In these articles, I explore the wide realm of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and delve into how our thoughts shape our inner worlds, external behaviors, and moods.

The words and concepts of worry, anxiety, and fear are often interchangeable both in ancient and modern literature on the subjects. This shows just how closely related they are. The way I see their relationship is in the following way.

Worry is a behavior of anxiety; anxiety is more or less an emotional symptom of fear; fear is the more primal state of heart, a disposition or orientation of the heart, deeper than an emotion. One’s heart is oriented toward something in a state of fear, and anxiety becomes a symptom of the fear. Worry is often experienced as running thoughts about one’s circumstances (rumination) or sub-optimal behaviors attempting to control or manipulate outcomes to more favorable ends.

Worrying less, therefore, starts with reducing anxiety. Reducing anxiety, in the end, starts with a re-orientation of the heart to address underlying fear.

All along the way, however, there are necessary (or at least helpful) “bridge” solutions to reduce symptoms or address behavior modification. For example, the behavior of worry thoughts and actions may be addressed by challenging unhelpful thought patterns and replacing them with new, helpful patterns. More specifically, if someone catastrophizes — that is, considers the worst possible outcome to be inevitable — the sufferer can learn to challenge this thought with more scientific and rational thinking about possibilities, probabilities, and reasonable outcomes and their ability to deal with them.

Symptom reduction and behavior modification are only temporary. Too often, they are the sole goal of mental health professionals. They simply do not penetrate to treat the real problem. Bridges help while the sufferer gets to the underlying fear, which must be addressed for more sturdy anxiety and worry relief. Toward what is the heart oriented? Let’s cut through a lot of noise get right down to deep, existential pay dirt.

There are only two main ways to live, according to Order or according to Chaos.

Either the heart’s disposition regards Chaos as ultimate, or it regards Order as ultimateOrder is Chaos put into proper shape, livable and predictable shape. Chaos, on the other hand, is experienced as complete unpredictability, nothing in control, everything or anything potentially destructive. 

The universe is experienced as capricious and unsafe, always a potential disaster. In this case, the sufferer feels the anxiety of a mad world (or set of circumstances upon which he is focused). And no wonder! And in this case, he feels like he must do the ordering himself, which is where the behavior of worry comes in with its rumination of thoughts and often-erratic battle plans. 

If Chaos is ultimate and there is no Order, then order must be imposed for things to make sense and be safe. The sufferer in this case may not believe the Creation myth in Genesis, but inevitably implies belief in his own, personal creation myth as he attempts to order the chaos for himself. His faith is in himself, because there is no other help, which is terrifying.

Instead of “there are only two main ways to live,” we may say there are two great Fears. The Fear of God and then simply Fear itself, turned in on itself, having no focus but the churning Chaos of a world without perceived order or purpose. Orienting the heart toward God, however, considers Order to be ultimate. The world may contain the unpredictable and the unsafe, according to human experience, but, ultimately, the universe is predictable and is safe. If God is Father, then I am not an existential orphan left out in the cold, dead cosmos, after all. 

Anxiety may still be felt, of course, but it becomes manageable since ultimate Order has my welfare in mind. Difficulties become windows of opportunity for self-knowledge and growth in virtues, such as Courage. We may then engage streams of divine energies or grace embedded in Creation. This transforms us and fosters a progressive increase in god-likeness.

Indeed, Jesus Christ even issues an unbelievable command, “Do not be anxious!” or, “Do not worry!” (the Greek word can be translated either way) in his Sermon on the Mount. And why? Toward the end of this section (Matthew chapter 6) he indicates the source of worry, “Oh, you of little faith!” In other words, distrust of God is the source of anxiety, worry. This in turn signifies one’s deeper Fear is oriented toward primal Chaos rather than the divine Order, which created all things by already mastering Chaos on our behalf. Reorienting one’s heart toward God, therefore, provides the conditions for muscular living, such as the virtues of Courage and Faith (Trust) in the face of hardship.

It does not deny hardship in irrational blindness, but recognizes hardship as conquerable, because it has been conquered.

So, there are only two Fears. First, there is the unhealthy passion of Fear that grips our hearts with out-of-control anxiety. This Fear must be fought and mastered by the other Fear, the Fear of God. Fearing God means reverent awe and submission to the way the world is ordered (rather than demanding the world be otherwise). Let us engage the Order and live accordingly, humbly accepting the way things are and stop fighting the universe, which just bruises our souls.