Fear is the most prominent emotion in our world right now. You may think, “whoa, I’m not afraid of a lot of things.” But fear is the base emotion of anxiety. Now that’s a word you ALL. THE. TIME.
We mostly use the words anxiety and fear to describe undesirable states. Because the experience is unpleasant, we will often try to “hot potato” it ASAP. This can look like avoiding the anxiety inducing thing, numbing out with TV, social media, etc…, or even masking it with anger towards others (which is displacement for all you Freudians out there).
“Fear is hardwired into us to keep us safe.”
But fear is a vital emotion. It is hardwired into us to keep us safe. Fear causes us to go into fight/flight/freeze mode. And when you are being chased down by a saber-toothed tiger you need to instinctively know if you need to throw your spear at it, run away, or crouch down and make yourself invisible.
“But Phoebe, I’m not planning on being in a situation where I may be chased by a saber-toothed tiger anytime soon,” you say.
“Fear gives us a jolt of energy to fix a problem. “
In its simplest form, fear gives us a jolt of energy to fix a problem. Usually this problem threatens us personally. It may not be a saber-toothed tiger out to destroy you these days; it’s more likely to be debt threatening to send you into bankruptcy, a spouse threatening to destroy your family, or gossip threatening your reputation.
What to do with all that energy:
Anxiety happens when the amount of energy produced is not used up. Let’s take the gossip example. You know there’s a rumor about you going around, and while it’s based in truth, the really bad part is totally made up. This is perceived as a threat and stress hormones start pumping through your body to prepare you to do something to eliminate the threat.
One way to burn up the energy produced is to go exercise: but that probably won’t solve your problem. You could also numb out the emotion through TV, substances etc… Or you could use the laser focus that some of those hormones give you to devise a plan to squash this rumor and then actually carry out the plan.
If you chose the last sentence, then you’re on your way to dealing with your anxiety.
Unfortunately our brains sometimes perceive something as a bigger threat than it really is and it over produces energy-giving hormones. If you’ve used that energy to do all that is within your power to fix the problem, you might still have some energy lying around. This is when it is appropriate to either: figure out if there is another perceived threat you weren’t previously aware of, or work out that energy by doing something that requires expending energy like exercise.
Listen to fear, but don’t give it a microphone. Use it as a compass to guide you to, don’t give it the steering wheel.