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5 Life-Changing Realizations About Fear and Anxiety

“Fear is inevitable, I have to accept that, but I cannot allow it to paralyze me.” – Isabel Allende

I was lying on the sofa in my tiny flat in Vienna.

My feet were elevated on a cushion and the room was spinning in a brisk waltz around me. My stomach was cramping and cold sweat was trickling down my spine. I gasped for air whenever choking fear forced my racing heart to skip a couple of beats.

The situation was all too familiar.

Back then I suffered from generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety. I was also plagued by severe toilet anxiety, which is a fear of needing the toilet when none is available. As a consequence, I had panic attacks several times a week.

So, I knew exactly how to stop the agony. I fumbled for the phone and dialled my friend Eva’s number.

“I am sorry,” I said. “I must have caught some kind of bug; I’m quite unwell. I will have to cancel for this evening…I know! It is a shame. I was so looking forward to seeing you again and meeting your friends…Yes, next week would be lovely! I’ll be in touch!”

As I hung up, a welcome wave of relief washed through my body as the panic slowly subsided.

I would have loved to see the conclusion of the Lord of the Rings trilogy on the big screen.

But what if no aisle seat would have been available? What if I would have had to sit in the middle of a row and needed the bathroom? What would the other people have thought if I squeezed past them, profoundly apologizing, while ruining their movie experience?

Furthermore, I had never visited that particular cinema before. I would have to take the underground at night. What if I was mugged? And I had never met the two friends Eva planned to bring along. What if they thought I was a bore or a jerk for needing the loo every ten minutes?

I was convinced I had made the right decision. I would just stay on my sofa, watch comforting repeats of Friends and be safe.

No fear, no anxiety, no panic. All was well again.

Until it hit me.

I was a hostage of my fear! It dictated what I could and couldn’t do. It confined me to my comfort zone and denied me dreams and aspirations.

I was never free to pursue fun adventures or meet new people. I was handcuffed to my sofa, my familiar daily routine and the nearest toilet facility.

And when I attempted to escape, I was hit with a merciless panic attack that left me stunned and shivering back where I was safe. On my sofa, in my little flat. Right where I sat in the dark on a December evening in 2003 and wept.

For being a victim, for being a prisoner, for being weak and scared. For not having a life.

And it was right there on that little sofa that I decided I had enough. I would take control over my life, I would claim the right to choose. I would finally live.

It was a long journey. A lot has changed since then.

And I want to share what I have learned in the past thirteen years.

Because for me, overcoming or defeating my fear was impossible. It always fought back with a vengeance. I had to find a different solution.

Realization #1: Fear is not the enemy.

After that life-changing December evening, I started to research. I read countless books, took courses, and attended seminars. I needed to know what caused the constant fear and how to stop it.

I had always perceived fear as a menacing, painful, and crippling hostile force. A life-sucking alien parasite. An uncontrollable beast.

But I soon discovered that fear can be both healthy and pathological.

Healthy fear is a vital physiological reaction that has guaranteed survival of animal species for aeons.

When confronted with a dangerous situation, adrenaline and other hormones accelerate breathing and heart rates. Blood pressure increases, muscles tense up, and blood is redirected to the arms, legs, and brain. The body prepares for fight or flight, to either combat the threat or flee from it.

A healthy fear response lasts as long as the dangerous situation that provoked it persists. It then subsides until the next trigger restarts it.

However, when fear is triggered by generally harmless events like a trip to the theater, meeting new people, or a car journey, it becomes pathological. The fear designed to save your life is now destroying it.

But why was I terrified of so many innocent situations that other people wouldn’t waste a thought on? What had gone wrong?

Realization #2: My pathological fear was linked to low self-worth.

I soon realized that my anxiety and panic attacks were a direct result of my lack of self-worth.

You see, when you suffer from low self-worth, the world becomes a menacing place.

Subconsciously, you believe that you don’t deserve happiness, so you constantly expect a catastrophe. You are terrified of the future because devastating tragedies happened to you in the past and you were too powerless to prevent them.

