Fear vs Anxiety - what's your poison? A gentle distinction

In my classes I discuss the distinction between Fear and Anxiety because it’s a really slippery fish.

Fear is a good thing. It's an evolutionary mechanism designed to save your life and in so doing, help to preserve the species.

Fear is about a very real physical threat on your life and on your body.

It invokes the fight or flight response - the sympathetic nervous system and an array of physiological reactions designed to redirect your blood to your arms and legs, create a sense of heightened awareness and to help save your life.

Anxiety on the other hand is completely thought-generated.

It's what most people feel, to a greater or lesser degree, when they think about public speaking, asking somebody on a date, playing and winning at sports, acting, musical (when we're seen in public and we believe we can't control the outcomes).

Anxiety is about a perceived lack of control over outcomes. 

As human beings we like pleasure and certainty. What we don't like is pain (either physiological or psychological). We try to avoid it. 

If we perceive we can’t get the correct outcomes, well we’re going to get criticized or our ego (a perception of ourselves, our self-image) will take a knock.

Our ancestors going back millennia didn't have to worry about bad relationships with accountants, customers and HMRC returns (common causes of today's anxiety and related stress situations). That wasn't life or death. These are modern manifestations. 

They were fearful of the animal predators on the savannah as well as the tribe down the road who wanted to steal their water, crops, animals and women.

At the moment they attack - that's fear. You've got to respond. It's life or death.

Whereas, if you're worried that they might attack next week - that's anxiety.

My students have a lot of anxiety. When they realise they're creating it themselves, it helps that they can see things differently.

Churchill was anxious that the Nazis were building a war machine that one day would threaten Britain. His claims were ignored for years. When the Nazis attacked Poland, people began to see things differently and the country had to respond. 

If you're heading into battle, you'd be pretty anxious. The people who survive these encounters usually have the greatest clarity of thought.

When your ship is hit by a torpedo or a missile, there isn't too much time to think about it.

But the clarity of that thought in the moment is what can potentially save your life.

That's where I like to take my students - into a resourceful state when under pressure.

What does pressure mean? What are the options for a creditable response? What can we do to mitigate the risk of a panic attack?

The clarity of your thoughts and actions during these moments determines the direction of our lives. It's essential to get ourselves together for the inevitably big moments that life throws in our path.

«Pressure is the privilege» said Billie Jean King, because pressure gives us the opportunity to be the real person that we know is within us. The source of who you really are.

This 10 year old girl from Florida below was a quick thinker when attacked by an alligator. She made a snap decision that saved her life. A brilliant example of clarity of thought in the moment.

For me, anxiety is ok.

A bit of stress makes me feel like I'm alive. It's situation normal. Life without challenge sounds dull. We can come up with brilliant methods of thinking ourselves out of a hole.

Pressure is good. It stretches us. We can learn about ourselves and our creativity. We have the innate capacity to develop.

Anxiety is a situation without yet a solution. 

The situation will pass and you will survive.

With anxiety we don’t usually need the level of protection that our mind and body offers.

When you can see the difference between a real threat and a perceived threat, you’re on the road to recovery as well as better outcomes.

Want some help getting there?

Join me on my next course specifically designed to deal with fear and anxiety around public speaking.