How To Stop Feeling Scared All The Time – Free Ebook

Every human worries on occasion, but for some
of us, the suffering is on a quite different

and more life-destroying scale: we are, without
wishing to be ungrateful or absurd, more or

less permanently anxious. What makes matters
so hard for us, the anxious, is that we are

unable to maintain a distinction between what
objectively deserves terror and what automatically

and unthinkingly provokes terror. The quintessential
calming question – ‘Is there actually

anything to be scared of here?’ – can’t
even enter consciousness: there’s no sense

that a benign response could even be possible.
Easily terrified people aren’t stupid; they

may even be among the brightest. It is just
that somewhere in their history, the mental

equipment designed to distinguish logically
between relative dangers has been destroyed.

They have – somewhere along the line – received
such a very big fright that pretty much everything

has now grown frightening. Every slightly
daunting challenge becomes a harbinger of

the end; there are no more gradations. The
party where one knows no one, the speech to

delegates, the tricky conversation at work…
these put the whole of existence into question.

Pretty much every day is a crisis. Let’s
go in for a metaphor. Imagine that at a formative

moment, when the anxious would have been profoundly
unprepared and without the resources to cope,

they had an encounter with a bear. The bear
was beyond terrifying. It raged, it stamped,

it crushed. It threatened to destroy everything:
it was incomprehensibly mind-defyingly awful.

As a result, the anxious person’s inner
alarm jammed into the on-position and has

stayed stuck there ever since. There is no
use casually telling this person that there

aren’t any bears around at the moment or
that this isn’t the season or that most

bears are kind or that campers rarely encounter
them: that’s easy for you to say that, you

who was never woken up with a giant grizzly
staring at you with incisors showing and giant

paws clasped open for the kill. The result
of this bear encounter is an unconscious commitment

to catastrophic generalisation; the anxious
fear all bears but also all dogs, rabbits,

mice and squirrels, and all campsites and
all sunny days, and even associated things,

like trees rustling in the wind, or prairie
grass, or the smell of coffee that was being

made shortly before the bear showed up. The
anxious can’t do logical distinctions: they

can’t arrange threats into separate boxes.
To start to dig ourselves out of the quicksand

of worry, we – the anxious – need to do
something that is likely to feel very artificial

and probably rather patronising too. We need
to learn – on occasion – to distrust our

senses completely. These senses, that are
mostly terrific guides to life, have to be

seen for what they also are: profoundly unreliable
instruments, capable of throwing out faulty

readings and destroying our lives. We need
to erect a firm distinction between feelings

and reality; to grasp that an impression is
not a prognosis; and a fear is not a fact.

One side of the mind has to treat the other
with a robust kindly scepticism: I know you’re

sure there is a bear out there (at that party,
in that newspaper article, in that office

meeting). But is there one really? Really
really? Emotion will be screaming yes like

one’s life depends on it. But we’ve been
here before and we need – with infinite

forbearance – to let the screaming go on
a little – and ignore it entirely. The cure

lies in watching the panic unfold and in refusing
to get involved in its seeming certainties.

We need to be like a pilot of a sophisticated
craft coming into land in deep fog on autopilot:

their senses may tell them that a dreadful
collision is imminent, their reason knows

that the sums have been done correctly and
that a smooth landing is, despite the darkness

and the awful vibrations, definitely about
to unfold. To get better, which really means,

to stop dreading bears everywhere, we need
to spend more time thinking about the specific

bear that we once saw. The impulse is to focus
always on the fear of the future. But we need

instead to direct our minds back to the past
– and revisit the damaging scenes with compassion

and in kindly company. A consequence of not
knowing the details of what once scared us

is a fear of everything into the future. What
sort of bear was it, what did it to us, how

did we feel? We need to relocalise and repatriate
the bear, to get to know it as a spectre that

happened at one point in one place, so that
it can stop haunting us everywhere for all

time. That we were once very scared is our
historical tragedy; the challenge henceforth

is to stop giving ourselves ever new reasons
to ruin the rest of our lives with fear.

We can learn the skill of being calm. Not through special tea’s or slow breathing but through thinking. Our book guides us through that process. Click to find out more.