As a hospital chaplain, I often encounter anxiety and fear. They are both realities for human beings but they are significantly different. Anxiety is the general and often subtle feeling that things are not quite right, our future is uncertain, and we are not confident that we can meet the future with skill and competence. Anxiety is swimming in the ocean knowing that you might encounter a shark or barracuda. Fear is the encounter with the Great White. Fear is the perception that our lives are in peril and somehow threatened. Fear can be the verifiable fact that we are about to be consumed by a lion – or cancer. Granted, fear can be a matter of perception that we are in immediate peril. Real or perceived, fear often causes us physical, emotional, and spiritual anguish.
Fear is a biological reaction. When the human brain perceives a threat, sympathetic nerve fibers of the autonomic nervous system are activated and hormones are released that prepare us for what is generally called the fight or flight response. Some people are frozen into inaction. The physical symptoms include increased heart rate and blood pressure, perspiration, acute sensitivity, and aggression. I have heard a family member say to someone in deep fear, “get a grip,” or “man up.” We get embarrassed when a loved one seems out of control, but it is not possible for them to override the biological response to fear and magically regain control. MORE