You feel under constant pressure to outperform, impress, and achieve perfection because you don’t feel worthy of other people’s love and respect. Yet, you mistrust your abilities and always feel that you are lagging behind or winging it. And you are horrified people might uncover your darkest secret, that you are a fraud.

Hence, you incessantly agonize about making mistakes and worry that other people might disapprove of you and your actions. You don’t believe in yourself and your ability to cope with life. So, you doubt your decisions and fear the potential consequences. And you are paralyzed by the thought of any change.

You feel overwhelmed, stressed, cornered. You perceive your whole life as a threat. Fear and anxiety have become permanent features.

Because you believe that you aren’t good enough in other people’s eyes. Because you don’t know that you actually are worth personified. Inherently, infinitely, and unconditionally so.

You are worth, even if you aren’t a fun socialite who makes friends easily. You are worth, even if life overwhelms you sometimes. And you are still worth even if you pee yourself in public, because as embarrassing as it may seem, it doesn’t change anything about your true worth!

I must have repeated the affirmation “I am worth” several hundred times a day for months. I now knew that, if I wanted to beat my fear of life, I first had to believe in myself. Only then would I feel confident enough to deal with everything that came my way.

Realization #3: I feared fear itself.

Once I started healing my low self-worth and gaining trust in myself and my abilities, it became clear that I wasn’t actually terrified of the movies, strangers, or my overactive bladder alone. I was also horrified of fear itself and all its unpleasant consequences.

Have you ever had a panic attack? It sucks!

And it is terrifying in its own right. The heart palpitations, the shortness of breath, the tight chest. You feel like your death is imminent and you are powerless to prevent it.

So, you avoid the panic triggers. The problem is that when your main trigger is life itself, you cease to live.

You minimize social interactions, you stop making bold plans for the future, you stick to your daily routine that keeps you safe. Your thoughts revolve around your fears and how to keep them subdued. You cohabitate with a fearsome beast, tiptoeing around it so it doesn't awaken and swallow you whole.

This was my life, constantly and unrelentingly. Until one day I decided to slay the beast.

Realization #4: Fighting the fear made it worse.

Every time I felt fear arising, I cursed it, screamed at it, and commanded it to leave now and never come back. But my beast didn’t take these insults lightly. It defended itself and the panic attacks escalated in frequency and intensity.

I felt like a pathetic failure. I wrecked my mind for new ways to overcome the fear. I tried what felt like hundreds of techniques and tactics to battle the fear. But they never worked and the fear increased at an alarming rate.

I know now that the fear multiplied because I focussed on it. My attention was zoomed into my fear and how to defeat it, and so, subconsciously, I produced more and more of it.

The beast grew and I was about to surrender myself to be its prisoner for the rest of my life.

Until my mum rescued me.

Realization #5: Making friends with fear disarms it.

“Why don’t you name it?” she said.

I was stunned.

“You have tried to fight it,” she continued. “Maybe it’s time to befriend it. Talk to it. Tell it that everything will be okay. Let it know you are there for it. And listen to its concerns.”

I thought the idea was ridiculous. But I was willing to try anything. I was desperate.

So, I named my pathological fear Klaus. It was the first name that popped into my head.

For a while I just observed what he had to say. He was a deeply troubled individual. So insecure, so worried, utterly paranoid.

Then, one day, I started to reason with him.

If he said, “I don’t think we should try a new restaurant. We might hate the food. And it is change. Change is bad for us,” I replied. “Change is good, it makes life fun. And if we don’t like the food, we just order something else next time.”

Of course I felt bonkers for talking to my fear like it was a small child. After all, I was talking to myself (not out loud, mind you)!

But it worked! Klaus understood. He was open to the suggestion that life as a whole wasn’t dangerous and began to embrace the new paradigm.

All he had ever wanted was to help me and keep me safe. He was a true friend. Even if he had been slightly misguided in his efforts to help, I found he was open to change.

Almost ten years later, while I studied Eckhart Tolle’s teachings, I understood that by naming my fear I had stopped identifying with it. I felt the emotion, but I no longer was the fear. The fear didn’t define me and I could finally start to free myself from it.

