farther
This kind of thinking doesn’t solve problems. It creates more problems.
Your mind will begin to linger on the worst case scenarios. With too much time to think and your ability to make accurate predictions gone, your mind will be side-tracked and get caught up in endless negative trains of thought.
You’ll take each terrible prediction one step further than you should, and then take it another step, and another.
And because you do this one step at a time, your predictions and your trains of thought will seem logical to you, when in fact they’re anything but.
This is at the heart of almost all negative thinking and the panic attacks that follow.
By the time the panic attack strikes you’ll have forgotten what started the series of thoughts or predictions, and only the final one (the worst case scenario) will be in your mind.
And with all else forgotten, and your logic destroyed, what you “fear” now will seem very real to you.
When you step back in the cold light of day and break down the way you think, it’s suddenly so easy to see where all the problems begin, and what causes them.
But by understanding the true nature of fear and its relationship to anxiety, you’re immediately in a better place to overcome it.
Sometimes, all that’s needed to make a breakthrough with a problem that once seemed unsolvable, is to shine a light on it, switch your perspective, and see it afresh.
That’s what this post on fear is all about.
When I saw my own anxiety in this new way, and realized the true nature of fear, it had a massive impact on my own problems.
And I know it can do the same for you.
So let the ideas in this post sink in and roll around your mind. Think about these ideas when you’re feeling anxious, panicky, or afraid.
You’ll be surprised at how differently you may see some things, and after a while you’ll find that fear no longer has the same hold on you that it once had.