By Ernest Isaacs, MFT
The emotion of fear arises from the survival instinct, the primitive desire present in all animals to avoid suffering or the ending of life. When the saber-toothed tiger roared in the jungle, we fell into the “fight or flight” mode, either attacking the source of danger or trying to get away from it. When you are confronted with threat and fear arises, your body mobilizes to cope with it. Hormones like adrenaline and cortisol flow through your blood stream, your muscles tense and get ready to move, and your senses become more alert.
A convenient way of understanding fear and anxiety is to call fear anything that is happening in the moment and to call anxiety anything that is projected into the future. If you take a look at your own experience, you will see that almost all the time what you are going through is anxiety, not fear. Our minds are wonderful at making up stories about what is going to happen in the future, and while sometimes the stories are pretty accurate, you forget that they are stories and react with “fight or flight” as if they were true.
The antidotes to fear and anxiety are courage and reality. To bring the situation to mind can mean taking a deep breath and allowing yourself to have some unpleasant, sometimes very unpleasant, feelings. But when you can consider how much of what might or might not happen is actually true, you can move past the feelings and cope with the situation to the best of your abilities.
Talking about your fears and anxieties with someone you trust can be very helpful, especially if he or she is just willing to hear you out and not try to fix you or tell you that you shouldn’t be feeling that way. Remember, “All we have to fear is fear itself”.