Fear, Guilt, Worry. How to overcome them?
Anxiety has been called fear of the unknown. As we will see, that definition doesn’t hold up anymore, because if you think about it, you’ll see what’s behind your anxiety when you’re feeling it. Before we get to anxiety, let’s look at the better-known emotion—anxiety’s cousin fear. Biologically, man, like most animals, has been equipped with a fear response. That is, when there’s an impending danger, we feel the tendency toward fight or flight.
When you’re feeling fear, usually your instinct is either to run away from or put up a fight against the thing that’s frightening you. Panic is an extreme manifestation of fear, and it can be debilitating. When you panic, often you freeze up and put yourself right in the line of fire of whatever you’re fearing. Our instincts toward fear have helped us to survive as a species, but in today’s world, rarely does our fear response help us except when we’re in imminent physical danger.
In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that fear and anxiety do more to wreak havoc than anything else. Anxiety is physiologically identical to fear (and to panic), but the main difference is that fear has a definite object, about which fear is appropriate. Behind appropriate fear, there’s an actual danger. Anxiety, on the other hand, does not have a threat behind it that could put you in actual jeopardy.
Like most forms of self-doubt, anxiety is perhaps the only disease where the cure is to ignore it and actually do or expose yourself to whatever makes you anxious (within, of course, the limits that you rationally choose for yourself). What are the designated fears behind that anxiety? Let me name a few here. There’s the fear of ridicule or criticism, that is, if you do or say what you wish to, you’ll be criticized; the fear of rejection, where you believe that if someone rejects you, it says terrible things about you; the fear of failure, where you believe that if you do not succeed, you will not be able to handle it.
Fear of success is actually the fear of failure in disguise, as we will see. Anxiety is often the fear of change, and that can prevent you from accomplishing the very goals that you cherish the most. Sometimes it’s the feeling of fear itself thatyou fear most. Some people have a fear of death that is so strong that it prevents them from enjoying life.
Perhaps the most common form of anxiety is performance anxiety. See if you can find the common denominator in these situations: going for a job interview; asking for a promotion or raise; getting ready for a blind date or first date; having sex with a new partner; making a speech or presentation; dealing with authority figures; and taking an important test or exam. Performance anxiety is the underlying feeling that all of these things have in common; in fact a recent survey has shown these seven items to be the most common triggers of performance anxiety.
Performance anxiety in and of itself is not a bad thing, at least not totally. A little bit of it, as has been shown, can make you aware that some self-monitoring may be appropriate, so it can actually improve your performance. Performance anxiety only becomes a problem when it hurts your performance. Let’s take a look at how this happens.
Say that you’re going for a job interview. A little bit of anxiety is actually going to help you; it’ll keep you on your toes. But if your anxiety becomes too visible to the person interviewing you, you could come across as being unsure of yourself. The net effect could be that you blow the interview. The same would occur with taking a test. A little bit of anxiety is actually optimal here, but too much anxiety will often make you forget the answers and make failure—the very thing you fear the most—come true.
Likewise, I’m sure you’ve seen the Woody Allen caricature of the nerd on his first date, who bumbles so much that you wonder why his date hasn’t left. (Sometimes she actually does.) That’s performance anxiety at its most extreme; like most forms of anxiety, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Practically always, underneath performance anxiety is a mental process that we callcatastrophizing. That’s where you have it firmly planted in your head that the worst possible outcome will occur, and you go one step further and say to yourself, “That will be a catastrophe.
I won’t be able to handle it. I won’t be able to live it down. It’ll be just plain awful.” Sound familiar? To the extent that you have these attitudes, your anxiety level will predictably rise and your performance will decrease. For instance, in the case of sexual performance anxiety, which results in impotence, we usually prescribe a treatment which takes away any and all chance of failure from both partners. The result of this is generally an increase in sexual desire: because no performance is necessary, the anxiety dissipates.
Suppose you have performance anxiety around speaking. An idea may be to learn how to anticipate the worst, while being careful not to distract yourself by fearing it. Maybe you’re a person who mixes up caution with catastrophizing. The difference is that catastrophizing usually provides you with about ten times more caution than you’ll ever need to pull off what you’re trying to accomplish.
