Is your anxiety a fear of fear itself?

Fear is a funny thing. You might experience it often in your day to day life but not understand why certain situations scare you so much. Or you might know perfectly well but find yourself unable to stop it.

The people closest to you might not understand either, even if you painstakingly try to explain where you’re coming from. I’ve had many conversations with my family, and they’ve asked me, exasperated: “but why do you feel so anxious, you know that nothing bad will happen!” Yes, I do, but how I feel isn’t rational!

I sat down one day and gave it some serious thought. What was it that made me feel so awful – what makes me want to avoid so much of life? Suddenly it hit me; it’s the feeling of fear itself. The overwhelming pounding in my chest, the rapid breathing, the derealisation and the feeling that I was about to lose control. For me, what started as social anxiety evolved into something else.

Anxiety is normal

And as I’m sure you know; anxiety can be all consuming. If someone were to ask me what I wanted above all else, it would be to feel free. To know that I could simply feel calm and never be fearful again. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that! I’ve come to accept that I will always experience anxiety because anxiety is normal, the thing that needs to change is how I relate to it.

This fear of fear is known as ‘anxiety sensitivity.’ Noam Shpancer Ph.D writes on: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/insight-therapy/202002/anxiety-sensitivity-when-what-we-fear-is-fear-itself “Research suggests that stressful life events, specifically those related to health and family discord, are associated with increases in anxiety sensitivity. These stressful events contribute to the emergence of anxiety sensitivity by leading to the formation of distorted, dysfunctional beliefs about the meaning and consequences of somatic sensations.”

You can break the cycle

My reaction to feelings of anxiety, was that it was unbearable, and I might lose control so it must be avoided at all costs. By thinking this I set myself up in a cycle of fear that has been difficult to break. But the cycle can be broken.

In my experience, mindfulness has been a valuable tool in accepting fear. Observing your anxiety, without attaching judgement to it can give yourself much needed space to think clearly. “This too shall pass” and “fear is just a feeling” have become mantras of mine!

I used to think that I was weird for feeling like this, or unable to change, but actually – it’s normal. A normal human behaviour that lots of other people experience. This anxiety sensitivity is a reaction, a coping mechanism to the experiences you have had in your life. And by gradually changing your relationship with fear, and seeing it for what it is, you can reduce its intensity.

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