When I was away at treatment for my eating disorder I learned that there’s a difference between anxiety and fear. Anxiety is a sort of anticipation like worrying about something in the future – maybe even something that will never happen. Fear is more in the moment like an immediate threat or danger.
I’ve always been an anxious person but I never really understood the difference between anxiety and fear. Anxiety feels like a constant undercurrent in my life but when am I actually fearful?
Rational or Irrational Fear?
I’m afraid of deep water. I am constantly on edge if we are near it. I avoid boats and ships. Every September my family goes to Kelleys Island in Lake Erie. You have to take a ferry to get there and every time we get on it, I swear it’s going to sink. Every single year! I have been on that ferry more times than I can remember but I still get an upset stomach and sweat forms on my brow.
I have a physical reaction every time I’m near deep water.
The thing is, I’m actually a pretty decent swimmer. I don’t mind shallow water. But if I can swim well, what’s the difference if it’s shallow or deep?
This seemed like an irrational fear until my daughter was born six years ago. When my daughter is around deep water my fear is times ten. There’s a quarry on my husband’s family’s property, and whenever we go to visit, you better believe I watch my daughter’s every move. She always wants to play outside and I cringe every time she opens the door.
I may be going a bit overboard but I feel with my daughter my fear of deep water has gone from irrational to rational. I don’t even want to think about what could happen.
Also, my daughter has been taking swimming lessons every week since she was three years old. I made sure of it.
I talk myself into it.
When I’m feeling anxiety or fear I often have to talk myself into things. For example, I get nervous when I drive. I always think I’m going to get into an accident or break down. I have to tell myself that the odds of my getting into an accident and breaking down every single time I get into my car are pretty small. Also, I’m a careful driver and I have AAA.
I drive almost every day and rationalizing with myself really helps. It’s hard though because I know in the back of my mind all sorts of unfortunate events are possible.
I know thinking about ways to stay safe despite small possibilities is more effective than praying every time I get in the car. The question is, do people feel relief after praying as I do after rationalizing?
Does being a skeptic affect your fear?
We all know religion feeds on fear and people will believe just about anything. Are religious people more fearful in general? Do they have more irrational fears? Or do they find peace thinking god will protect them?
Can being a skeptic affect what you fear? If you have the ability to question your fear, does it lessen it?
What do you think? Also, what things are you afraid of? Are they rational or irrational? I’d love to hear it.
Oggie: Mathom says
I have an incredible fear of being in an enclosed space. I am only mildly claustrophobic, but being tied up, immobilized, without being able to see, terrifies me. My therapist and I have traced this (big surprise) back to some incidents in Cub Scouts. So I’m not sure if that is a rational, or irrational, fear.
I think the thing I am most afraid of is fear and lack of control (again, scouts). And fear of fear is rational, as fear makes one irrational. Fear of lack of control is irrational as we all have limited control over what happens to us.
Maybe not real helpful to your question, but that’s me.
John Morales says
I don’t think so.
Skepticism is an attitude, rationalism is a process, and fear is an emotion.
In short, one can know one’s fear about something is irrational, yet there it is.
Heights, but the other way around.
I do not fear looking down from a height, rather, it’s looking up. Flying a kite, rainbows, extremely tall structures or trees, a helicopter hovering directly overhead, or being on the upper arc of a swing… Anything that causes my head to tilt backward brings on an emotional vertigo that becomes overwhelming and physical. It’s nowadays not as bad, but sometimes, I have to avert my eyes or my thoughts.
Many years ago I went out on a large sailboat. One hundred miles out, or so, they would put out a sea anchor, let down a couple of small boats and with sailors acting as lifeguards, one with a rifle for sharks, let anyone wanting to, swim. I didn’t think much about it before leaving but once there… Knowing the water was very deep, too deep for a regular anchor, shouldn’t make any difference rationally. But it did. I eventually did go for a swim but I had to talk myself into it. Something about very deep, dark water. And knowing how deep it is set my teeth on edge. Some portion of my brain, the parts dedicated to sensing danger, and feeling fear, started working overtime.
The guides and captain shook my hand after my dip. Seems a lot of people have the same fears. One sailor told me he will swim out there when the boat sinks … and not before.
Irrational. But when you’re looking at it, knowing what you are looking at, it takes on a physical presence.