COLUMN: Which is the worst: Fear, anxiety, worry, phobia?

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By John Lapp

The answer: All of them! In fact, the dictionary definition of “anxiety” includes the words: fear, worry. And, phobia typically involves fear. So, since they are all alike, today’s column will focus on anxiety.
A disorder described as Generalized Anxiety is characterized by chronic anxiety that persist for a period of at least 6 months. This type of anxiety can shift its’ focus from certain life circumstances such as finances, relationships, school/work performance and other stressful-type situations. This diagnosis is not some type of disease that may necessarily promote the use of medical means of confrontation, although it may become helpful along with in-depth counseling.
The anxiety is equally common in both males and females, and can often be traced back to childhood. It usually begins development in your twenties or thirties. Certain fears may accompany anxiety, including the fear of failure, fear of death or disease, a sense of losing control, not being able to cope, or even rejection or being abandoned in some way or another.
This can also be aggravated by any stressful situation that has the potential to elicit any of these fears which has a tendency to heighten the perception of danger or threat, therefore bringing on more fear.
So then, what really causes this anxiety? Well, the answer is not really known, but it likely involves a combination of the person’s heredity and any predisposing childhood experiences such as excessive parental expectations and/ or parental abandonment and rejection, even while the child has not been removed from the home but has been abandoned and/or rejected by one or both parents whether being raised with or without other siblings.
Most of the methods which are used in my practice follows evaluation tools, one of which is the Index of Clinical Anxiety along with the Index of Self- Esteem, the combination of which is then followed up with the Mistaken Belief Questionnaire: this combination helps begin the program of therapy to address and help resolve the anxiety which now stresses the person(s) in counseling. Learning how to learn relaxation when confronted with supposed fearful, worrisome situations and develop some healthy and helpful ‘self-talk’, addressing reality rather than supposed things to be fearful and worried about.
Phobias, which are associated with anxiety, can persist when you avoid things like: speaking in public, being in the home all alone, crossing bridges, etc. hoping that somehow this will eventually work out, as if by avoiding these things everything will still be OK. Real-life desensitization involves confronting the phobia in actuality--but with the help of a support person in small increments, breaking down the fear in small steps. It also helps at the mental level to engage in a healthy pattern of “self-talk”. People with all types of anxieties tend to engage in excessive “what - if’ thinking, imagining the worst possible outcome in advance of facing the fear. A sort of ‘scaring’ yourself through ‘what-if’ scenarios is what is traditionally been called “worry”. Also a perfectionist who utilizes ‘self-talk’ may include too many statements like “I should”, “I have to,” “I must”, which can also promote anxiety although on the surface they sound better than the “what-if’ statements.
By reconstructing negative forms of self-talk in more supportive statements which promote building of self-confidence, the person can begin undoing the long-standing habits of worry, self-criticism and some patterns of perfectionism that perpetuate anxiety.
Finally, for help with the problems associated with anxieties which are troubling you, don’t keep on with this pattern which can be putting you on a path of hopelessness and/or helplessness.
God bless you, and may God bless America!