Anxiety: Everyday Fear

Understanding fear and anxiety…

‘Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity.’

Cypher Raige (Will Smith),  After Earth (2013)

Anxiety is perhaps the most well known, most talked about and most common manifestation of mental illness in the world. Certainly in the west. I feel pretty comfortable suggesting that every single one of us has either experienced anxiety before or knows someone who has, however minor or major it might have been.

With all that talk comes a lot of different theories on what anxiety is, where it comes from and how best to deal with it. While some of this talk can be a good thing, helping sufferers deal with their issues. The sheer amount of it has, in some cases, led to what I believe to be an over-complication of the issue. Trapping sufferers in a place that seems impossible to escape from. 

Though like most of us, I have experienced this particular mental illness before, I actually feel that low levels of anxiety can be fairly simple if stripped to its core. More serious conditions are a different matter, but I’d like to look at a basic, more common level of anxiety in a different way.

When it comes down to it, anxiety is simply fear. Being worried, overthinking the future, feeling anxious… is feeling fear. So perhaps if we were to look at fear rather than anxiety, we might make progress towards a solution.

The best way I have heard fear described is by Will Smith in the film, After Earth. (The quote at the beginning of this section, repeated below.)

‘Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity.’

And it is when you really think about it. The type of fear that most of us experience these days is actually pretty crazy. The majority of us are fortunate enough not to face any kind of real danger in our everyday lives, so we don’t often experience that fight or flight feeling. The panic and adrenaline you would feel if you came across an aggressive animal in the wild for example. That feeling is certainly real and useful. That panic and adrenaline helps us to survive and is natural within human beings as an immediate reaction to our external circumstances, to danger. 

Smith’s character goes on to say, ‘do not misunderstand me, danger is very real but fear is a choice,’ and in the film, his character goes so far in conquering fear that he is unafraid even in the face of real danger. 

Now, I’m not asking you to go out into the wild and face down your fears at the mercy of a grizzly bear. though, I might just be asking you to question what exactly you are afraid of and why you’re afraid of it? 

From the practice I’ve had with this, I’ve learned that I created my own fear, by being unconscious of my thoughts and emotions. By lacking awareness and to a certain extent, control of our own minds we allow fear to run rampant through our being. To such an extent that it has become far more common to fear things like rejection, tests or job interviews than actual danger. In this, we have created another type of fear, built on worry and future thinking. 

anxiety

Anxiety. It originates in our minds, lives in our minds and leaves our minds only to travel to our heart and gut. It’s the kind of fear that doesn’t make sense yet exists and thrives in us. Even if we take fears that most of us would deem rational, a little bit of deeper thought might show that those fears are anything but.

When I say ‘rational fear’ I’m talking about the job interview fear or the fear of asking someone out. Fears that on the surface are understandable. This is the kind of fear that has a long time to build and fester in our minds. In fact, that’s all it does. It festers in our minds infecting us like some kind of disease. That disease can cripple us if we let it. It can leave us frozen, in a panic, unable to act. Not just once but over and over again, constantly holding us back from living our lives. 

We begin to think of the job interview as soon as we get it, even if it’s 2 or 3 months away. An unaware mind begins to repeatedly run possible scenarios of how it will go. These will tend to be negative and through these scenarios, we somehow convince ourselves that they are actually going to happen, almost as if they are reality. We begin to fear them. Every time we think of the job interview we feel fear, worry, anxiety. These feelings put us down, make us feel low and of course, stress us out. These low feelings and stresses cause more negativity in us and you can see how that vicious spiral just keeps going round and round, down and down. Affecting every part of us and every part of our lives. 

Essentially, this type of fear is allowed to thrive because most of us are living in our heads. Spending too much time in our minds instead of being in the present. When we live this way, we cut ourselves off from vital nourishment that we need as human beings, mental and emotional nourishment. Connection and other vital aspects of well-being are lacking, leaving us weakened.

Living in a numbed daze also makes us feel insecure and unsure of our footing. We lose that solid base that we were standing on and become very unstable. In this state, weakened and off balance, we naturally become increasingly vulnerable to anxiety and all other forms of mental illness.

By living in our heads we end up living in the future. A make-believe mental future that we have built from a place of weakness and instability. And with most of us being natural negative thinkers, we end up worrying and stressing about this future and begin to fear it. 

We come to fear a possibility rather than a reality. Something in our heads that does not at present exist and most likely never will. So what we’re actually fearing is made up, it’s make-believe. Do you know what else is made up?… Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Boogieman, the Easter Bunny. Yet any grown adult or teenager knows these things are fake, made up, not real and therefore does not allow them to affect their feelings, positively or negatively. That is certainly an over simplification but you get the point; they carry no emotional weight with us because of the recognition we place upon them that they are not real. If we can place that same recognition onto our fears, then they will carry no weight, they will lose their power over us and we can release them. 

Fear is brought into being solely by us. We create it internally with our wild minds. But we have the ability to control our internal, we can make choices of what to think or how to feel. We are all making those choices unconsciously at the moment and a big step in relieving illusions like fear is becoming conscious of those choices. Noticing what we are doing internally. 

With an increase in self-awareness, brought out through meditation and mindfulness practices. We begin to realise that what we are doing with fear is deluding ourselves. Those scenarios we’re thinking of will almost always never happen. They will only ever exist in our minds. What we’re scared of is in our imagination. We’re scared of our own thoughts. We’re scared of ourselves. Does that seem right?

Fear is an illusion. Though, I understand why that is hard to comprehend, a possibility can seem frightening. Though if we think about what that possibility actually is, a small figment of our imagination existing within the confines of our head. It seems a little less scary.

Ultimately, that possibility is a thought that you have unconsciously created. You made it. No one else is having that same thought as you, it exists solely in your head and nowhere in the real world. Whether it comes to pass or not is irrelevant, right here, right now. It doesn’t exist. That’s what matters most because that’s all there ever is and being in the here and now is the fastest way to drop fear.

When we stop living our lives in thoughts and start living life in reality, the mind has no time to conjure up illusions of fear. All of these mental problems that we face are connected by this extended period of time spent in our heads, drowning in over-thought thoughts. Cutting off from other people. The more time we spend away from this mental, heady existence. The freer we are from fear and all the burdens of mental illness. Like cutting oxygen to a fire.

We regain our sense of calm, our sense of self. Our stability and strength. From this place of health and power, fear has no grasp or weight on us. We begin to recognise irrational fears for what they are and give little and eventually no significance to them. Fears grip in our chest is gone.

So to is anxiety.

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