How Stress Affects Your Fear

How Does Stress Affect Your Fear - blog post

Are fear and stress different things, does one control or impact the other? Today I’ll explain how stress affects your fear so you can begin to take back control and feel stronger.

What is Stress?

The word stress is thought to derive from the Latin word ‘stringere‘, which means to draw tight or tighten, (The Magic Shop, Helen Graham, 1992) which aptly describes its effects on the body. When you feel stress you often feel ‘strung out’ or ‘uptight’. Evidence shows that our perceptions of stress can negatively impact our feelings of wellbeing but it’s not all doom and gloom……stress can actually be a good thing. 

Your body is well equipped to deal with stress, our ‘stress response system’ or ‘FFF (Fight, Flight, Freeze) instinct’ is always on the look out for danger and is designed to deal with it well. I explain the FFF instinct more in my short video ‘Why do we experience fear, nerves and anxiety.’ 

How does our body respond to stress?

Think what would happen if you came across a tiger? Your brain sees the danger and immediately prepares your bodies to react. This is what I call your FFF instinct. Here’s a few things our does:

– pumps your heart harder, sending more blood to our arms and legs to give you energy to run. 

– sweat to keep your body cool. 

– gives you clear thinking so you can find that escape route. 

– switches off digestion because you don’t need to waste energy on last night’s meal right now. 

Your FFF instinct prepares you very well to deal with the imminent danger of the tiger.

Once the situation is over our brain sends a signal to switch off the FFF instinct and return to ‘normal’.

However, these days we don’t have tigers to deal with, but this system hasn’t changed. Our FFF instinct prepares us for anything we perceive as a danger and nowadays it’s more likely to be money worries, deadlines, kids, targets, people and relationships……potentially your short term FFF instinct may never actually be switched off. It’s our perception of the situation which determines how our bodies respond.

If you are a theoretical person and you’d like a more detailed explanation of stress and the body you can read more about in this great book Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers, I’ve put a link to this at the end of the post.

Where does fear come into this??

Well us wonderful intelligent human beings have the power of anticipation. We have the ability to analyse the what, ifs, buts and maybes in order to anticipate what might happen and be able to prepare ourselves.

And here’s the sting in the tail……

Your mind cannot tell the difference between what’s imagined and what’s real.

Fear is when we prepare ourselves for an anticipated danger as if it’s actually real.

All those ifs, buts and maybe’s are telling our brains that the situation is a danger and that we need to prepare. The stress response is actually a brilliant system to make you focused and feel excited but if we perceive the situation and the stress response as negative we can get lost in our negative thoughts and overwhelming emotions. In effect our stress response affects our fear and our fear feeds our stress response.

How to minimise the affects of stress and fear

Wellbeing and feeling happy

Good news, there’s lots of options. You need to find a way of showing your head that whatever ‘danger’ you are perceiving isn’t a danger at all. Here’s just three ways of doing this to get you started. All of these have been strategies that my clients have found beneficial:


  1. Look for the truth in the situation eg could it actually kill you? What is the likelihood that this is actually dangerous? What’s the worst that could happen etc
  2. You could change your language so you stop feeding the monster within. All this, ‘oh my it’s going to be so awful’ stuff just tells your brain it absolutely needs that FFF Instinct and makes it stronger.
  3. Learn some relaxation/breathing techniques. If you feel calm, you don’t need the FFF instinct.

It actually doesn’t matter what strategy you use to show your brain it’s not in danger. Anything that will make you feel strong, capable and calm will work so feel free to use your creativity and imagination.

If you have a great idea or something that works for you share it in the comments, so others can benefit.

Do stressed out people feel more fear?

The simple answer is yes. One of the effects of the FFF instinct is hyperawareness. When you are in a stressed state it’s as if your antenna is are up hunting out anything which may impact your situation.

Small things suddenly feel very important.

Those small details, all the ifs, buts and maybes add fuel to the fear and make the fear feel worse.

The best thing you can do is relax. Get some fresh air. Switch off for a while……….let your body return to ‘normal’ and it will help you to feel stronger.

If you’re struggling and feel you would benefit from monthly mindset support? Click here and let’s talk. I’d be happy to chat with you.

I hope that’s been interesting and helpful for you.


PS. If you’re interested in the books I mentioned in this post here’s the links for you: Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers, Robert M SapolskyThe Magic Shop, Helen Graham.

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