I want to be very clear about something; fear is not real but danger is.
The reason this is important to understand is because the best way to overcome your fear is to face it. But knowing the difference between fear and danger could be the difference between you overcoming your anxiety and ending up in the emergency room.
I never want anyone to ever do something that is going to cause physical harm or injury to himself or herself, or to any other person or animal. Overcoming your anxiety is not about controlling or changing others. It is about learning to stand up and face the feeling that is created deep within yourself.
Worry and fear is a good thing in the face of real danger.
Often when faced with a dangerous situation our body reacts in a way that greatly increases our chances of survival, especially when confronted by a life or death situation. But how often are the situations we worry about actually dangerous? Far less often then our minds would make us believe.
For most people with anxiety, almost every situation feels like life or death. That is the root of our problem. Our mind causes our body to react to a situation with an increased threat level when the danger is only created in our minds, not in our environments.
Being afraid of something that poses a true physical harm to you is a good thing. Our goal is not to become people who blindly tempt fate and put ourselves in dangerous situation all in the name of ‘facing our fears’.
If you have a fear of bears, by no means should you face that fear by going to your local zoo, climbing into the bear cage and confronting your fear head on. If you do, there is a good chance you will not survive. The danger you would put yourself in would be real and the fear of that bear mauling you would be completely justified.
But if you have an irrational fear of bears that causes you to never leave the house or go for walks outside, facing your fears would have more to do with understanding that the threat of a bear attacking you as you walk down the street is very slim. Learning to deal with the physical anxiety of walking outside is what you need to confront, not the actual bear.
I say this because it is important to understand that fear is not real. Fear is a reaction in our mind, not a physical thing we can hold. This doesn’t mean that the feeling of fear doesn’t exist. It absolutely does. Anyone reading this knows that feeling afraid is a real feeling. But the physical, imminent threat that the fear is preparing you for often times is not real.
But danger is real. If you are in a dangerous situation, feeling fear and worry is natural, understandable and useful. Fear and anxiety sharpen your minds focus on danger and prepares your body for a ‘fight or flight’ response. That is the primitive part of our physical nature.
When we lived in the wild, if confronted by a wild animal, our body would physically prepare itself to either fight the animal head-on or to run away quickly, whichever gave us the greatest chance of survival.
That is why our hearts race when we are nervous. Our heart is busy pumping extra blood to the muscles in our body so that they have enough oxygen to work harder and faster if needed. Our bodies also shut down the functions of other lesser-critical internal organs so that it can divert needed resources to power parts of the body that are critical to survival.
This is why stress can be so damaging to our bodies over time. When we are always in a state of ‘fight or flight’ we cause our inner body to become overworked, and to eventually break down. For someone who never exercises or eats right, suddenly taxing his or her hearts with an overload of work can be dangerous.
But the number of times in our lives that we actually find ourselves in a dangerous situation is often very few compared to the number of times our mind tells our body that we are in danger. When you suffer from anxiety you are almost always in a state of fear and your body is always being asked to on high alert. Our goal is to understand why our mind is doing this, to overcome that irrational fear of a danger that is not present and to learn to calm the mind and body so we don’t feel anxious all the time.
For many people who have suffered from anxiety for long periods of time, the pattern of fear has become imprinted in the mind. That pattern needs to be faced and overcome in order to rewire the brain to eventually react differently to the situation. We need to create a new habit of how we react to situations so our minds can have a new default response to situations that often cause us to feel uneasy or uncomfortable.
Things often trigger an anxious reaction. That trigger can be reprogramed in our mind so that our reaction isn’t one of anxiety but one of something more beneficial to us.
When you have a fear of public speaking, the idea of standing in front of people makes your mind react in a way that tells the body it is in danger. Your heart starts to beat faster, your palms get sweaty and you feel as if you want to run and hide.
But if you were to actually stand in front of a group of people for long enough, eventually that feeling would start to pass. You would learn that there was no real, physical danger in what you were doing. Your body would calm itself down over time and you would feel a bit more at ease.
Once you experience this a few times, your mind starts to understand that there is no real physical danger to public speaking. Eventually, when the idea of standing up in front of people comes up, your mind would react differently to the idea because it would now understand there is no actual threat. You would be able feel calm and not worry because you have become comfortable with that process.
The challenge is getting past the point of fear and forcing yourself to stand on a stage or in front of people when both your mind and body are telling you it is dangerous and you should not do it.
That is the nature of learning to face your fears. To overcome your automatic response to a situation and replace it with a more positive, realistic response that will allow you to do and experience things in life that will benefit you, rather than hold you back.
HELPFUL TIP: When you start to feel anxious or worrisome about something ask yourself, “How is feeling helping me right now?” Don’t beat yourself up or get angry with yourself over how you feel. Just try to be as logical and rational as possible with your reflection. Take a deep breath and ask, is there a real, physical danger connected to your fear or if it is simply created in your mind? If you are walking down a dark alley at night, feeling anxious is completely understandable and it serves you well to be anxious and on guard. But if you are going to have dinner with friends and you feel anxious, try to acknowledge the absence of real danger and be willing to face the situation.