There’s a test tomorrow, and all you want to do is sleep. But you can’t, because your mind is racing with worry - spiraling worry about whether you will fail, then get kicked out of school, then never finish school, and never be able to pursue a career. You may know logically that there’s nothing to worry about, you are well prepared, but you still feel so restless. You feel so uncomfortable that you just want to run out of the room.
This is fear/anxiety. Fear and anxiety are often differentiated as such: fear is related to specific, observable threat, whereas anxiety is related to non-specific, future threat. For our purposes, we’re going to address them as same and refer to them interchangeably.
Fear makes us want to avoid both the external cause of the fear and the uncomfortable internal feeling of fear. Fear has its upside, though. It helps us to get things done. It informs us to be alert for future threats and danger. If you never felt at least some fear about the test coming up, you wouldn’t study. In fact, research indicates that some fear or anxiety in test taking situations tend to make people perform better, but too much makes them perform worse.
Fear can make us feel restless, tense, heart-pounding, sweaty, and nauseated. This is our body responding to threat, activating our fight-or-flight response in anticipation of a future threat.
Fear can be activated too easily and too often. It can also be out of proportion to the situation making us avoid, runaway or escape from something we can actually master. It makes us procrastinate (a form of avoidance). It wears us down and makes it difficult to concentrate. Prolonged anxiety can even trigger depression and insomnia.
Even though fear can hit us really hard, we can hit back. If our worry starts to spiral, we can challenge the thoughts, evaluate how realistic they are, and determine whether they are distorted.
We can combat restlessness by using breathing techniques, practicing mindfulness meditation or exercising. Any repetitive motion that engages both sides of the body, like running, cycling, swimming, dancing, knitting, or simply going for a walk relieves anxiety.
And since the motion part of this e-motion is to run away and avoid at all cost, doing its opposite action, that is, facing your source of your anxiety is sometimes the best approach.
Go ahead and ask your crush out, you might just get a yes and some extra rest :)
References / Learn More:
Barlow, D. H. (2004). Anxiety and Its Disorders: The Nature and Treatment of Anxiety and Panic. Guilford Press.
Diamond, D. M., Campbell, A. M., Park, C. R., Halonen, J., & Zoladz, P. R. (2007). The temporal dynamics model of emotional memory processing: a synthesis on the neurobiological basis of stress-induced amnesia, flashbulb and traumatic memories, and the Yerkes-Dodson law. Neural plasticity, 2007, 60803. doi:10.1155/2007/60803
Lerner, H. (2009). Fear vs. Anxiety. from Psychology Today website: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-dance-connection/200910/fear-vs-anxiety
Linehan, M. (2015). DBT skills training manual (Second edition.). New York: The Guilford Press.