Overview of Stress, Anxiety and Fear
In my pages you will see me refer to the fear response and the anxiety loop.
The Fear Response
The fear response is initiated first, whenever the subconscious mind recognizes that our actions, thoughts, or physical situation put us at risk of stepping outside the belief system we have built for ourselves.
Its as though the subconscious perceives our belief systems to represent what is normal for us, and represent what we "prefer to do" because they are what we have adhered to during so much of our life.
When we begin to move outside the limits of our belief systems, our subconscious mind begins to try and persuade us to think again. It does this by preparing the body for potentially awkward situations in the time-honoured way that has evolved throughout the evolution of many species - it invokes the fear response.
Fear can have a wide spectrum of manifestation in our mind and body, and we commonly use different terms to describe how we feel its effects. These may include worry, stress, anxiety, fear, phobia, panic and terror - with many other nuances between. But really, fear is the basis of them all.
See the side page on fear for further information.
The Anxiety Loop
The anxiety loop is a supplementary process which can occur following the initiation of any level of the fear response - whatever the cause.
The initial fear response may vary from very mild stress to extreme terror - but the anxiety loop only kicks in AFTER the initial fear response has played its part.
The subconscious mind constantly monitors our conformity to our individual belief systems, and may dynamically modify the level of the fear response accordingly. For example, if we manage to do things to bring us closer to our instinctive expectations or belief systems, our stress, anxiety or fear will reduce - but if not, the body may gradually increase the provision of resources for us to be able to move ourselves back into our comfort zones.
Many of the issues presented to therapists will have components of stress, anxiety, and fear related to them in some way.
The level of anxiety experienced can indicate the cumulative degree of risk perceived in the client's mind about the underlying issues.
The underlying issues are generally some form of conflict or risk identified subconsciously, not necessarily extreme in nature - possibly no worse than a worry or concern.
The perplexing thing is that we don't always know in our conscious mind what the cause of the anxiety might be. The subconscious mind almost certainly does know this.
Consciously knowing the cause can, but doesn't always, make the problem easier for us to solve.
Why are we unaware of some fears?
Some of the "fears" we have relate to our modern lifestyles. They tend to arise from social and cultural beliefs which we have acquired during our life. For example from rules, expectations or observations of how we should do things.
Other fears may relate to beliefs we formed from our unique personal experiences in life, and which become our "acquired personal beliefs".
The hidden fears that we do not consciously recognize at first, often relate to things which the subconscious mind has determined (rightly or wrongly) may represent a risk to our well-being.
Even small fears can cause anxiety, and stress.
Anxiety can appear when our subconscious mind becomes aware that something we intend to do, would challenge our belief system. This is judged to be a "risk" to our well-being (survival or comfort) and so the subconscious mind signals the body to "be prepared" and we are able to consciously perceive the bodily changes as a degree of anxiety.
The brain uses this mechanism for every risk that it decides may be detrimental to our wellbeing - adjusting the degree of the fear response to reflect the level of the evaluated risk.
The anxiety page explains how the secondary phase of the fear response (the anxiety loop) eventually gives rise to stress in the body, which in turn gradually undermines the efficiency of bodily functions.
Stress can also be the cause of anxiety!
We may gradually feel stressed due to routine work building up and overwhelming us. Our brain may identify that a previously acquired belief risks being broken, and could initiate the fear response to try and provide extra resources to help us escape the situation, or deal with it. If we get things under control, that's fine - but if not, we may end up with a persistent state of anxiety as the subconscious continuously identifies the risk.
The acquired belief might be something like "I must impress the boss if I want a pay rise" and the brain could have perceived your concern of being overwhelmed by work as a risk to "successfully impressing the boss".
You can see how the subconscious mind uses even a simple worry or concern to generate anxiety in the same way as any other fear - but possibly producing a lower level of anxiety.
Fear responses evolved a very long time in the past, and can be generated by the subconscious mind for anything that it considers a risk, either to our well-being or to the integrity of our established world view.
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If you would like more detail, the buttons at top left of the page address stress, anxiety and fear seperately - but note how intertwined these components are.