A Life Without (Pathological) Fear

Klaus and I spent several years together. He would warn me, raise doubts, and advise caution whenever I stepped out of my comfort zone.

But I was determined. I kept reminding myself that I was worth, that I was able to cope, that I was strong.

I started to do one scary thing a day. Small things at first. A different route to work, going for a walk without immediate toilet access, or asking a complete stranger for the time.

Klaus wasn’t happy. But I continued to explain that we were okay. That change was a positive part of life, that the world was a safe place and that we deserved to be happy.

After a while, his objections became less frequent and he remained quiet for longer periods of time.

And finally, in June 2008, as I boarded a plane to Barcelona to present at an international conference in front of hundreds of strangers, I realized he was gone. Without notice, he had left and I wasn’t scared of life’s experiences any longer. The pathological fear of life itself had dissolved.

I still sometimes fondly remember my friend Klaus. But I never heard from him again. I hope he is well.

As for me, I moved to the UK by myself and met new friends (who didn’t think I was a jerk). I am married and have a lovely little daughter. I travel, work with clients, and lecture students without worrying or overthinking.

The cold sweats, anxiety, and racing heart of a panic attack are now a distant memory. And I can enjoy a family day out without obsessing over the location of the nearest toilet.

I finally live, liberated, on my terms. I am free.

And I sincerely hope that my story will help you claim your own life. Because you deserve happiness too.

Stop beating yourself up, befriend your fear, and believe in yourself! I know you can do it!

You are worth!

About Berni Sewell

Dr Berni Sewell, PhD is a health scientist, energy healer and self-worth blogger. She is on a mission to make you feel good about yourself, no matter what. Download her free guide “Instant self-worth: an easy 4-step solution to heal your self-worth in under 5 minutes a day” and start to boost your confidence today.

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  • Sandhya

    A life-changing article indeed! Thank you, Berni, for the extremely helpful insights on fear and anxiety. God bless you.

  • Thanks so much, Sandhya! That’s so kind of you to say!

  • Nichole Freeman

    Being a Christian, it is my belief that fear is not of God. It is an emotion that empowers. I like the points you made.

  • Thanks so much, Nichole! It took me a long time to realise that making fear an ally was the right way for me to overcome it. There is much we can learn from our fears, and much that we need to teach them.

  • Berni, this article is so touching! I literally thought of my irrational fears and before you said to befriend them I began shoving them down and berating them. Thank you for this new and refreshing perspective. I can’t wait to put this theory into action!

  • Dawn

    I think I’ll name mine Klaus, also. Do you mind?

  • Not at all Dawn! I think Klaus is an excellent name for any fear! 🙂

  • Thanks so much, Cecily! I hope the new perspective will help you as much as it helped me!

  • Gustavo Woltmann

    Thank you Berni for the inspiration. This article really touch my heart.

    – Gustavo Woltmann

  • Thank you so much, Gustavo! I am so happy that it meant something to you.

  • Absolutely brilliant article. I saw myself a lot in the 2nd one, about self worth, and it is so true. These days, I try to make the fear, ‘wash’ over me. It takes a tiny bit of time, but in a wierd way, you ‘hack’ your own anxiety, and when the thoughts pop-up, you don’t get too scared.

    Having said that, in my years of studying my mind, I have never thought about naming it, so I will try that asap. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Thank you so much, Julian! I do like the technique you describe as well. Objectively observing your fear from a distance is a great way to stop getting yourself too emotionally involved and worked up. For me, naming my fear worked best! I am humbled that you will give it a try!

  • Kim

    Great article, and naming your fear is a great technique. The difference is that I have a name for my powerful self. She is the self that I call when I need an extra boost of courage or energy. Her name is Casey. Thank you Berni, I love this!

  • Thanks, Kim! I love the powerful self idea! And I love it even more that I am not the only one to name emotions! I will immediately name my courage now. It really needs some TLC.

