• Emma Wood

Anxiety vs Fear



I was doing some reading recently (sadly, I can't remember where...!) about the difference between fear and anxiety. The key thing is - we fear things when there is a genuine danger or serious risk. We are anxious when there *isn't* a present danger. It could be something we are worried about in the future, or doesn't pose an actual threat. For example - in the UK spiders are very unlikely to pose an actual danger to you. Therefore, I'd describe this as an anxiety. As a therapist, I'd happily work on this with you, helping you move past it. However, if we were based in Australia, it's much more likely that the spider is ACTUALLY dangerous. That's much more complicated to a therapist, because there is a danger - that's a valid thing to be fearful of. It's not so clear cut if it's a good idea for me to help you move past this.


This is why I feel the current situation is so difficult. We don't have any clear cut answers about our relative safety right now. We are having to assess this through lenses that have bias - the media to keep us accessing their content, the government to direct our behaviours and do what's needed. That's very challenging for us to accept - we can't make our own personal risk assessments about our level of danger right now. This leads to uncertainty, which is one of the most common things that make us feel anxious. If we can't predict if our actions are dangerous or not, then it's very hard to feel safe. It's also hard as a therapist to work out whether this is a fear or anxiety. A lot of therapy styles are based on helping people manage anxiety, but very few actually look at how to work with fear. As mentioned, there is often a debate about 'removing' fear because it can be really risky for everyone involved.


So the takeaway from all of this? As we can't work out if the danger is real or not, I err on the side of caution. This isn't an anxiety to overcome or fight against - this is probably a fear. We can learn a lot from Sport Psychology in this case, because athletes sometimes put themselves in dangerous situations - dynos in climbing, difficult dives off a highboard, racing a motorbike to the limit. You don't try remove fears - you manage them. You recognise the dangers, pay attention to them and find ways to get more comfortable with that discomfort. Finding ways to keep your brain working, rather than flipping into a fight/flight response.


Here are a couple of recommendations for this:

1. Breathing

Key things to remember:

- Breathe OUT for TWICE as long as you breathe IN.

- Breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth.

- Count - either count the number of breaths up to 5 and start again, or count the seconds you are breathing in, and out for. It doesn't matter which, but counting can be a really good way to stay grounded.

I'd recommend checking out a meditation app (Calm or Headspace), and follow a guided breathing exercise if you want more guidance.


2. Grounding

Lots of ways to do this! Two options:

One: Take your shoes and socks off and feel your feet on the ground. Particularly nice to do if you have access to a patch of grass. Notice how it feels in detail, appreciate the contact between your feet and the ground beneath you


Two: Go through each of the five senses and pay detailed attention to each.

Sight - things you can see - Something you'd never normally notice or look at. Clothing fibres are often really great for this - how often have you looked at what things are made up of?

Sound - can you hear a car several roads away? See how far away you can hear.

Smell - What can you smell right now? List everything you can smell, see if you can notice anything unexpected.

Taste - What can you taste? Is it the last thing you ate, or something else?

Touch - The option above is a version of this - but you could just touch textured things around you and really notice how it feels.


3. Games....

There is a suggestion that if you are having thoughts or images invade your brain at random points, without your permission... then playing computer games can really help. I'm obviously not talking about jump scares, but games like Tetris have been shown to help people calm down. Your brain can only handle so much information at once, so if you are playing Tetris, you only have half the 'bandwidth' to entertain those intrusive thoughts or images - which makes them weaker. Things like sudoku and other puzzle games could also be worth trying.


I hope you enjoy trying some of these techniques!


Stay safe, and enjoy playing tetris!

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