Fear, Stress and Anxiety

Fear, Stress and Anxiety [1]

As we approach our death, it is natural to experience fear, stress and anxiety. People often say, “I’m not afraid of death; it’s the pain and turmoil of dying that worries me.” Others are genuinely concerned about leaving behind everything that has any meaning to them, their family and friends, their possessions, and losing their faculties and ultimately their body. “What will happen to me?” So it is good to learn now about the causes of fear and anxiety and to practice their antidotes. However, modern life is not a help in this regard, because many of us live in constant states of fear, stress or anxiety. This is not necessarily to do with dying; it is the nature of modern life.

As chronic stress becomes a global epidemic, our stress response is being studied intensively to see if we can unwind its mysteries. It turns out that our perspective has a surprising amount of influence over our body’s stress response. When we turn a threat into a challenge, our body responds very differently. What we need is stress resilience. This involves turning what is called ‘threat stress’, or the perception that a stressful event will harm us, into what is called ‘challenge stress’, or the perception that a stressful event is a challenge that will help us grow.

The remedy is quite straightforward. One simply notices the flight-or-fight response in one’s body – the beating heart, the pulsing blood, or the tingling feeling in our hands or face, the rapid breathing – then remembers that these are natural responses to stress and that our body is just preparing to rise to the challenge.

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[1] Extracts from: The Book of Joy, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams, Hutchinson: London 2016, selected by Len Warren.