Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor, so if you're having mental/physical issues please seek medical help in addition to reading this. :)
I've previously covered Anger and Sadness and Depression. Now I'm moving onto fear and anxiety. Like I did with sadness and depression, I'll address fear and anxiety as two separate things. As with my previous posts I'll divide it into two parts; this part will look at fear and anxiety in general and the 2nd one will be about dealing with fear and worry, and healing anxiety/feeling better.
In my understanding, fear and anxiety are a bit different, but it is confusing. "Anxiety" is these days termed as a mental health disorder. I myself have what's called "health anxiety", also known as hypochondria. My type of anxiety has also been termed "phobic anxiety". I would say I have generalised anxiety (GAD) and social anxiety (although to a lesser extent). I don't believe I've been officially diagnosed with the last two though. Let's look more closely at the differences between fear and anxiety.
Some people believe that fear relates to a specific threat whereas anxiety is more a vague unease.
Hilary Jacobs Hendel, author of It's Not Always Depression which I recently read, defines fear as a "core emotion". The core emotions are sadness, fear, anger, joy, excitement, sexual excitement and disgust. For more on this and the Change Triangle, a healing process and guide to feeling better, visit this link: https://www.hilaryjacobshendel.com/what-is-the-change-triangle-c18dd
Here are some more links on the differences/similarities:
The mental health foundation describes anxiety as a type of fear: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/overcome-fear-anxiety
For the purposes of this post, I'm going to look at fear and anxiety in separate sections, and focus more on anxiety as a mental health condition/disorder, But there will be times when both overlap. :)
What is fear?
So what is fear? It has been defined as an "unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain and harm", "an unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger" and "a vital response to physical and emotional danger". The first two are dictionary definitions (Oxford English and Merriam Webster) and the last one is part of an article in Psychology Today. We do need some fear in our lives, otherwise we wouldn't be able to protect ourselves from getting hurt, e.g. touching a hot cooker/stove burns our finger, so we're afraid to do it again; if we know that crossing the road without looking where we're going could result in us being hit by a car, we're more cautious when crossing; or if we're walking home alone at night and we see somebody with a weapon, or who appears to be drunk/acting strangely, we would try to avoid them because we wouldn't want to put ourselves in a dangerous situation.
There are certain people/groups in society who are taught that they're more vulnerable than others and in many cases this is true, for example women and children (think this applies in pretty much any society, but I may be wrong), those of us in a "minority" group, such as non white people in a predominately white area where they may experience racism, or gay people in a place where they may be attacked for their sexuality. Also transgender or disabled people, if you practise a minority religion etc. If you "stand out" in any way you're more likely to attract attention. So of course all this also contributes to feeling unsafe. And feeling vulnerable and unsafe can lead to feeling anger and sadness as well, because we don't want to feel this way.
Here's a good article about how fear works (it's several pages long, so you'll need to click through):
It mentions the fight or flight response, which you'll probably have come across while reading about anxiety. (It's also called the acute stress response). It's the physical reaction that occurs in your body when something frightens you, you don't know whether to fight or run (flight). I've read that this was most useful in caveman days when we had threats such as wild animals. Nowadays even though we no longer have those kind of threats, we still have this response. You can read more about it here: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-fight-or-flight-response-2795194
Fight or flight is also sometimes also called "fight, flight, or freeze" because instead of either fighting or running, you might just freeze up. In her book How to Heal Yourself When No One Else Can, Amy B. Scher mentions how stress, or the flight, fight or freeze response is controlled by the triple warmer meridian, an energy channel. This is a good book which looks at feeling better from an energy therapy and emotional healing perspective, and I'll write more it about in the next post. :)
Speaking of books, in Self-Help for Your Nerves by Dr. Claire Weekes (which is often recommended to people who have anxiety), she explains how the nervous system in our bodies works. It's made up of two parts- the voluntary nervous system which is made up of our brains and spinal cords, and directs our body parts (and which we can control ourselves when we decide to move our arms or legs for example); and the involuntary nervous system, which controls our internal organs (heart, lungs, intestines etc.). The involuntary nervous system responds to our moods, so when we're afraid our heart might beat faster, our face might go pale, or we feel shaky.
The parts of the nervous system are also called the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The involuntary or peripheral nervous system also has a part called the autonomic nervous system, which itself is made up of 3 parts- the sympathetic, the parasympathetic nervous system and the enteric nervous system. The sympathetic system reacts to your moods and it's this that controls the fight or flight response, whereas the parasympathetic system helps to calm things down and regulate our normal bodily functions, slows our breathing down etc. The enteric nervous system is do with the gastrointestinal tract.
Note: Don't worry if you find this all a bit confusing, I'm getting confused myself with all the different names! I think the Claire Weekes book gives a good, simple explanation, but keep in mind that it was originally published in 1962 (the edition I have is from 1977) and scientific and medical research changes all the time, so it's best to refer to more update books and online resources in addition to reading it. :) This article is quite helpful: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-peripheral-nervous-system-2795465
You can also read more about the nervous system here: https://www.livescience.com/22665-nervous-system.html
That was about as scientific/technical as it's going to get, since I don't know a lot about these subjects! But I hope it helps a bit to read about the functioning of the body. It may be useful for those of us with health anxiety, since when you get anxious you can get symptoms such as eye floaters and flashes, palpitations, needing to urinate more frequently and vertigo, and a lot of these can be connected to the nervous system. (Presuming you've been checked by a doctor and a medical cause has been ruled out).