  • Saisei

    As I read this I was thinking this is me. Though how I wish I had the urge to pee issue instead of the “other” one. Well, I don’t wish I had it at all actually. I was actually doing fine in my life. I went places and traveled with family, ate what I thought sounded yummy or interesting, go hours without a care, just enjoyed my time… until 7 years ago when I got severely sick on a long car ride home with no access to toilets most of the way. I was “traumatized,” to chose a word and ever since then I don’t enjoy eating out, going to new places, trying new things, for fear I will get sick again, which in turn makes me sick when I think about it. I will have to try these techniques because it’s tiring living like this in the long run and I’m missing out on not only my life but on my nieces’ and nephew’s lives when they want me to come along. Really great article. Thanks for writing it!

  • Jen

    I went through a period of fear and anxiety. As you mentioned, I avoided many situations that involved travel. I was afraid to die due to being at the wrong place. I began to meditate and practice positive thinking. I replaced or deleted any negative thoughts with a positive. My life has changed and I’m back to myself after more than 3 years of living in fear.

    Jen

  • I am so happy to hear you have found a way to leave your fear behind! It really isn’t fun! While you are in the middle of it, you know that something isn’t right but you accept it as your life. I always told myself that I just had a nervous disposition. But it was all low self-worth and low self-worth can be healed.

  • Thank you, Saisei! I really feel for you! My issues started with a traumatic experience too and were worst when travelling in the car. I think you have to keep reminding yourself that, while this experience happened to you, it is not who you are. You are not the person who was sick all the way in the car. I can vividly imagine how horrible this must have been, but it does not change you. It has no impact on how worthy you are, you aren’t weak or embarrassing! You are the same person you were before who was unlucky to be sick at one point. It doesn’t diminish your worth. For me, that was the most important thing to always remember and remind myself of.

  • Anna Nyoki

    Thank you for this. My fear is called Dingus, which sounds adversarial and unkind but has come to be a rather affectionate way of naming my shivery friend.

  • Thanks, Anna! Dingus is a lovely name for a fear! 🙂

  • Kira

    Naming my anxiety is just so helpful – before, I considered it a nameless “virus” that had spread throughout my brain, but having a personification of my anxiety is much better and is much more effective. I named my anxiety Gertrude – it’s not my favourite name, because she’s not my favourite person. But I imagine her as a scared, sad young girl who needs to be shown compassion and care, and not someone to beat up or encourage. Separating my anxiety from myself means I’m less harsh on myself, and from viewing my behaviours from a more objective point, I can discourage them.

    Gertrude has been with me for nearly 8 years now, since I was 11. She was my closest “friend” throughout high school, and tried to be “helpful” but now I just have four anxiety disorders xD

    Anyway, when you wrote “Klaus and I spent several years together. He would warn me, raise doubts, and advise caution whenever I stepped out of my comfort zone” it inspired me to write about My Life With Gertrude (that’s what I named my short-story-type-thing) to really help seperate my anxiety from my own identity.

    Your post was really nice and helpful to read, thank you. And I’m so happy for you that you ended up with a family and friends and well, a life you could enjoy. I’m sure Klaus is happy somewhere too 🙂

  • Jessica

    Berni,
    This article has truly inspired me. Thank you. I have been battling for such a long time, but only for 2 years with awareness that my battle is with fear and anxiety. Prior to my awareness, I believed that I was truly “broken”, and this was the reason for my lack of friends or willingness to try new experiences. This morning I decided to write in my journal again, and this sparked off my interest in looking at blogs on anxiety. Your words sooth my Fear Friend “Claude” and assist my Inner Warrior “Anna”. Thank you for helping my realize and name these emotions inside my head. THANK YOU.
    I have been working hard but recently wanted to give up on the fight and just go back to my sofa and hang out with Claude. The idea that someone has overcome this issue helps me so much.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Jess

  • Hey Berni
    So brave to share this and try to help others suffering the same way!

  • Thank you so much, Laura and Mark!

  • Thank you so much for this wonderful comment, Jessica! I remember that feeling of being broken very well. The feeling that something is wrong with you but you can’t put your finger on it, so you make the best of it. I used to cry myself to sleep every night and thought it was normal! Hanging out with Claude (or Klaus) is the easiest option, the least uncomfortable one but getting up and taking your life back, as scary and painful it might be especially at the beginning, in my opinion, is the only option that will make you happy. Always remember that you are safe, you are worth! All is well!

