Aren’t They the Same?

“Anxiety is the handmaiden of contemporary ambition.” ~ Alain de Botton

My last couple of posts have dealt with fear, apprehension, insecurities, etc. More than one reader privately contacted me asking for clarification and thus, a distinction between fear (which they felt they had “under control”) and anxiety (which another believed was rampant in their life). Being in service to my readership, I’ll take a stab at briefly explaining anxiety. And why would I do this, you might ask? Because I’m not clear on the difference myself!

According to authors Kaplan and Sadock, anxiety is “a diffuse, unpleasant, vague sense of apprehension…” For example, imagine you’re walking down a dark street. You may feel a little uneasy and perhaps you have a few butterflies in your stomach. These sensations are caused by anxiety that is related to the possibility that a stranger may jump out from behind a bush, or approach you in some other way, and harm you. The anxiety is not the result of a known or specific threat. Rather it comes from your mind’s vision of the possible dangers that may result in the situation.

Fear, on the other hand, is an emotional response to a known or definite threat. Using the scenario above, let’s say you’re walking down a dark street and someone points a gun at you and says, “This is a stick up.” This would likely elicit a response of fear. The danger is real, definite and immediate. There is a clear object of fear.

Although the focus of the response is different (real vs. imagined danger), fear and anxiety are interrelated. Fear causes anxiety and anxiety can cause fear. But the distinctions between the two are subtle.

Lowering anxiety is easily done by addressing the perceived threat and taking real-time action. For those who experience anxiety, anxiety can be lowered immediately by following four simple steps:

  1. Interrupt the thoughts by breathing deeply and focusing on the sound of the breath as it is exhaled. Those who meditate and practice yoga can attest to the usefulness of this action.
  2. Ask a question of the mind, “what am I afraid of here and what do I believe about this or a future situation?”
  3. Take action, preferably a physical one such as leaving the situation (flight or fight), taking a walk, or focusing on something outside of your thoughts in the environment.
  4. Talk to your self in reassuring ways with positive and encouraging words about what can be controlled and how success can be attained.

Think of anxiety as a warning state; it is not what is actually happening. The four steps above respond to the warning by addressing the source. The result is lower anxiety and productive and confident action taken.

In closing, one small request: Please don’t follow-on with requests about phobias or dread. I’m ready for a change of scenery. 🙂

12 thoughts on “Aren’t They the Same?

  1. Thanks for that. I needed it. Have copied the 4 points, because here I am with a broken newly-pinned ankle, leg in plaster, newly-assigned warfarin for clots on the lungs, still got nearly three weeks to go before the plaster goes, and about all I can do is write a new story for my “A Story a Day” blog! So I shall be obeying your 4 points! Just to let you know your writing is not drifting off into thin air. Bruce (ostentaciously spelt Brieuse in the blog!)

    • Thanks, Bruce. It is comforting knowing that posts don’t go ‘poof.’ 🙂 I’m sorry to hear about your being sidelined. But you’ll be a new man, well on the healing path, in only three weeks! Glad the four steps are of value to you. Just watch the steps!

  2. How Anxious I am… My anxiety became my reason to blog.
    Thank you for sharing this. I personally tend to distract myself through deep breathing or calming myself down within. It helps but anxiety does come back.
    Well thought post… 🙂

  3. I suffered from math anxiety. I sought help for this and it was truly helpful. I learned to pause and think about the reason for my anxiety and it had absolutely nothing to do with math. I was given some techniques to help me with it and they were very discrete. I would simply make a fist and release to bring my thoughts back to reality, because my anxiety was a result of irrational thoughts of the entire classroom and even the instructor judging me as I took my tests. Once I realized this as an irrational thought, I was able to focus on my work and finally get through it.

    • Math anxiety. I know that well when it came to calculus. What a great, simple technique for alleviating your anxiety. The action coupled with your realization of irrational thoughts sounds like a solid one-two punch. Glad to learn that it enabled you to plow through. Bravo!

  4. Fantastic post as always, Eric. Thanks very much. Some handy reminders for dealing with anxiety, which I am sure will assist me greatly. I like the reminder that anxiety is not about what is actually happening.

    • Thanks, mate. I value your perspectives and comments. Keep reminding yourself that it’s not about what’s actually happening. That alone will alleviate a lot of stress and ill-at-ease. I’m liking how you’re choosing to consider some of the tools that this blog suggests. Can’t wait to learn about your next, significant accomplishment(s)!

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