By recognizing catastrophizing, you’ll prevent it from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, and your performance will be optimal. Then whatever anxiety you still have can be experienced as excitement, which is a very positive emotion, rather than a negative emotion, with fear associated with it. Incidentally, excitement and anxiety are also physiologically identical. It’s only the attitude you have toward that feeling that determines whether it’s a positive thing or a negative.
Other ways to relieve anxiety include deep breathing and relaxation methods, which we’ll talk about later on. Most importantly, anxiety will dissipate as you adopt a whole new philosophy that will enable you to think of life not as a performance, but as a set of exciting challenges.
A mental expression of anxiety that also has its own unique characteristics is worry. Worry is a feeling of uneasiness in the mind. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that it’s never beneficial to worry, because sometimes it helps you to evaluate a new course of action, but worry becomes a problem when you pretend that the power of thought can actually change something.
Worry has often been called paralysis of analysis. We think and think and obsess and obsess about some point until it feels as though the analysis itself takes on a life of its own and paralyzes us. Some people worry about anything and everything. It’s rarely appropriate to worry about past actions, since our minds don’t have a redo button like we have on our computers. We can’t go back and redo something we’ve already done, but as we saw earlier with depression, how many times have you pretended that you could undo something that has already happened?
That is beyond any human being’s power. If you were going to take a trip, but you were so worried that the plane was going to crash that you didn’t even get on it, then worrying resulted in an action, although not necessarily a positive one. On the other hand, if you boarded the plane anyway, why keep worrying? As a passenger, you can’t possibly stop the plane from crashing, but you can certainly make your trip miserable.
To address your tendency to worry, try this simple exercise. When worrying begins, get out a pencil and paper. At the top, write down the thing that you’re worrying about, and make a list of everything that you wish you could do about the situation. Next, list all of those things you actually can do. Put the things you wish you could do on one side of the sheet of paper and the things that you can do on the other. Focus on what can be done, and plan a rational course of action to tackle the problem. Let go of the things on the other side of the list—the ones you wish you could do but can’t.
They are beyond your control. Don’t devalue yourself for being unable to do what you have defined as impossible. Earlier we talked about not defining things as impossible when they are merely hard. This is the exact opposite. If something is impossible and beyond your control—especially something that has already occurred—the task is to let go of it. I’m not telling you not to think about it, because what you think about is often out of your control, but you do have the choice of what you will pay attention to and what you will ignore.
Sometimes it helps to treat those items you choose to let go of as unwanted thoughts. If you choose to ignore those thoughts and not to take them seriously, more often than you think, they’ll burn themselves out. One technique for stopping excessive worry involves putting a rubber band around your wrist. When you begin to have an unwanted thought, simply snap the rubber band, causing a slight amount of harmless pain. This is a very effective way to behaviorally attack obsessive and distracting thoughts.
Few emotions are as worthless as guilt. Guilt means you’ve done something wrong; that’s the legal definition, anyway. Without getting into a lot of judgment about what those things might be, if something has occurred that you feel guilty about, first remember the rule that says that undoing the past is impossible. With that in mind, how is it to your advantage to have that guilt?
On the other hand, your guilt may be, by your own admission, inappropriate. That is where you believe that you should have acted differently toward someone or something after the fact. Like all these conditions, look for that underlying should. What is it you’re telling yourself you should have done? Are you making impossible demands on yourself again? Are you telling yourself there is something you should do that you otherwise wouldn’t choose to do? Is there something you truly want to do differently? If the answer is no, then obviously your guilt is inappropriate, and you would best be served by giving yourself permission to let go of it.
Many people confuse altruism with things they do to alleviate their own guilt, or acting with some hidden agenda, or being hypocritical. In a relationship, when you’re acting for the benefit of the other person, you’re really acting on your own behalf, because in healthy relationships, the good things you do for the other person will come back to you. You may want to make a list of all those things about which you feel guilty, and then ask yourself, what is the demand that’s behind that guilt? Is it appropriate? What are the advantages to holding on to this guilt? How is it serving you or the person or thing that you feel guilty about?
Chances are you won’t come up with much that supports your feeling of guilt, and then those thoughts such as “What a rotten person I am for___________” (you fill in the blank) can become just another negative attitude that you now know how to alleviate.
Positive Attitude Training
How to Be an Unshakable Optimist
Michael S. Broder, Ph.D.
Read more hereA Four-Inch-Long Penis Is More Than Adequate