The Differences of Fear Vs Anxiety: A Discussion and Expansion

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Any given segment of time will provide opportunity for fears and anxieties; however, one does not tend to operate all of the time within the boundaries of understood reactions to fear or anxiety. There is a divide between the understanding and intake of fear or anxious stimulation, and the reaction to such. This space between is where all of the wonderful internally communicative, emotional, and intuitive processes at work within your mind process your stimulation to alter the reaction to an appropriate form, iterative and demonstrative.

I try to avoid leading into discussions of this sort with such obvious questions; however, when it comes to fear and these core, defining principles, I find questions to be one of the few ways to open the metaphorical doorway into revealing such a grand metaphorical dimension. What does the space between stimuli and response look like, how is it textured, how does understanding this space help to differentiate processes that may have similar responses, like anxiety and fear, and what forms of responses are possible when the intuition is more known?

Fear vs Worry: The Actions Taken to Understand

In the effort of defining some rather ethereal domains, I will speak to my experiences of each.

When I am anxious, I tend to picture it as a flowing tide breaching ever closer to the edges of the beach. Oftentimes, even regularly, one can count on the tide to be low and the ocean to be calm; however, just as regularly, this tide inches closer and encroaches on flora, towels, and structures alike. I tend to be able to witness the anxiety gurgling forth, and understand that it tends to sit and reside with me for periods of time before, slowly, receding and allowing myself to return once more to the less aqueous landscape I am familiar with.

When I am afraid, I tend to think of it, still in an aquatic image, of a small boat bearing the wake of a much larger boat. The oncomingness of it, the sensation of losing control and the limited temporality between both awareness and recession.

Time and temporality are key negotiators in the play between fear and anxiety. Yet, in the response to each one would expect entirely different approaches. In the anxious response for the oncoming tide, one might, simply, move and intend further away from the tide until it passes, or adequately prepare themselves for getting dampened, or plan around avoiding the beach during these periods of lessened stability. And the fear response varies widely from securing loose objects and otherwise keeping the ship relatively stable, to positioning the ship adequately, to abandoning the ship entirely, to trying to plot a course that avoids the wake until it is at a more palatable junction. Already, we must be looking at these two processes as independent from both the temporalities involved, as well as the responses they may elicit.

The reason these forces work the way they do is simply that when such desires and needs concentrate at too great a density in too small a social space over too long time, they become that much harder to fulfill—even when you pay generous honoraria to people who might help fill them, to move briefly into that crowded social space and dispense data about the process, without dispensing the actual rewards and benefits that those involved in the process seek. Love/desire/awe/fear/discomfort/terror/abjection (horror) is the human response range to greater or lesser power differentials.

Samuel Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue

Mostly, when I am thinking about these processes, and the reason why I created an Espial toward the complication and expansion of our understanding of fear, is to work within the middling territory of between stimuli and the reaction to work toward a better understanding of, as Delany puts it, “the actual rewards and benefits that those involved in the process seek.” This between area is the territory where the decision toward a reaction is made – is this fear or anxiety something that we can manipulate?

Letting Go or Taking Charge of Fear

As mentioned, a repeated application of noxious stimuli to a body part will result in the patient’s bodily anticipation that similar stimuli will give rise to similar feeling-responses in the future. It thereby becomes understandable that even a touch of a feather on the bodily area that has been subjected to repeated noxious stimulation in the past can, at least on some occasions, provoke a painful response. Or consider the role that emotions such as fear and anger play in the experience of pain. Think of the knot in the stomach that comes with fear, or the blushing that accompanies anger. It is by far not uncommon for physical pain to accompany emotional outbursts.

Saulius Geniusas, The Phenomenology of Pain

With how, while walking, one can take an immediate turn and shift direction as a response to an interruption in their path, or an obstacle, we can learn about our responses and reactions to fear. First, that fear too can be thought of as a physical concept – Geniusas touches on this in the above quote, but of course stressers and stimuli often coerce the body into tightening, or acting in unique ways. Secondly, though, sometimes obstacles in a path elicit immediate reaction where one could be jumping out of the way of a sudden trip; however, more often than not one is able to see ahead of what is oncoming and adjust accordingly. While there are some situations in which you can see fear oncoming (like going to a horror movie, for example, one would expect to experience fear at some point in the theater), more often than not these adjustments are not to avoid fear entirely but instead to adjust the outcome and reactions to fear.

In the Espial for fear, I try to complicate and expand your interaction with fear so as to shade the spectrum and provide more iterative reactions to fear than a binary of primary colors. Before performing these activities and attempting to complicate accordingly, it can be useful to consider what types of complications may be available, and what thoughts may go into these complications.

the beginnings of a tornado on flat ground

Some of the most important facets in complicating an emotional response like fear involve patience, and the capacity to pause to ask yourself importantly, ‘What am I afraid of,’ and, ‘Why is this causing me fear?’ Sometimes these questions can be particularly easy to navigate; however, others, they are near impossible to interpret. In the case of impossibility, the need for additional questions may come, where you may ask, “Where does this fear stem from?”, “Do I know anyone else with a fear like this?”, and “How may I respond to this fear?”

The final question carries the potential here: the ‘may’ indicates less about what is allowed, and more about what could be possible. Sometimes, the option that unlocks the most is out-loud acknowledging, “I am afraid.” From there, your next steps can be as muddled as one wants for you are no longer running from the acknowledgment of the fear. From there, you can use your fear to inspire, use your fear to create, use your fear to embrace and return, or use your fear to challenge. You can still flee or change. But having more than a binary response to fear enables you to yield something more from the interaction.

The Power of Communication With Respect to Fear

What understanding and working through emotional responses, especially complex and great experiences like fear, will always benefit from is a commitment to communication. Being able to clearly explicate, process, and detail the thoughts that go into any of these experiences takes practice and consistency at that; however, will inspire that same attention in others.

And how it takes feelings
to turn into convictions

and how indecision
breeds weakness

and how brutal weakness is
and what tolls it takes

Dara Wier

If you are looking to learn more about a critical type of consciousness, improving communication techniques, or adult learning for improved emotional health, please feel free to attempt and grow with an Espial. With other options on things like shame, awe, and reward, you will certainly be able to find something you’ve been interested in.

And as always, if there’s something you’d like to hear about or gain advice from, reach out whenever.

One comment

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