by Stu Minshew
Fear vs. Anxiety
Restless nights, imagining disaster scenarios, legs bouncing up and down, gulping caffeine to push through, poor concentration, irritable – Do any of these sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. Fear and anxiety, and their associated mental and physical markers, are extremely prevalent in the entrepreneurial world.
If you’re like me, I bet you can quickly name at least 3 fears or anxieties that you currently have about your business.
Do we have enough money in the bank?
Will our product or service sell?
What if my co-founder quits?
What if I get fired by my board?
Who’s my next major competitor?
Often, we think that once we reach our next business milestone, fear and anxiety will magically dissipate. Like me, you’ve probably found this isn’t true. In fact, each new milestone usually compounds my fears. The bigger you play, the bigger the stakes, the bigger the fears.
Success, higher profitability, and a bigger income doesn’t solve our problems and eliminate our fears. Thinking that it will is a lie Satan and our culture tells us on a routine basis. They are not bad goals in and of themselves, but when we turn them into mini “saviors”, they can have devastating effects on our mental and spiritual wellbeing.
Give It a Name
To break free from our fear and anxiety, we must begin by knowing when we are experiencing it.
Our fears often live in our subconscious, so we sometimes fail to notice when they are running the show. That’s why we need to be able to identify the mental and physical markers – insomnia, poor concentration, feeling down on yourself, jittery, eyes twitching, experiencing racing or unwanted thoughts, avoiding challenges, etc.
When you experience these markers, you’ll need to dig deeper to get to the root fears and anxieties causing them. If you are currently experiencing this, take some time to pray that the Holy Spirit will help reveal your root fears and anxieties.
Fear and anxiety, while similar, are completely different experiences. Fear arises when we perceive THREAT in our environment. For early humans, it helped them to escape predators. Today, it’s more likely to help us jump out of the way of a speeding car when we step into the street.
Anxiety is our response to an imagined threats in the future. Our anxieties fill us with worry and stress as our minds play out the possible scenarios associated with that potential threat. The chart below breaks down the differences in fear and anxiety.
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles… most of them never happened.” ~ Mark Twain
I think most of us can relate to Mr. Twain. We live with chronic anxieties about future threats, even when we objectively know that most of our worst-case scenarios never happen.
In America today, we often wear the stress associated with anxiety as a badge of honor. In our entrepreneurial circles, it’s much more acceptable to say you are stressed than to admit to being afraid.
However, let me be clear that anxiety is not always bad. It can help us anticipate future threats. If we are going to run out of money in a few months, our anxiety will tell us to fundraise, lower the monthly burn, increase sales, and spend time praying over this difficult situation.
Why Anxiety Awareness Matters
While some anxiety can be helpful, it has the potential to have a serious impact on our mental wellbeing. Another unfortunate reality for entrepreneurs is that our fears have the potential to cause our companies to fail (great, there is one more thing to be anxious about!).
Why is that?
1. Anxiety hijacks our God-given creativity
As human beings, we are constantly taking in sensory data (sight, smell, touch, etc.), which is sent to the thalamus, or as I like to call it, the brain’s switchboard.
Once the data is in the switchboard, the cortex – thinking and interpretation – and the amygdala – reactions – assess the sensory data. If a threat is present, whether real or imagined, the amygdala shuts down the cortex to initiate a fast, unconscious reaction.
Ultimately, when we are in a fear response, we see the world through tunnel vision and the lens of threat. We cannot see all the possibilities and uncover creative solutions or identify the pivot that our company needs to make. In essence, our anxiety hijacks the creativity we have as image bearers of an infinitely creative God.
2. Anxiety impairs our God-given judgment
How do fear and anxiety impact our decision making?
Whether we like to admit it or not, every time we have a decision to make, it runs through an emotion filter first. Think about it. If you are feeling happy and ecstatic, will your decision be different than if you are feeling sad and depressed? Of course it will.
In a 2008 New York Times article, Emory University neuroeconomist Dr. Gregory Berns explains, “The most concrete thing that neuroscience tells us is that when the fear system of the brain is active, exploratory activity and risk-taking are turned off. The first order of business, then, is to neutralize that system.”
The way we feel colors our judgment. When our fear is controlling us, we are ill-equipped to make sound judgments. Dr. Berns research also demonstrates that the fear response was stronger in some research participants than others. He found that some people demonstrated a greater degree of fear conditioning. Their brains were ready to quickly deploy strong neural resources to deal with fear.
I believe this is why it is so critical that we cultivate a healthy relationship with fear. We know that until Jesus returns and God’s Kingdom is fully here, the chaos outside of us will never stop. If we’re waiting for the world to be less chaotic before we take the next step, we could be waiting for a very long time in this unhealthy state.
Instead, we must take steps toward and ask the Holy Spirit to help us condition our brains to transform fear and anxiety into new possibilities and clear decision-making. This again helps us live into our role as image bearers.
Anxiety to Action
Are you ready to begin turning your anxiety into action?
Let’s start with an activity called the Threat Detector. Make a list with two columns, one for FEARS and the other for ANXIETIES.
In most cases, you’ll find that you have many more anxieties than fears, but it is possible that there is something on the Fears list. Before you put it there, ask yourself, “Is this a fire that I need to put out immediately?” If so, go ahead and put it on the FEARS side. If not, place it under ANXIETIES.
I believe you will find that the simple act of writing down your fears and anxieties and calling them by the correct name begins to strip them of their power.
I love and believe what author and pastor, Steve Brown, says about fear in his book Scandalous Freedom, “Don’t run away. Run toward it. Face it. Then embrace that demon and kiss it on the lips. If you do, Jesus will be there to set you free.”
For those of us who struggle to dial into our emotions, this next bit might be stretching. But please bear with me. It’s really important if we are going to get serious about breaking free from our anxiety.
Now, notice where you feel the anxieties in your body. As you think on each one, take some deep breaths as you begin to let go of them and ask Jesus to set you free. Remember, these are non-present threats that do not need to be handled urgently!
As we release our anxieties, we are provided:
- More access to thinking brain
- More clarity, mental space, and peace
- More choices
- Better decision making
Now, Identify & Experience Freedom
I encourage you to set aside some time to focus on identifying the fears and anxieties that are impacting you. When you do, you can embrace them, kiss them on the lips, and experience the freedom Christ graciously provides.
It may not come immediately. It may take time. But I believe we serve a God who loves to set us free.
Sally Lloyd-Jone reminds us of this in The Jesus Storybook Bible:
“And the King says, “Look!
God and his children are together again.
No more running away. Or hiding.
No more crying or being lonely or afraid.
No more being sick or dying.
Because those things are gone.
Yes, they’re gone forever.
Everything sad has come untrue.
And see – I have wiped away every tear from every eye!”
Reach out to Stu via The Unleashed Startup.
>> Read More: Entrepreneur Mental Wellness Needs a New Story
Stu Minshew is the Vice President of Innovation Operations for The Chalmers Center, an organization that equips churches to walk alongside people who are poor, breaking the spiritual, social, and material bonds of poverty. He is a facilitator for CO.STARTERS, where he equips aspiring entrepreneurs to turn their passions into a sustainable and thriving endeavor. An entrepreneur at heart, Stu has started four businesses, two in East Africa and two in the United States. You can connect with him online at UnleashedStartup.com, where he helps entrepreneurs move beyond feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and stuck by teaching them how to expand their time, transform their fear & anxiety, and break free from burnout.
Post adapted by author for The BAM Review from an article first published at UnleashedStartup.com.