I often come across the acronym False Evidence Appearing Real (F.E.A.R), which helps you to think that your fear isn't really real. Gary van Warmerdam from Pathway to Happiness disagrees, he says that fear isn't an illusion, it's a real emotion that's created with reactions to things, but the more you become aware of your reactions, the less you will create it. You can read about his take on it here:
I think that you should go with whatever helps you. If it helps you to think of fear as false then you could try thinking of it that way. (Sometimes I find it a bit helpful but not when I'm really scared or anxious).
I'm just going to briefly mention stress, which is when you feel under strain. It's common these days to say, "I'm feeling stressed". According to Mind.org.uk there is no medical definition of stress. It's something that can happen to anyone when feeling under pressure. It's classed as a mental health condition but if you have anxiety (or other conditions such as depression and OCD) you can often feel stressed just trying to cope with it all. If you're stressed it doesn't necessarily mean you have a mental health condition though; you may be fine in general, but just feel pressured due to a particular situation, extra workload in your job, or relationship problems for example. Stress is a natural response to feeling under pressure and the fight or flight response (as mentioned above) is also called the stress response.
Here are a couple of links about stress:
Now let's move on to looking more closely at anxiety.
What is anxiety?
On the NHS site anxiety is defined as "a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe". You can read more here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/generalised-anxiety-disorder/
For me personally I've found that a lot of the time I have a near constant state of feeling anxious in some form, uneasy, or just "not right". Sometimes I distract myself and push it away, then I feel the anxiousness "lifting" slightly and I feel a bit better. But I find it hard to relax in general. As I've said, I have health anxiety. I also just feel generally anxious (which would qualify as "Generalised Anxiety Disorder aka GAD") and I believe I also have some social anxiety, since I get anxious in crowds/large groups of people, and meeting new people.
Anxiety has been part of my life for a long time. I've had depression since I was about 14, and I think the OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and anxiety started around then too, although they didn't get bad till a year or so later. 10 years ago I had a very bad time when I thought I was losing my mind (the worry was actually at its worst from October- December 2008). It took me a while to recover from that.
Here are a few more links about anxiety:
(The above article says that anxiety "feels like fear" which is interesting).
In her book How To Heal Yourself, Amy B. Scher, says that she considers anxiety to not be an emotion in itself, but a result of other emotions being suppressed. You may like to think of it this way too if you find it helps you, but in this post I'm referring to anxiety as an emotion and mental disorder in itself. :)
What kinds of things make us anxious?
There are many things you may be anxious about including your health (definitely a big one for me!), your loved ones, the future, socialising with others, crowds, something going on in your life etc. I get anxious about socialising, meeting new people and doing new things, any break from routine. I also have days where I feel anxious doing things I normally do. I think a lot of it is to do with the uncertainty of life. I definitely find it hard to handle uncertainty. Here are a couple of useful articles about uncertainty:
How uncertainty fuels anxiety: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/03/how-uncertainty-fuels-anxiety/388066/
In my 2nd Healing Health Anxiety post I linked to this article from Joy Holland of Facets of Joy about understanding the energy of worry and shifting it; thought it might be good to share again here:
I did Joy's Worry Shift course in 2015, and found it helpful. :)
Hope you've found this post helpful. Like with the previous ones it's taken me a while to write, it's a bit of a difficult subject for me. It's helped me to write about it though, and I hope it's helped you too (or something I've linked to does). :) Part 2 will focus on feeling better and healing anxiety. (Much like sadness, we won't be able to get rid of fear because it's part of being human!)
I'll finish with a few resources about specific types of anxiety.
Post from 2014 about anxiety resources: https://fallingpetalsuk.blogspot.com/2014/12/anxiety-resources.html
My posts focusing specifically on health anxiety (HA):
My post about relationships and anxiety: https://fallingpetalsuk.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-love-project-romantic-love.html
Generalised/Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD):
Panic attacks: https://www.nomorepanic.co.uk/articles/panicattack
Panic disorder: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/panic-disorder/
Read the rest of the posts in the Feeling Your Emotions series here:
Anger (Part 1): https://fallingpetalsuk.blogspot.com/2018/02/feeling-your-emotions-anger-part-1.html
Anger (Part 2): https://fallingpetalsuk.blogspot.com/2018/04/feeling-your-emotions-anger-part-2.html
Sadness and Depression (Part 1): https://fallingpetalsuk.blogspot.com/2018/07/feeling-your-emotions-sadness-and.html
Sadness and Depression (Part 2): https://fallingpetalsuk.blogspot.com/2018/08/feeling-your-emotions-sadness-and.html
Photo: Lancing Beach. Moonsparkle 2015/18.