  • Thanks so much for this lovely comment, Kira! It made me laugh out loud because, unsurprisingly, I also have a name for my self-doubt, and it’s Gertrude! I am so happy that my post could inspire you. Never be harsh on yourself. You are a wonderful, worthy person and you are doing the best you can. Nothing more can ever be expected of you.

  • Jessica

    Thank you for your heartwarming response. Jess 🙂

  • Jossie Jossie

    Thank you for the writer who have the kindness to share this life changing story. I feel blessed after read your story

  • Thank you, Jossie! That is so lovely of you to say!

  • kpond

    Best thing I’ve read today – best thing I’ve read in a LONG time and motivation to power through!

  • Empress

    Cheering for you and sending awesome energy and strength, Jessica! Focus on just one step and breath at a time and channel that badass warrior. You are made of stardust and atoms that are BILLIONS of years old. It is part of what makes you magickal and amazing. Remember your part in divinity and your potential to have a full life – then grab it and never le go!

  • Thank you so, so much! I am so happy that my story inspired you to keep going!

  • Absolutely! We are all made of star stuff, the same star stuff. We are all worth the same!

  • Surya Allamraju

    Love this article. I had my own version of klaus in my late teens and early twenties. It does help a lot to talk to yourself. Howmany ever helps that are available out there would work only when you talk yourself into doing them and being there for yourself. Thanks a lot for reminding me how i helped myself cause my klaus seems to take a peek into my life these days. Got to talk to him again 🙂

  • pam

    Dear Berni,

    I am glad I read your post. You are dot on. Knowing that you have over come your panic attacks, gives me hope and I plan to follow your tips. You have nailed everything so accurately, when you say “Subconsciously, you believe that you don’t deserve happiness, so you
    constantly expect a catastrophe. You are terrified of the future because
    devastasting tragedies happened to you in the past and you were too
    powerless to prevent them.” you are so right. I am so grateful to you for sharing your story. Thank you and have a nice day.Regards, Pam

  • Thanks so much, Pam! Once you realise that the anxiety isn’t the main problem and start healing your low self-worth, together with naming your fear, the anxiety will resolve. It will take time and patience but there is a life without anxiety!

  • Thanks for sharing, Surya! Yes, Klaus does occasionally check in with me as well if I neglect self-care and self-worth for too long. They are sneaky like that!

  • Kathy

    Wow, thank you. How inspiring to hear someone overcoming such crippling fear. I’ve started with mindfulness and it’s certainly helped but I have a way to go. I’m going to give mine a name too. 🙂

  • Kathy

    Yes, that resonates with me too!

  • Kathy

    Yes, I think one of the biggest things that have helped my anxiety is self-compassion and not feeling like a failure or a bad person for having it. I used to really look down on myself as weak. As soon as I started taking a non-judgemental approach and realising that the fear was my brain’s way to protect me, the fear actually began to lose its impact. I still have some work to do though.

  • Thank so much, Kathy! I am so glad my story could inspire you. You have already started to take your life back and you will get there in the end. Just be patient with yourself!

  • I am so pleased that you have found a way to make peace with your fear. My Mum always used to tell me that I just had to accept that I was anxious and love myself despite of it and because of it.

  • This is absolutely amazing advice! While I have already found similar methods to solve these type of problems, it’s a great reminder. For people who still suffer from stuff like this, I recommend this ted talk about shame: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psN1DORYYV0

    Absolutely great advice and I think it kind of goes hand in hand with fear to an extent.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this! I will check it out!

  • Elect1960

    Oh this is So me !
    “You feel under constant pressure to outperform, impress, and achieve perfection because you don’t feel worthy of other people’s love and respect. Yet, you mistrust your abilities and always feel that you are lagging behind or winging it. And you are horrified people might uncover your darkest secret, that you are a fraud.”

  • Thank you so much for sharing! I guess many of us will feel the same. The irony is that we all think we are the only ones. That’s why I think it is so important to share our stories, so we can all realise that there is nothing wrong with us and that it’s not “just us”.

