Natural Born Fear: Anxiety is Learned

When I am working with a client for the first time one of two things happens. Either they can link their current level of stress and anxiety to one particular event or time in their life or they say, “I have always been really anxious.” Well that raises a pretty important question: What is anxiety? says anxiety is: “distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune.”

When we move a bit deeper than that we find that anxiety is rooted in the past or in the future. The mind is racing over something that has already happened, worried about what that means for the future or the brain is worried about what might happen in the future. An anxious brain is a brain that lives in the past or lives in the future, but never in the present.

loud-noisesAnxiety is also learned. Did you know that? People are only born with two fears:

Loud noises


Both of those are biological instincts designed to keep you alive. Imagine modern society’s primitive ancestors – loud noises could be a predator or some other red flag for imminent doom. Not good for the caveman = natural fear. Falling could also mean certain death. Also, not good for the caveman = natural fear.

So why is there this intense fear and anxiety over things like being late on a deadline? Over not having the perfect dinner prepared? Over having open conversations with the people around us? We all learn our fears. To this day you will not, and I mean never in any circumstance, convince me to put my body in water where I cannot touch the bottom. Will never happen. I was not born with the fear of water but somewhere along the line (or maybe with one too many Jaws movies) I learned that water meant certain death.

What are your learned fears? Learned expressions of anxiety? (Hint: anything you fear that is not falling or a loud noise) Please know that I am not saying that many of our fears are not in some way designed to protect us. All of our stress responses served a legitimate, positive purpose at one time, but somewhere along the line the stress and fear overwhelmed the brain and the nervous system and became anxiety instead of being that live-savor. More on that later, but for now, know your stressor, the triggers for you anxiety and start making a plan for how to regain control over your stress!


What fears did you learn and how are you conquering them today? 1

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