Anxiety vs. Fear
A lot of people confuse anxiety with fear. We use the words interchangeably without much thought about the difference. Understanding the definitions will help us find the anxiety balance between acceptance and change.
Imagine you are on a rollercoaster and as you start up the hill you are starting to get tense and gripping the rail in front of you in anticipation of the drop that will come on the other side. This is anxiety. As you make the sudden plunge downward you are screaming in joyful terror and feel out of control. This is fear.
Anxiety can be described as the “fear of the fear.” The experience of fear resides in your imagination about an event in the future. It could be a real event or it could be false. Fear is the experience of terror in the present as events are actually occurring. This is important because, in anxiety, the future has not happened yet. We are anticipating a stressful event and creating our own physiological symptoms, sweating, tension, heart palpitations, in our minds. The actual events, however, justified they appear to be, have not taken place. Knowing this would suggest that we can control what we think and imagine to manage anxiety.
This presents us with a key strategy used by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. in her program called Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Dialectical simply means “tension” between two equally valid concepts such as acceptance and change.
Acceptance & Change
While it appears that acceptance and change are opposing forces, they are actually compliments of one another in the process of managing our emotional states. Applying them together facilitates a greater sense of mastery in our lives.
For example, if we are scheduled to give a public presentation and feeling anxious about it, we simply accept that we have these feelings while also recognizing that we only have to speak for a few minutes and then it will be over. You also know there are supportive people in the audience who would never humiliate you and in fact, you are very well prepared.
You might worry about your health and while you accept that you may find out bad news and get a poor diagnosis, you also know that modern medicine has a lot of treatments, medications, and know that you trust.
This paradox creates space for skill building. If presentations are part of your work and can’t avoid doing them, you can build skills like getting a coach, go to Toastmasters, read books or watch Youtube videos to increase your confidence and abilities. If the idea of asking someone out on a date terrifies you, you can just hang out with your peers, go on group dates, find a matchmaker to help you find your true love. If you are worried about your health, because your family has bad genes, you can get a trainer, talk to doctors, develop a new eating routine, and so on. The more you build skills, the less anxious you feel about some bad event occurring in your future.
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