Three Main Anxiety Fears Explained

For most people, the things they avoid most urgently in relation to anxiety and panic fall into one of three main anxiety fears or themes. Let’s look at these three themes.

Death/ Physical Incapacitation Loss of control / Insanity Embarrassment / Shame Understanding these common themes can save you from digging deeply into each individual fear you have. It can help you see that you are NOT specially broken and without hope, and it can inform productive recovery actions and choices.

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The Highlights

  • For most people dealing with anxiety issues, the things they fear most and avoid most fall into three main anxiety fears, or themes. Avoidance driving by these three themes is what stands in the way of fully surrendering, accepting, and floating through fear, anxiety and discomfort.
  • It can be helpful to see and understand these three main anxiety fears or themes so you don’t feel alone, or specially broken or hopeless.
  • Psychoeducational information like this helps point you in more productive recovery directions and can inform more productive and healthy recovery related behaviors and choices.

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  • The first common fear theme is death or incapacitation. This can look like a fear that panic or anxiety will result in death.  This is most common, but other physical dangers or damages are also feared including passing out, vomiting, or catastrophic gastrointestinal / bathroom events.
  • The second common theme is based on a feared loss of control.  This is expressed in fear of psychosis, losing one’s sanity, winding up in a permanently anxious or panic state, or losing control to the point where things like screaming or crying might never end.
  • The third common fear theme is based on feelings of embarrassment or shame.  These common theme focuses on distressing emotional states and a belief that you cannot handle them and must never feel them.  In the case of trying to avoid feelings of shame, there may be negative self-beliefs at play that lead you to see yourself as shameful, broken, unworthy, or unloveable (as examples).
  • Are these fears real?  Yes.  They FEEL real.  The fear is real.
  • Are the feared outcomes real?  No.  Generally they are not.
  • People do not die or become incapacitated because of anxiety or panic sensations.  When in those states your body is naturally doing what bodies are designed to do when afraid.  This is not in any way dangerous, only misplaced and inappropriate due to the absence of actual threat or danger.
  • People do not lose their minds or have psychotic breaks because of anxiety, panic, or fear. Anxious, scary thoughts and feelings of danger or doom are normal parts of being afraid. The thought that you will go insane (for example) is a symptom of anxiety, not a predictor of the future or a message about an even that might actually happen.  It doesn’t happen and never will.
  • People DO feel embarrassment and shame sometimes.  That does happen.  But that is a normal part of being alive sometimes.  The false narrative in this common fear/theme is that you can’t handle that and must never allow it to happen.  If your avoidance is based primarily on shame driven by negative self-image and negative self-belief, you may consider working on those beliefs.  While some of that work might involve intentionally feeling shame in order to learn how to work through it, addressing shame is not just an exposure/floating issue.
  • Knowing these things can help you feel less alone, get you pointed in a new direction, save you time otherwise wasted trying to address every specific fear, thought, or symptom, and can inform more productive recovery-focused behaviors and choices.

Related Podcast Episodes

Examining shame in social anxiety with Sadie Hall (Episode 159)

Fear of going insane or crazy (episode 102)

No real danger (episode 27)


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Founder and host of The Anxious Truth Podcast. Former anxiety disorder sufferer. Now fully recovered and dedicated to providing no-nonsense, straight-forward, actionable advice on how to overcome anxiety problems.