  • gnome

    What do you do when you take chances despite your fears, and your fears are confirmed? I am decidedly mediocre at best at my job, and the I am even worse at the thing I consider my passion. I have been continuing to press on, taking on more challenges with both and I continue to fail — more and more publicly. My confidence is nearly non-existent at this point and I am considering walking away from everything I’m currently doing, just to try to find something I can do well to gain a little bit of self respect back. I don’t have the energy or confidence to get better at the things I want to be good at and every day I continue to pursue them feels like a step backwards. I actually feel like I’m getting worse at them.

    I do appreciate this article though. Lots of good advice and info, even if I haven’t been able to figure out how to apply it to my situation yet.

    (I would like to respectfully request a refrain from suggesting that my opinion of my abilities is skewed. I have pretty objective evidence that I have not performed well at these things.)

  • Thank you so much for sharing! As instructed I will respectfully refrain from telling you that, while you feel like you are failing, you are probably doing great :). I believe though that we never get what we deserve. We always get what we BELIEVE we deserve. If you believe that you are mediocre and everything you do is destined to be a failure, your life experiences will reflect your belief. Your worth doesn’t depend on how successful you are at work and if your passion gives you pleasure and amplifies your life, is it really necessary to be great at it?

  • Reshmee Mohabir

    This might work! OMG thank you so much. i started to give up hope. i wonder if you have any tips for insomnia?

  • Thanks, Reshmee! I am glad that my story has given you hope! Regarding the insomnia, it depends on the cause. If the cause is low self-worth and anxiety, then healing this will resolve the insomnia. If you lay awake at 2 o’clock in the morning worrying about how you will make it through the next day, beating yourself up for mistakes you made during the past day and overthinking small remarks other people made towards you, then there is a good chance that healing low self-worth will dissolve these worries. Hope this helps!

  • W.T.

    Good read, and informative. One point I had some trouble with is a general statement about fearing a catastrophe because of low self worth. I think in many instances it’s the fear of the future because of the past. It’s possible to be in a good relationship with yourself, but also have anxiety because of past disspointments. Just something I feel strongly about. But everything regarding anxiety is difficult. Hope everyone is coping with it well.

  • Thanks so much for your comment! My experience was that my anxiety was caused by low self-worth and I feared the future because I felt I wasn’t able to cope with the things that might be thrown in my way. As you so rightly say, anxiety is difficult and I agree that there are triggers other than low self-worth but I can only write what I know about.

  • A friend posted a link to this today. For once, I didn’t set it aside “for later when I am not busy”. Truth is, no matter how busy I am, fear and anxiety and worry are not far away. My mother was a worrier. Perhaps that passed down to me. I thought of myself as shy for the first four decades, and sometimes that still shows its head and keeps me “safe” at home. But then I got very ill, and soon afterward I was given early retirement. I became overly obsessed with aging and the fact that I no longer had the best health. For the last 5 years, I’ve struggled to stop the “what-if” thoughts that run through my head. No matter how I try to apply logic and common sense to calm my fears, the little voice says, “yes, but what if…?” I’m not sure if the root is my self-worth. A recent bout of new health issues plus dealing with a very sick pet have combined together to overwhelm me. I wonder where my resilience has gone. I wonder what my life is about and what kind of existence this is. And yet, there is also a voice saying, “You’re better than this.” I’ve printed the article here, read it once. I will read it again, till I can talk back to my fear. The name Angus just came to mind. So, I will call it Angus.

  • One of my true fascinations is fear, overcoming fear, and what triggers fear.

    In all my years, I have never heard of naming your fear so that you may talk to and have a conversation with it. Honestly, I wish I had heard of this before as it might be one of the most clever things I have ever heard.

    They say that conversations are the gateway to understanding and having a conversation with your fear my be the best gateway yet.

