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Candid Conservative: Fear makes fools of us all
Monday, 02 September 2019 17:18
Special to the Daily Planet

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” 
—  Bertrand Russell


The problem

For the quiet majority still believing in the word “normal,” our culture’s reckless plunge into extremes is a growing concern. It should be. Extremes breed more extremes and chaos and ruin are the ultimate outcome.  

Be it through mass shootings, moral decadence, drug compulsions, antagonism to order, political narcissism or social pathology, we’re surrounded by an increasingly visible chorus of people dedicated to excess through agitation, addiction and anger. Like fireworks, they’re similarly programed toward self- and other- destruction.   

 If we could look into the hearts and minds of those thus afflicted, we would pity them. Like virus driven zombies, their motions find no traction in outrage, compassion or character.  Instead, they are mostly driven by hidden fears. 

 The three stickiest human emotions are anger, shame and fear. Anger is tacky because it provides empowerment as a temporary antidote to vulnerability. Shame sticks simply because it burns so deeply. But fear grabs us hardest of all. There are so many hurts and hurdles in life that we never – absolutely never – run out of reasons to be afraid.

 That matters, because fear, unaddressed, reliably hardens into an even more deadly emotion – anxiety. Blow away all the smoke of drama, dogma and division and you will often find the gremlin of anxiety in the commander’s seat.

 Those wishing to change their course, salvage a loved one, understand the world’s growing craziness or avoid their own immersion in the zombie apocalypse might find answers in what follows. Let’s talk the psychology of anxiety.


It’s a curious phenomena

Anxiety is one of the most painful, confusing and debilitating emotions in the human experience.  It’s as prevalent as depression, but holds more stigma and embarrassment and thus often goes unacknowledged.  Anxiety serves as a foundation for many mental illnesses and in its worst forms is as paralyzing to the spirit as a severed spine is to the body. 

Understanding begins with recognizing it’s also normal. We all have anxiety in some form at some time, and in balance, in serves a role in focusing attention, increasing energy, and stimulating action.  Too much anxiety is where trouble begins. 

Anxiety runs in a sequence of severity.  There is normal anxiety as in nervousness, apprehension, or social insecurity.  Occasional anxiety is no big thing. Life is a pretty tough business and there are always stimulating challenges.

An overload can create anxiety that spikes and stings like a buzzing bee.  In this state one can have trouble relaxing, sleeping consistently, enjoying life or embracing day-to-day activities. 

Anxiety reactions, unaddressed, can evolve into generalized anxiety as a chronic stress response. The symptoms may be physical (heart palpitations, trouble breathing, light-headedness, body pain, gastro problems, etc.) or emotional (dread, intense insecurity, loneliness, extreme fears, etc.) or a truly intimidating combination of the two.

In extreme form, anxiety can lead to panic attacks and agoraphobia.  A panic attack is an anxiety reaction multiplied by ten.  It can be horrifically intimidating.  Just one panic attack can create fears of a repeat that can haunt a person for years. 

Chronic anxiety and panic attacks can evolve into agoraphobia – a state where we begin to fear the outside world (because that world can trigger additional anxiety) and so withdraw to avoid further pain. 

Left to its own devices, anxiety can balloon into paranoia (excessive unreasoned fears and obsessions) and delusional thinking (a lost connection with reality). A review of the history of many of America’s mass shooters reveals individuals consumed by both.

Anxiety has a host of causes

 Anxiety can find traction in the past, present or future. In the past one may have been exposed to excessive conflict, tension, criticism, chaos or other stressors that created underlying insecurities. 

Those insecurities may have led to maladaptive coping patterns resulting in on-going pressures. Worrying about today usually leads to worry about tomorrow and so the future can become still another source of heaviness. Fighting the past, present and future at the same time can be overwhelming.

 There’s a simple formula for understanding anxiety called the “anxiety triangle.” Similar to the old “fire triangle” taught in schools (heat, oxygen and a combustible material equals fire) the anxiety triangle also has three components – fear, worry and self-rejection.

 Fear is central to most anxiety states.  Persisting and intense fear creates physical and psychological reactions that break down functioning. Stress hormones can kindle action in small doses. A steady drip wears out our pipes.

Persistent worry has a gifted capacity to overload the head, heart, body and spirit.  Too much thinking – shrinks call it rumination – is a dependable foundation for mental illness of all sorts.  

Self-rejection is the third leg of the anxiety triangle. The internal thrashing and bashing that goes on when we reject ourselves is very painful. Added to fear and worry, unrelenting personal criticism can cement anxiety.   

We have solutions.

Spills, pills or skills?

 There are three pieces to the anxiety intervention puzzle.     

 First, some relief from symptoms through short-term medication usage can be useful.  Medications called anxiolytics like Ativan, Xanax and Klonopin are effective. Spoiler alert – these meds are highly addictive and require caution in dose and frequency. 

 There are other psychoactive medications that can have a positive impact on anxiety, but the research tells us their effectiveness is spotty. All anti-anxiety meds treat symptoms, so as a stand-alone intervention, meds are like giving a pain killer to a cancer patient and skipping the chemo.

 Next in the toolbox are anxiety management techniques such as breath monitoring, thought regulation, relaxation techniques, behavior change, etc., that can also reduce symptoms.  I personally like these better than medications because there are no side effects and the skills give one a sense of personal control.

 Finally, it is important to go after the foundation issues of anxiety – worry, perfectionism; unresolved emotions from the past, low self-esteem, control issues, lifestyle problems, and unresolved situational stressors top the list.  These forces can be like unextinguished coals relentlessly reigniting the fires of anxiety. 

 That “anxiety triangle” thingy is worth remembering. Cognitive management techniques can help one control a runaway brain full of worry. Fear that gets our attention is a good thing – fear that stops us in our tracks is not and must be addressed. People who truly value themselves (not to be confused with arrogance or self-worship) rarely develop anxiety.

Chronic anxiety pushes us toward a decision – are we trying to manage it or get rid of it? For some, management may be a reasonable temporary course. Based on personal experience, however, far too many people settle with just getting by and leave the door open for future problems.

Try taking a positive approach to anxiety by thinking of it as a messenger versus a punisher.  Initially the messenger taps lightly on our door to get our attention.  Ignored, the messenger has to knock harder – perhaps even to the point to tearing the door down.  If we pause and listen to the messenger, we’ll find it has something to teach us.

Do we worry too much? Does fear control our life? Are we too hard on ourselves?  Only when we listen and learn from the messenger does it leave us in peace.

People at peace are less likely to participate in mass shootings, anarchy, political folly, personal self-destruction, Drugs Inc., and the host of other insanities currently marking America’s cultural decline.

 To that extent, chronic anxiety is a little bit like rabies. It makes us want to bite something. That’s a partial reason we’re seeing so much hostility and mayhem in today’s America. But those thus afflicted don’t know that no amount of biting will make inner pain go away. That outcome takes work and will matched up with skill. Together they equal hope.

Government programs and more laws are not going to fix America’s growing ills. Chasing that rainbow is simply a distraction from what can really help. Together, we just had a short-course in addressing anxiety as just one example of rubber meets the road stuff. There’s more....

Carl Mumpower, a psychologist and former elected official, is the past chairman of the Buncombe County Republican Party. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



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