How Do I Stop Worrying About the Future? | Understanding Fear and Anxiety
Everyone experiences fear from time to time. Though it feels uncomfortable, it is part of the human experience. Fear-like anger and sadness are part of our core emotional experience. “Core emotions are largely physical sensations that we come to recognize and name as a particular emotion. Core emotions inform us about our environment” says Hilary Jacob Hendel, an AEDP Psychotherapist and author of the book It’s Not Always Depression. From an evolutionary standpoint, our fear instinct is our brain’s built-in way of keeping us safe from threats.
However, sometimes our brain can try a little too hard to protect us. If the fear feels too intense or dangerous to address it can overwhelm us and get in our way instead of keeping us safe. If left unchecked, it may morph into a different feeling entirely: anxiety.
While fear and anxiety can look and feel quite similar, they are two different internal experiences. In this post, I’ll break down the differences between fear and anxiety, plus offer strategies to help you cope with worrying about the future.
Fear vs. Anxiety: What’s The Difference?
Fear is one of the core emotions that all humans experience. We experience fear when our brain perceives some sort of external threat, such as a bear in the woods. Without fear, we wouldn’t run from the bear or try to fight it off, leaving us vulnerable to harm-and maybe death.
As you know firsthand, fear is more than just an emotional experience. It also manifests in our physical body through symptoms like a racing heart, sweaty palms, perspiration, tension, shaking, and rapid, shallow breathing.
Like fear, anxiety has many physical symptoms as well. However, the major difference between fear and anxiety is that anxiety can be understood as a reaction to an internal experience rather than an external experience.
Unlike fear, anxiety is not a core emotion. Rather, it can be interpreted as a reaction to uncomfortable emotions. When we notice a difficult feeling arise, we may perceive it as a threat to our wellbeing. Anxiety then serves a mechanism to avoid these undesirable emotions. If you feel angry about the way your parent treats your spouse, but know from experience that showing your anger has gotten you into trouble, you might unconsciously swallow down your anger to avoid being hurt and instead start feeling anxious around your parent. Here anxiety becomes an inhibitory emotion-blocking you from feeling the anger that has historically caused more pain.
We can’t run from our feelings the same way that we can run from a bear in the woods. However, our brain uses all kinds of strategies to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Some strategies are helpful, some were helpful and no longer are, and others were never that helpful. Like developing anxiety, you may for example numb feelings through using substances, scrolling on our phones, or go to the gym excessively.
You may also compartmentalize your feelings or use logic to rationalize your emotions instead of feeling them. These are not necessarily unhelpful strategies. Your brain gets creative in an attempt to keep you safe, but over time, anxiety can build because your core emotions aren’t getting the attention they need to be released.
Where does anxiety come from?
There is no single cause of anxiety. Everyone has different life experiences, and everyone has learned different coping strategies to get through tough times. With that being said, there are some theories about where anxiety comes from.
You may have learned to use anxiety to squash uncomfortable feelings if your caregivers were unable to validate your tough emotions. This doesn’t mean that anxiety is your parents’ fault, but it can be difficult to learn how to confront big emotions if you weren’t taught that skill.
Anxiety can also arise from having multiple conflicting emotions at the same time. While this is a normal (albeit confusing and overwhelming) part of being a human, it can be difficult to accept. Anxiety may come on board to avoid those conflicting feelings rather than sit with the discomfort of experiencing them.
No matter where your anxiety comes from, know that it has been your brain’s way of keeping you safe. After all, you’ve survived everything in your life up until this point. However, there are other ways of coping with difficult feelings that may have fewer undesirable consequences.
How to stop worrying about things that haven’t happened?
Anxiety can also be layered with other emotions, such as shame and guilt. You may ask yourself, “Why do I constantly worry about the future?” and make yourself feel bad for worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.
Using the Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) framework can help you have compassion for yourself and your anxiety. AEDP understands anxiety as an inhibitory emotion, an emotion that becomes louder to block out or inhibit the overwhelm of a core emotion (i.e., sadness, anger, disgust, fear, joy, excitement, sexual excitement).
Recognizing your anxiety as your brain’s attempt to shield you from emotional overwhelm can be a powerful tool in confronting anxiety and deepening your emotional awareness and resilience. Start by noticing the moment when anxiety kicks in and asking yourself “what is my anxiety trying to hide?”.
How to stop worrying about things you can’t control
Oftentimes, we worry about the future because it’s out of our control. We can’t predict what will happen, and we have no way of knowing how we will feel. If we’re not used to confronting our uncomfortable emotions, this thought can be incredibly anxiety-provoking.
While you may not be able to control when anxiety comes on board, you can decide what to do with it. Here are a few of my favorite strategies for managing anxiety. I also encourage you to check out my blog post on how to live with anxiety for even more tips.
Befriend your feelings
As you have learned, anxiety is an avoidant reaction to difficult emotions. While it’s easier said than done, confronting your feelings takes the power away from anxiety and puts it back in your own hands.
However, it’s important to stay kind and curious when exploring your uncomfortable feelings. Beating yourself up for having these emotions only creates shame, making you feel even worse. It may help to conceptualize your feelings as a person, animal, or other creature. Ask them why they’re here and what they’re trying to tell you.
Use grounding skills
When anxiety takes over, we can feel totally disconnected from the present moment. Again, anxiety is all about avoidance. We can’t outrun feelings, but our brain can keep us mentally checked out so we don’t have to experience difficult emotions.
Using grounding skills, such as the butterfly hug or 478 breathing, brings you back to your body. While it may feel overwhelming to be present with uncomfortable feelings and sensations, doing so can help you build resilience. Go slowly and practice, it will feel more natural over time.
Consider anxiety counselling
You don’t have to confront your anxiety alone. Anxiety counselling in Vancouver can provide you with the support you deserve as you learn how to cope with anxiety, worry, and fear of the future. Having a trusted confidant can help you gain awareness of your emotions and learn new ways to embrace your feelings instead of avoiding them.
As an anxiety counsellor, I can help you make sense of your emotions and neutralize difficult experiences. Together, we can create effective, lasting change that will help you find more peace and fulfillment in your life.
Anxiety therapy in Vancouver can help you learn how to stop worrying about things you can’t control
Ready to get started? Reach out today to learn more and book your first session. I look forward to hearing from you!