Fear & Worry – What’s really the difference & how do I take control?
The difference between FEAR and WORRY
Fear is unavoidable.
Worry is avoidable.
Fear is deep.
Worry is shallow.
Fear is powerful and can be harnessed positively.
Worry is weak and can’t be harnessed productively.
Fear guides you towards personal growth and an expansion of the heart.
Worry guides you towards insularity and shrinks your ability to connect to others.
Accepting fear is rewarded with greater possibilities.
Accepting worry is ‘rewarded’ with greater anxiety.
Fear is healthy.
Worry makes you sick.
Fear relates to a specific, known threat – so it can actually be good because you put your energy into doing whatever it takes to avoid that threat. Worrying relates to an imprecise, unknown threat, which often lies in the future – it is not helpful because the thread might never occur, and if it does there is currently no way to avoid it.
The Utility of Fear & Worry
“Does it make sense to worry about things like missing a flight?!
I mean, if I miss my flight, I’m screwed!”
You are completely correct! And an initial moment of fear, when you realize “I’m late! I can’t miss my flight! I better hurry and pack these last things!” is constructive, because it will give you that extra energy boost to get going and catch that flight.
But once you’re in the cab on the way to the airport, still worrying about missing your flight and thinking about all the horrible consequences for the 16th time, is that really useful?
That initial FEAR is natural and healthy! It’s okay to be afraid that something will or won’t ever happen. It’s okay to be invested in your life and encounter the feelings of: “I’m scared this relationship/job/confidence I’ve worked so hard to build is going to somehow break…” Thinking about a problem in a constructive way can often look like worrying, but actually be helpful in finding a solution.
However, when you don’t build a tolerance for a healthy, natural amount of fear, you unconsciously turn towards unhealthy thoughts that don’t get you anywhere. WORRYING is one such behaviour: focusing your thoughts on all the negative outcomes and spiralling into extremes (in this instance: missing the flight → missing that important meeting → losing the client → getting fired!), while you could be applying that same energy towards problem solving (quickly packing up, and grabbing that cab asap). You’ll find your worries running amok! These chronic, repetitive thoughts recycle on and on and never get anywhere near a positive solution… New ideas and fresh ways of seeing your problem don’t usually come from chronic worrying, they just drive you into a state of anxiety.
Of course fear isn’t necessarily good or helpful, but more often than not, there is a certain amount that makes sense and is constructive – that initial fear that gets you going – and then there is a certain amount that doesn’t – useless rumination that’s just making you miserable!
Good to know…but… how do I counteract these chronic thoughts?!
Managing Worry When Your Thoughts Run Amok
Mindfulness & Healthy Skepticism
Step 1: Self-awareness!
Monitor cues for that initial fear, and identify when your thoughts go from constructive, natural fear to unhealthy, spiraling worry. Take note of situations that trigger worry, and catch your worriesome episode as early as possible. With practice you will be able to identify the worries at an earlier and earlier point!
Step 2: Actively challenge those worrisome thoughts!
Take a critical stance towards their assumptions: Is it very probable that the dreaded event will occur? Is the problem something you’re currently facing or an imaginary what-if? Is there really only one or no alternative to letting it happen? Are there constructive steps I could take? Does it really help to run through these same worrisome thoughts over and over? Practice distinguishing between solvable and unsolvable worries. A great quote to keep in mind here is:
“There are three solutions to every problem: accept it, change it, or leave it.
If you can’t accept it, change it. If you can’t change it, leave it.”
and by ‘leave it’ I also mean stop worrying about it.
Afterall, once you’re in that cab on the way to the airport, there’s nothing more you can do, and it doesn’t matter how much you worry, your thoughts won’t clear up the traffic! At this point it’s best to leave it, plug in your headphones and listen to your favourite song (and make a mental note for future travels: always pack your bag the night before!).
By Linda Rinn