Fear and Anxiety – The Enemies Within

Fear and Anxiety

The Enemies Within

A Story


The Rebbe often told a story about his father-in-law Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe.


In 1927, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was summoned by the communist authorities in Moscow.


When he refused to cooperate, one of them lifted a revolver and pointed it at him. “This toy makes people cooperate,” he said. “Fear of it has opened many a mouth.”


“That toy frightens only someone who has but a single world and many gods,” Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok replied. “But not one who has but a single G-d and two worlds.”


Chapter 1 What are we so afraid of?


Practice and Theory


We fear many things.


We fear illness and death.


We fear losing a job or falling into poverty.


We may fear being alone, or we may fear other people.


And then there is the fear of not being accepted by others – by our families and friends, our colleagues and neighbors, by society at large.


Fear, anxiety and depression are the underlying factors that drive much of human behavior today, yet they are among the most misunderstood forces in peoples lives.


In their most acute form, they paralyze us.


How can we deal with these forces?


Why are we afraid and what are we afraid of?


These are not simple questions to answer, for fear is a tremendous and complicated power.


It is silent yet devastating, leading to anxiety and, ultimately depression.


When you are consumed by fear, your judgment is distorted; you become frozen by doubt, unable to make the simplest decision.


There is a natural, healthy fear of the unknown that often protects us from danger.


But the cause of this fear is right out in the open, and serves a valuable purpose.


The more common fear, and more formidable fear, is one that doesn’t allow us to identify it; lurking in the shadows, it thrives on our ignorance.


Think of a child who is afraid of the dark.


There is no rationale behind such fear, and yet no words can explain it away.


The only thing you can do is assure him that you are there to protect him.


You can take him by the hand and turn on the light, showing that there is nothing to be afraid of.


It is the same with doubts.


There is often no basis to our fear, and even when there is, we may exaggerate its power to the point where it holds us hostage.


Fear is born of doubt and confusion.


Should I accept this job or shouldn’t I?


Will I be able to handle this problem or won’t I?


What will my family and friends think if I make this change in my life?


Such confusion is anathema to a human being; the emotional strain can be debilitating.


Clarity is one of our greatest blessings.


When you resolve doubt, you feel as though a heavy weight has been lifted from your heart.


Even if you think you may have made a mistake in your decision, you can at least see clearly what lies ahead of you, and you gain strength and confidence to move ahead.


A person who does not have a clear objective in life remains confused.


And confusion breeds more confusion; once we get entangled in the web of fear and anxiety, we only become more enmeshed in confusion and discouragement.


Practice and Theory


If you are to lead a meaningful and productive life, your heart must be free from the oppressive forces of anxiety and sadness.


Despair dulls the heart and weakens the spirit.


It lowers your resistance to the true challenges that are bound to arise.


Surely we meet enough obstacles during a lifetime without the need to create our own inner obstacles.


The key is to patiently untie these doubts that bind you.


While fear thrives in the darkness of confusion, it dissipates in the light of clarity.


You must introduce clarity into your life by acknowledging your life’s purpose and directing all your energies toward it.


Chapter 2 Where Does Our Fear Come From?




Fear has many parents.


Perhaps your trust was abused as a child.


Perhaps trauma left an indelible impression.


Perhaps you were simply never taught a purpose and direction in life; and fear can take root when we believe that life is some random, rambling existence.


Most human anxiety springs from fear of annihilation: you fear losing the world around you, the world to which you are so accustomed.


Think of a child who has but one toy – take it away and the child will surely cry.


Similarly when people perceive the material world as the only world that exists, they are bound to fear losing it, because it is all they know.


Practice and Theory

By its nature, materialism is fleeting.


The food you ate yesterday is gone today.


The money you make today will be spent tomorrow.


The status and power you have worked so hard to achieve can be wiped away in a moment.


When your life is built on such temporary foundations, how can you expect to feel secure?


Making the material world your priority is the ultimate cause of fear and anxiety.


Even as you shed the many fears of childhood, you develop an entirely new set of fears.


Instead of being scared of the dark, you become frightened of not making enough money.

Or losing your job.

Or of not being successful enough.


When you allow your life to be defined by money, by your job, by your society, you become intensely afraid of not being accepted by others.


Thus the cardinal dictate, “Do not be ashamed before those that ridicule.”


Still we yearn to conform.


We are afraid to stand out, and we worry incessantly about how others perceive us.


