How To Deal With Fear and Anxiety

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and immediately start thinking about all the things you have to do the next day? Next thing you know, your thoughts are leading to feelings of anxiety or dread.

Stress is bad for your health. For one thing, individuals with higher levels of chronic stress are more likely to suffer heart disease. Additionally, the Health Survey of England showed that psychological distress leads to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Stress, anxiety and fear, can prevent you from taking actions that you know you should take in order to succeed.

How can you combat stress and move forward?


Taylor Clark explains the inner workings of fear in our brains, and how anxiety is related to fear, in his book Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool .

Clark described research by neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, which showed that the sensation of fear is created by a part of the brain called the amygdala. Sensory perceptions, such as touch, sight, hearing, taste, and smell, cause signals to transmit to the brain. A low detailed set of information is fed to the amygdala at lightning fast speeds, while the highly detailed information is processed more slowly by complex cortical networks.

This explains why you jump first, then realize what is scaring you afterward. The brain evolved this way so that we can have fast reactions to perceived threats.

Emory University neuroscientist Michael Davis said, “The interesting thing about fear memories is that you can learn them instantly and they last a lifetime.”

Clark explains that:

“Fear is the physical feeling you get when there’s something dangerous in front of you right now, and its simple job is to get you to safety. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a cognitive phenomenon, and it’s purpose is to protect you from potential dangers that might pop up in the future…”

Dealing With Fear

The difference between courageous people and fearful people is not whether they feel fear, but how they react to their fears. Courageous people learn to act even though they have feelings of fear.

Open yourself to truly experience the sense of being afraid. Look fear in the face, taste it and savor it. Expose yourself to the fear over and over again. Repeated exposure, with no bad consequences, helps your amygdala to learn that what frightens you is not truly dangerous.

Neuroscientists called this technique “extinction training” and although it doesn’t guarantee that the fear will never resurface, it can alleviate the fear for a long time. If the fear does resurface, you just repeat the process.

Dealing With Anxiety and Stress

Psychologist Salvatore R. Maddi, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Chicago were studying managers, supervisors, and executives at Illinois Bell Telephone when the company underwent a massive downsizing.

This was a major stress-inducing event, and many people suffered as a result. In the years that followed, two-thirds of the peopled studied had major health and performance issues, including heart attacks, strokes, obesity, depression, substance abuse, and poor performance reviews.

One-third of those studied, however, thrived. They maintained their health, happiness, and performance, and rose up in the company and felt renewed enthusiasm. The difference between the group that suffered and the group that thrive boiled down to three key beliefs — commitment, control, and challenge.

Navy SEALs also face some of the most stressful situations of anyone, yet some are able to rise to the top and thrive under these adverse conditions. The SEALs that thrive also exhibit the qualities of commitment, control, and challenge.


Commitment helps you to strive to stay involved in ongoing events, rather than to be isolated. You are in the game for the long haul, and don’t give up. You accept the responsibility and road bumps along your path, and deal with them as they come. The SEALS say, “I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.”


People who work to control their environment, rather than helplessly watch as things fall apart around them, fare better and have a more positive outlook on life. You can gain control through learning everything you need to know to face a situation, and through committing to take charge and see the task through to the end. Navy SEALs exemplify the quality of control in the saying “In the absence of orders I will take charge, lead my teammates and accomplish the mission”


When you view a stressful situation as a challenge, you know that you can learn and grow through the process. You will be “forged by adversity”, as the Navy SEALS ethos states. Instead of being forced down by events, rise to the challenge and play the game with your whole heart.

Moving Forward

The important thing is to move forward. Make small goals that can help to get you moving. Commit to action, and don’t overthink things. Once you have a goal and are moving toward it you will find that a lot of anxiety is removed.

Keep yourself healthy by eating right, getting enough sleep, and getting plenty of exercise, especially vigorous exercise.

Prepare yourself for the obstacles you may need to overcome. Navy SEALs spend a lot of time training physically. Learn what you need, and make plans for overcoming adversity. Know what you will do when the situation arrises.

And have faith in your ability to handle bumps in the road as they occur. You don’t need to plan two miles in advance for a rough spot. Focus on the road directly in front of you.

Take action on one small goal for today.


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