The Difference Between Fear and Worry

Hint: one is a complete and total waste of time

Photo by Kenny Webster on Unsplash

"Everything you ever wanted is on the other side of fear." 

I love quotes, but that quote has always annoyed me.

The saying implies that if you just get over your fear, you get what you want.

Liberated from the fear that's holding you back, you move boldly and swiftly towards your dreams -- I guess that's the idea?

You know why that quote annoys me so much? 

Because eradicating fear is not a requisite for getting what you dream of and hope for.

Fear is natural and healthy! Lets start there.

It's okay to be afraid that something will or won't ever happen. It's okay to be invested in your life and encounter the feelings of:

I'm scared this relationship/job/confidence/new weight I've worked so hard to build is going to somehow break...

I'm scared I'm never going to find my person...

I'm scared my person is going to leave me...

I'm scared I'm going to lose all my financial security...

The list continues.

It's not only okay to encounter these fears, it's inevitable.

It's when you become afraid of the fear itself that problems and blocks arise.

When you don't build a tolerance for a healthy, natural amount of fear, you unconsciously turn toward avoidant behaviors that mess everything up. 

Worrying is one such behavior.  

You worry to distract yourself from feeling the fear. To distract yourself from accepting that there are some aspects of life that are out of your control. To distract yourself from accepting that yes, you're taking a risk and yes, you might get hurt.

Worrying pretends to be necessary, but it's not proactive and it's not helpful.

Worrying buddies up with your imagination to exploit your fears.

Worrying is focusing your thoughts on all the negative outcomes at the opportunity cost of applying that same energy towards problem solving

Fears need a combination of acceptance and reassuring self-talk to be managed. The energy you direct towards your thoughts and feelings is what you feed your state of mind, you can either use your energy to manage your natural fears, or exploit them with worry.

You can think of worrying as turning the volume all the way up on your fears, so loud it's deafening.

You can also think of worry as junk food for your fears. 

Unlike creative problem solving, positive and reassuring self-talk, acceptance and recruiting support, worry doesn't do anything useful; it just broadcasts your fears so that your perspective becomes insular.

Worry is full of empty calories and because you're not giving your fear anything useful to digest, your fear remains hungry, continues to binge on your negative thoughts, and eventually becomes obese.

When fears swell from unproductive negative thinking (i.e. worrying) they're difficult to make space for because they're too big; they overwhelm your emotional landscape. They're too heavy to carry, and so they hold you back from going where you want to go.

 So, lets recap:

Fear is unavoidable, worry is avoidable.

Fear is deep, worry is shallow.

Fear is powerful and any power can be harnessed positively. Worry is weak and can't be harnessed productively.

Fear guides you towards personal growth and an expansion of the heart--accepting fear is rewarded with greater possibilities. Worry guides you towards insularity and shrinks your ability to connect to others--accepting worry is 'rewarded' with greater anxiety.

Fear is healthy. Worry makes you sick.

Everyone is afraid of something, real or imagined. 

To make sure to manage your fears, find a place to put them. Invite them in instead of shoving them out. 

There's an old saying in therapy, lean in to the feeling

It's resistance to the fear via worry, not the fear itself, that is the saboteur.

Sometimes, particularly as you in transition into or out of something, fear is strong. During those times, it's important to meet your fears with positive management. What that looks like is directing your energy towards creative solutions, assurance, and acceptance. If you need some help in doing that, go ahead and recruit some support. The most successful people in life don't live without fear, they just don't make an enemy out of their fear. 

Katherine Schafler is an NYC-based psychotherapist, writer and speaker.  For more of her work, join her monthly newsletter, read her blog, or follow her on Instagram.  

Wisdom, Self Improvement, Psychology, Mental Health, Health and Wellness, Anxiety