Do we live in fear or is it a state of anxiety? Fear is not an emotion; it is a response to a present threat. Anxiety is a complicated and very easily manipulated emotion we feel in response to something we anticipate might be a threat in the future. It is an often permanently present worry about something that hasn’t happened and may never happen.
For example, if you are walking through the jungle and you suddenly see a tiger running at you, you experience fear and you will automatically have the response of fight or flight (hopefully flight in this case!). If you are walking through the jungle and you’re worried that a tiger will attack you, that is anxiety.
This may seem like a small distinction, but in reality, it is everything. Where fear is about a response to danger that seems certain, anxiety is an experience of uncertainty. In this present time, with everything that is occurring in the world, there are so many people living in a constant state of anxiety.
That uncertainty is the exact lever that mass media, insurance companies, Big Pharma, advocacy groups, lawyers, politicians and so many more regularly use to try to influence our behaviour. Why? Our anxiety is worth billions to them and we are so much easier to control. Fortunately for them, our anxiety is incredibly easy to manipulate.
For example, one of the uses of terror management is that when people are reminded of their mortality, whether through questions about what happens after death or bringing up tragedies, like 9/11, they can become more prejudiced and more aggressive toward people with different world views. It is unfortunately so very easy to create mistrust, hate and prejudice among the human race.
The mass media is designed to not
only keep us UNinformed, but actually MISinformed. They tell us what they want society to believe to keep us living in fear, in suspicion of each other and thus easier to control. Only 6 corporations own the entire USA media and control of the UK media is also concentrated in the hands of just a few large corporations. They control what we hear. Also, another problem with the news is that it must be new and shocking. Only events that are out of our daily norm and spectacular enough to attract attention are reported, such as terrorist attacks, mass shootings, plane crashes and epidemics. A 24-hour news cycle, regurgitating constant powerful visuals and reminders of our own vulnerability to dangerous forces beyond our control. Add to this what psychologists call “loss aversion,” which is the theory that people are more fearful about losing something than they are excited about gaining something. It doesn’t help much that in the past few years, we have entered an even more extreme cycle of news absorption. Instead of having to turn on the TV or radio to see what’s going on, the news comes to us. Between our phones and browsers, most of us are plugged into a nonstop feed of headlines and opinions that are programmed to be responsive to our specific interests and fears. Brainwashed to live in a state of anxiety making us far easier to control. But what about the suffering and deaths which are far more relevant to our daily lives but totally NOT news-worthy? The suicides which take place each day far outnumber murders, the deaths from accidental drug overdoses, the people dying each day in automobile accidents (a percentage of whom aren’t wearing seat belts, not to mention the unspecified amount driving distracted). Add to these the deaths each day due to smoking, the deaths related to obesity, and all the other preventable deaths from strokes, heart attacks and liver disease, and the message is clear: The biggest thing you have to fear is not a terrorist or a shooter or a deadly home invasion. You are the biggest threat to your own safety. BUT our fears and anxieties are not at all logical. (It would make logical sense that if we were really cared for by our world leaders they would be focusing on our road safety, programs for psychological health to decrease suicide, ways to reduce smoking, obesity, educate about healthy eating habits, prescription-pill abuse, alcoholism, to name but a very few. But they don't, we are just a money-making commodity) There is a term “probability neglect.” It is a theory that when people are emotionally stirred by something, especially something they can vividly imagine, they will fear its outcome even if it is highly unlikely to happen. So, for example, the fear of a terrorist attack or COVID related death becomes far greater than the fear of everyday experiences that are much more likely to result in a fatality.
Already proved is a huge danger of probability neglect - that in the face of a highly visceral event or fear, we are far more likely to accept invasions of privacy and restrictions of freedom that we otherwise wouldn’t accept. A year ago, if you had been told we would all be willingly abiding with the restrictions, freedom deprivation and complete control of our lives, you would have laughed with the ridiculousness of that thought…but here we are. All this can’t be good for the brain and our physical and mental health. Of course, it isn’t. There are two particular ways, among many, in which living with these anxieties month after month can change your brain - The first - when you’re living under constant states of fear and anxiety, the thinking and memory-forming parts of the brain shut down. They actually shrink. In the process, attributes such as conscious decision-making, risk-taking, exploratory activity and logical thinking are adversely affected. The second - Anxiety can turn to fear. Part of threat detection is learning, and the brain can create a false correlation when a stimulus that’s not actually a threat activates the body’s threat-response system. For example, you are at a concert and you’re anxious about a terrorist attack. You spot a (perfectly innocent) Middle Eastern man with a bag and, suddenly, he unzips the bag and pulls out an umbrella. But it happens so quickly that you think it’s a gun feel genuine fear and terror. You have just changed your brain circuitry.
Living in a constant state of fear and anxiety is extremely health-damaging, both mentally and physically. Your body systems slow down. It can cause, to name a few, depression, digestive issues, cardiovascular conditions, impaired immune system, respiratory conditions, urinary conditions, insomnia and personality disorders and even suicide. Great for the Big Pharma.
So our goal should be to separate real threats from manufactured ones - to find a balance where we are not so scared that we’re making bad decisions that hurt us and our freedom, but not so oblivious that we taking unnecessary risks that put our lives in REAL danger.
If we are to have any hope of addressing and coping with the very real and numerous problems facing the world today we must do so not with fear and anxiety, but with our heads clear and a sense of compassion for everyone, not just the people who look like or agree with us.
The fact is: Anything can happen in the future. There will be good and there will be bad. For some people, that’s exciting and for others that is scary. Only those who can move forward with acceptance, love and compassion, trust in the process without fear and anxiety will be the ones who get to be happy today.
Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux
Law professor Cass Sunstein
Medical News Today
Journal of Psychosomatic Research