Fear, Anxiety, and Worry

17.09.2020 |

Episode #9 of the course Control your emotions, control your life by Dr. Sofia Santiago


In Lesson 8, you learned about unhealthy ways of dealing with your emotions. This lesson is a journey through the treacheries of fear, anxiety, and worry; “Oh My!”


Which Is It?

If you’ve ever felt pain in your stomach and a sense of uneasiness when facing an uncertain outcome, you’ve probably labeled that feeling fear of rejection. Before a sales cold-call or asking someone you’re really into on that potentially life-changing first date, most people would say they feel fear—but it is really a worry of rejection.

Fear is what you feel in the presence of a clear and identifiable danger. The lions and tigers and bears, (oh my) that are about to eat you; that’s fear.

Anxiety and worry occur even when you’re not in danger. [1] It’s natural to feel like a rejection from a potential client or lover is life-ending stuff, but I think we can all agree your demise is unlikely.

Anxiety is commonly cited as a synonym for worry, but since as a psychiatric term it refers to a disorder that typically includes excessive apprehension and panic attacks, I will avoid the term.

Instead, I’ll use worry. Worry is what you feel when you’re stuck in a problem, and you’re not confident things will resolve the way you want them to, like when you worry about being rejected.


Why Does Worry Exist, Anyway?

Since we’re not really in danger when we worry, it seems that worry is useless, no?


Worry has useful functions. [2] Like an alarm that interrupts us from whatever we’re doing, it directs our attention to something that may need an immediate solution. Worry also has a preparation function.


The Bad Side of Worry

So sometimes a bit of worry is good. Check. But is too much worry bad? For sure.

Worry scares you with things that are unlikely to happen.

Worry convinces you that you’re less capable than you actually are.

Worry is not only exhausting—it has been linked to shrinking the brain, lowering IQ, premature aging, family dysfunction, and even cancer and dementia. [3]

Did it surprise you to read how bad the consequences of worrying too much are? Holy cow! Brain shrinking? Cancer? No, thank you! Now you’re probably worrying about worrying too much and worrying that THAT worry is shrinking your brain that is now full of cancer!



Mark Twain: Champion Worrier

Mark Twain said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

And science backs his claim. Researchers with the University of Cincinnati, had individuals write down their worries and tracked them over time to see how many actually happened. The result? Only 15%.

That means 85% of things the subjects worried about never happened! [3]

One big worry (that we also tend to mislabel fear) for many is flying. Some board planes with visions of fireball explosions, crazy drunk people throwing open the plane door mid-flight and being sucked out, or the captain coming out to reveal he’s actually an octopus and has no idea how to fly the plane. But the truth is that flying is the safest form of transport. The odds of dying as a plane passenger are 1 in 205,552, [4] which means over 99.99% of people who get on a plane every day “fearing” the worst land safely at their destinations.

By the way, the Cincinnati researchers also found that, of the concerns that did come true, almost 80% of the participants discovered the difficulties taught them a lesson worth learning, or they (the participants) were able to deal with the setback better than they had expected. [5]

Do you see how this means sometimes we underestimate our ability to deal with the issues we worry about?

Could this be happening to you?

Let’s discuss that in the next lesson.

See you tomorrow!



Recommended book

Rewire Your Anxious Brain: How to Use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic, and Worry by Catherine M. Pittman Ph.D., Elizabeth M. Karle MLIS


Works cited

[1] Pittman, C. & Karle, E. (2015). Rewire Your Anxious Brain: How to Use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic & Worry. New Harbinger Publications

[2] Tallis, F. & Eysenck, M.W. (1991). Worry: Mechanisms and Modulating Influences. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 22, 37–56

[3] Goewey, Don Joseph (2015). 85 Percent of What We Worry About Never Happens. The Huffington Post

[4] Munro, Kelsey. (2018). How Safe is Flying? Here’s What the Statistics Say. SBS

[5] Goewey, Don Joseph (2015). 85 Percent of What We Worry About Never Happens. The Huffington Post


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