My body, my mind, and my soul is floating through profound darkness. The twine cuts my wrists and ankles. I sense uncertainty and doubt around me hiding in trees and shrubs close by. I hear the howling of the distant wind predicting threats to come. I know nothing about what is coming but I create images in my mind which feed my current distress.
When the acute fear becomes chronic I call it anxiety. The strange thing is that we frequently don’t clearly know what is the reason for this discomfort. It often disguises itself as fear of the dark, of fog, of lightning, of people, of the out of doors, or any one of a myriad of normal human experiences. At the extreme, we suffer a panic attack with uncontrollable terror frequently without apparent cause.
Appropriate fear is the classical fight or flight response which is designed by the Creator to protect ourselves from danger. But more commonly we experience debilitating inappropriate fear. Bob feels anxiety due to financial stress. Natasha worries that George doesn’t love her any more. Mary and Harry are anxious about their son’s drug use. The common denominator here is that nothing has happened yet except in the mind. It is the consequences of the current situations which we fear more than the present issue.
In the elderly population there is fear of death or disability. There is also concern about the loss of relevance, physical prowess, a workplace role and social interaction. The self confidence exhibited throughout younger years has dissipated. A loss of personal and social control nags at you. These issues result in fear and anxiety. Can I do anything to recoup my previous life? How long will i survive? Can I make any further impact on the world? There is a major attention to losses in life. There is a reluctance to embrace the cultural changes espoused by our children and grandchildren and political views tend to more conservative believing that socialist values are taking over the country. They fear for the children and grandchildren.
To the younger population, the issues are entirely different.
I am immortal, at least for a number of decades. My concerns are related to occupation, income, relationships security and social life. At work, there is emphasis on the accrual of power. I am a 24/7 worker because the world is moving at such a rapid pace I need to keep up and outperform my fellow workers. This leads to advancement which supports my ego and my pocketbook. Income becomes important because I need not only to support my basic needs but also a busy social life. Few evenings are spent at home. Then technology is a big part of my world requiring expensive equipment and services. Relationships are also expensive. Although lifelong relationships are put off, the dating scene requires the appearance of wealth or at least making a good living. Fear is primarily related to keeping up. The quest for the “good life” is the bedrock of fear and anxiety in this population. For these and other reasons financial instability is apparently the number one concern among young people. It is my contention that the demand for independence within this group is a reflection of separation anxiety from the parents and family from which they came. Thus, the need to keep in contact with parents, to turn to them at times for help but otherwise fending off advice and dismissing their opinion. They fear the government is failing to meet the needs of the people and views tend to be based upon peer pressure. They prefer a strong central government providing for the less fortunate or possibly their own uncertainty facing a world in which they need to fend for themselves. This is probably little different from past young generations.
For both the young and the old there appears to be a general anxiety regarding the state of the world and the future of the country. And I remain certain that there many more examples of fearful situations in our society,
Regardless of age our coping mechanisms remain similar and the elements of the feeling are similar as described above. Virtually all fear is ultimately the fear of failure. The so-called fear of success is in reality the fear of not maintaining that success, i.e. fear of failure. Otherwise, there is the fear losing my job, my lover, my home, my sanity, my life etc. all various forms of failure.
We react in one of two ways. We challenge our fear and seek solutions or we crumble and cope with distractions and procrastination. I sit on the couch all day mindlessly watching TV. or I do the same playing video games. I find reasons to work around the house, I bestow importance on unimportant activities. I deal with everything except the fear
Debilitating fear can create serious consequences in life. This may not be apparent to us without complete honesty. Chronic anxiety can lie beneath an apparently quiet exterior to the extent that I have lived with it long enough to be oblivious to the damage being caused. I’ve been out of work so long I am afraid to interview. So I always have an excuse why I can’t do it today. I want to discontinue this relationship but it has been going on for two years and I don’t know how to end it. So, I guess it’s easier to continue than to face the fear of confrontation.
Since fear is a universal experience and many people cope with it by taking action, I will limit my comments to those who are debilitated, to a greater or lesser extent, by it. There are those who cannot or will not deal with it. So, how can they switch from fear to confidence? There have been motivational books written about this recommending various approaches. Action noted above is an excellent approach. However, how do I get there? I may know what needs to be done but I’m afraid to do it. Faith or belief can be very helpful but how do I maintain it over time? Meditation/prayer offer another route but share similar problems with faith.
How does the issue differ between the young and the old? In the young it is based upon more of a fear of failure and ongoing fretting that things aren’t going the way I want. In the elderly it is closer to anxiety and loss. With a slower pace in life there is more time for regret, loss of position, and anticipation of disability and death.
My thought is that a combination of approaches might be helpful. First of all, there needs to be a rock solid commitment to bringing fear under control. Then, meditation must be a daily discipline. This can take the form of prayer, sitting in silence, a mantra or contemplating the beauty of music or nature. Discipline must be embraced and physical exercise is very helpful. Scheduling a task list for tomorrow at the end of each day should be mandatory. Sticking to it is also mandatory. And finally, a mental set should be developed in which your belief system creates a certainty about outcomes which runs through all of the previous steps. I believe that if you consistently follow these steps you will bring fear under control by taking action in your life because self confidence will become a natural product.