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

Posted by administrator
Published on 12 July 2017

In my classes, I discuss the distinction between Fear and Anxiety because it's a 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 a real physical threat to 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 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 avoid it. 

If we perceive we can't meet the correct outcomes, well we're heading for criticism or our ego (a perception of ourselves, our self-image) will take a knock.

Our ancestors going back millennia didn't 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-day manifestations. 

They were fearful of 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'll attack next week - that's anxiety.

My students possess anxiety. When they realise they're creating it themselves, it helps them 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 saw things differently and the country responded. 

Heading into battle expect anxiety. 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 (or focus) in the moment is what saves your life.

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

What does pressure mean? What are the options for a credible 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 you feel like you're alive. It's situation normal. Life without challenge is dull. We find brilliant methods of thinking ourselves out of a hole.

Pressure is good. It stretches you. We learn a lot 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.

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  • "An exceptionally useful day's training, delivered in a positive and personanable manner, very enjoyable and significant food for thought. Thank You."

    Diane Wilson - DCI Notts Police
  • "The anxiety is gone - now that I understand it. Not only can I make a presentation - I feel I have so much to give now. It's quite a transformation."

    John Eden
  • "Since attending the course, I feel like a completely different person; more confident, relaxed and easy going. I gave a speech at work last week and it went so so well."

    Ben Harding
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