What physically happens to you when you are facing a scary situation? I know for me, I notice that my heart starts racing a million miles a minute (at least that’s what it feels like), I feel tension in my neck and shoulder areas, my speech is fast-paced, and I have difficulty articulating my words. Take a moment and think about the times you were called on by a former teacher or professor to respond to a question. What was that experience like for you, especially when you knew that you did not know the answer? For some, it’s terrifying, but for others, it may not have a significant emotional or psychological effect.
Fear is defined as a distressing emotion triggered by perceived threats or dangers, leading to a strong desire to protect oneself. Does this sound familiar? I believe that everyone has experienced fear at one point or other in their lives if not many times. Fear is an emotion that you cannot avoid and is good to experience. If you are not afraid of anything, how will you know what to do to protect yourself if a frightening situation presents itself? It’s important to understand and accept that fear is not going anywhere, on the contrary, it is here to stay.
Fear and anxiety are two emotions that are closely related and often intertwined. However, they each have different characteristics.
Fear is a direct response to a specific threat or danger. It is a natural emotion that helps individuals react to scary situations and risks. The trigger for fear is usually clear, such as encountering a wild animal such as a brown grizzly bear. Fear is a short-lived emotional response and probably will diminish once the threat is removed.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is more generalized and diffuse emotional state characterized by worry, unease, and feeling apprehensive. It is not always linked to a specific threat or danger. Anxious thoughts and/or feelings are often provoked by potential future threats or stressors and can be triggered by both real and perceived dangers or uncertainties.
Anxiety can be triggered by fear through a process of anticipation and rumination. Here’s how it typically works:
1. Initial Fear Response: When an individual is presented with a specific threat or danger, the brain and body respond with fear. This fear response includes physiological changes such as increased heart rate, heightened alertness, and the release of stress hormones.
2. Memory Formation: The brain records and stores fear-inducing situations and the memory can persist in someone’s mind.
3. Anticipation of Future Threat: a person may begin to anticipate similar threats or dangers, even when they are not immediately present. This anticipation can lead to anxiety. The memory of the initial fear response can trigger a “fight or flight” reaction in a situation that mirrors the original fear-inducing event.
4. Ruminating Thoughts: An individual may repeatedly think about the initial fear-inducing incident or event and possibly worry about it happening again.
5. Generalization: The person’s thoughts may include such things as “what if every time I go out for a hike, I encounter a brown grizzly bear” or “what if each time I get behind the wheel to drive and stop at a traffic light, a car hit me from behind”. These are called “what-if scenarios” that can trigger anxious thoughts and cripple an individual from being able to function. These thoughts can also be categorized as “catastrophizing” and individuals may tend to want to avoid a fear-inducing situation altogether.
As we have learned, anxiety can be triggered by fear when the brain associates a specific fear-inducing experience with future potential threats.
Now that you have all this information, what do you do about it? There are many different coping techniques that you can try to manage challenging emotions surrounding fear and anxiety. Set yourself up for a challenge and try something that you have not attempted in the past and see what works for you. Everyone is different and therefore one size does not fit all.
· Deep breathing exercises
· Positive self-talk
· Healthy lifestyle
· Social support
· Visual imagery
· Mindfulness exercises
If you are still having trouble with anxious thoughts and emotions associated with fear, Anxiety Treatment may be the next step for you. Talking to a professional in mental help may be the answer you have been looking for to help you understand their origin and learn how to face your fears while managing your anxiety levels.