    Thanks Berni

  • Thank you so much for sharing this, Carol! I really can empathise on a deep level with what you are saying. The “yes, but what if…” is Angus talking. He wants to keep you safe. The thing is, he doesn’t know how strong you are, how capable and how resilient. He works from the assumption that you are weak, shy and fragile and that you need protection 24/7. And that’s his task. To protect you. Your task is to convince him that his perception of you as a powerless maiden is wrong. I have spent several years repeating the affirmation “All is well in my world. I am safe.” And whenever Klaus said “Yes, but what if…”, I said to him:”Thank you for trying to keep me safe. But I no longer want to believe that I am weak. I now believe that I can cope with life. I am strong.” And with time, Klaus understood, and I am sure Angus will too.

  • Thanks so much for your comment, Joel! I hadn’t heard of the experiment. It is very interesting and just goes to show that fears are meant to keep us alive. If the duck falls off the table it will live, if the baby or kitten fall, they may not. That’s why I think of fear as a friend. It just sometimes needs guidance to know what is danger and what is not.

  • Abbas

    So true , many out there write stuff that dows not have similaraties to your situation of fears/anxiety but you did a very great job , well done !

  • Thank you so much, Abbas for the kind words!

  • Thanks, Berni. I will tell myself the same thing from now on, or rather, tell Angus.

  • Thanks so much, Surinder for this insightful comment. A lot of the time anxiety arises from past trauma. It is the realisation that we are not what happened to us, that we are not defined by our past, that helps us heal as well.

  • Andrés Fernando González

    Amazing article..thank you thank you thank you sooooo much!

  • Oh, thank you so much, Andres!

  • I think it is important to understand that fear and anxiety are both learned habitual reactions; they are not inevitable but the product of unconscious learning. Unfortunately, once established, we tend to develop further secondary reactions also based on fear to those unpleasant emotions, the worst of which are AVOIDANCE and AVERSION.
    Fear and even anxiety will resolve by themselves quite naturally. Unfortunately we inadvertently prevent this natural healing and resolution through avoidance and aversion.

    We learn to break out of the habit of reacting to our anxiety through the process of mindfulness meditation (vipassana). You do this by actively cultivating friendliness and consciousness (note that mindfulness=consciousness+friendliness(metta). If either is missing it ceases to be mindfulness) toward BOTH the anxiety/fear and the reactions to that anxiety/fear. You learn, in fact to stop feeding the anxiety, and when you stop feeding it, it can continue its natural path of healing. In Mindfulness Therapy we call this the Path of Resolution; in Buddha’s terms dukkhanirodha, the cessation of suffering (Third Noble Truth). Meditating on the breath may be relaxing, but if you are interested in cessation of suffering, then you need to meditate on on the thoughts and emotional reactions that cause the suffering.

    The Boulder Center for Online Mindfulness Therapy

  • Thank you so much, Peter! This is very helpful!

  • Jennifer Carroll

    Thank you, Berni. There are things in this article such as naming your fear that I had never thought to do or heard before. Truly, your words gave me some hope in the darkness.

  • Thank you so much, Jennifer! I am so happy that you could find some comfort in my story!

  • Erin

    That bit about being a hostage to fear resonates with me. I would avoid trying a lot of things for the longest time (still do sometimes), and it really upset me that I would choose not to avoid things, then go ahead and avoid them. I knew what I was doing wrong, but knowing wasn’t enough to save me (I even knew that knowing wasn’t enough to save me.) I would be watching myself do it wrong over and over, day after day until I die.

    Until the day I said to myself “I feel powerless and this hurts.” It’s hard to communicate how things changed with that: it was my personal moment when something in my life just fell back into place. Yours will be different, but that was mine.

  • Thank you so much, Erin for sharing your story! I guess we all need that one really low moment where we are facing the decision of surrendering to our life as it is or activley digging our way out of the status quo.

  • Dan []

    “Leave now and never come back;” Gollum reference? It’s like those punching bags in cartoons that bounce back and hit you as hard you hit them. Also, the Buddha’s Anger Eating Demon story, the Tar Baby, and Carl Jung’s, “what you resist persists”. It’s not like flipping a switch, but using that principle is one of the most consistently effective things I’ve come across for dealing with unpleasant states.

  • Absolutely, Dan! And yes, it is a Gollum reference! 🙂 I love the cartoon punching bag image. That’s exactly what it is!

  • AGx

    I’m not even sure how I came across this but I needed this.