We fear that people will mock us or won’t respect our choices.


Think for a moment how empty that fear is.


Human beings are inherently mercurial.


Their moods change, their attitudes change, their values change.


So when you are worried about being accepted by others, you are placing your happiness and security in the hands of unpredictable people – a moody boss, a difficult client.


You are constantly investing great amounts of energy into pleasing first one person and then another.


You are trying to be one person in the morning, another during the day, and yet another at night.


No wonder your life is driven by anxiety; no wonder you have no peace of mind.


You must not compromise your values and standards out of fear of how others will perceive you.


This is one of the most difficult challenges in life, for we all want to be loved and accepted.


But accepted by whom?


By people whose own standards are ever shifting?


By people who themselves are worried about being accepted by yet others?


The only person on earth you need to be accepted by is yourself.


You achieve this by integrating G-d into your life, which means devoting yourself towards the purpose for which you were created.


By following the Divine laws of morality, you introduce sanctity and serenity into your life – and a sense of order.


Only then will you discover the clarity that demolishes fear.


Only then will you stop cowering in the face of the unexpected and unknown.


G-d has given each of us the abilities and resources to overcome the challenges that life provides.


When you place absolute trust in G-d and acknowledge the true purpose of your life, even your most serious fears – of sickness or poverty or death – will begin to dissipate in the crisp light of clarity.


Practice and Theory

Chapter 3 How Can we Battle Fear?


Connecting to G-d is the only way to truly free yourself from fear.


Practice and Theory


By recognizing that you are an integral part of G-d’s plan, that your own existence is significant and your participation is vital, you can wean yourself of the doubts that feed fear.


Practice and Theory


As long as you place the highest premium on the material world, you will continue to be fearful and anxious.


You will remain a victim of circumstance, subjecting yourself to the mercurial nature of materialism.


We have nothing to fear besides G-d, because nothing is as real as G-d.


Practice and Theory


The sages say, “May you fear G-d as much as you fear man.”


Practice and Theory


Fear of G-d, is not actually fear at all, but an awe and respect for a higher presence in your life – and a recognition that G-d chose you to fill a specific role in refining the world.


When you feel despondent or afraid, contemplate this point; when you fear that you won’t be able to handle a particular challenge or a setback, think what G-d wants of you?


Practice and Theory


When you have but one G-d and two worlds, the material and the spiritual, there is nothing to fear.


The problems that loomed so large just a moment ago, begin to seem eminently manageable.


When you realize that money, status and acceptance should not be the primary forces that drive your life, your confusion starts to melt away.


You gain confidence in the knowledge that you are working toward a higher purpose, and that G-d would not ask you to do so if you were not capable of it.


There will be no room in your life for despair and anxiety, only for joy and celebration in the fact that you are fully alive.


Such confidence spills over into your entire life.


And when you have learned to focus on the real matters of life, you will no longer need to worry about meeting the standard of those around you.


G-d’s standards are higher than man’s standards but they are actually far easier to meet.


While man’s values are ephemeral, constantly shifting; spiritual values are eternal.


When you connect to them, the trivial matters of life no longer frighten you, just as an adult is no longer scared of the dark.


You no longer see fear and anxiety as distracting or crippling forces, but as challenges that must be overcome to lead a meaningful life.




Half of winning any battle is understanding the enemy, and once you understand the roots of your fears, you are well on the way to conquering them.


This is not to say that you will be freed of all fear and anxiety.


They are part of life.


But they must be seen as a sign that something is out of sync in your life, that something is holding you from achieving your goals.


So when becoming aware of fear and anxiety, do not give way to depression, instead attack and improve the situation.


Practice and Theory


Depression is not a sin but what depression does no sin can do.


Practice and Theory


There are two types of depression – one constructive and one destructive.


The first is the despair of humility, of a person who not only recognizes his failings but cares enough to address them.


It is the despair of a person who agonized over his shortcomings and missed opportunities but who refuses to become indifferent to his problems and those of the world.


The second despair is that of a person who has given up on himself and his fellow man, who has allowed his melancholy to drain him of hope.


Practice and Theory


The former’s despair is a springboard for self-improvement; the second is a bottomless pit.


How does one distinguish between the two?


The first person weeps, the second person’s eyes are dry and blank.


The first person’s mind and heart are in turmoil, the second person’s mind and heart are silent with apathy and heavy as lead.


And what happens when each person emerges from his mood of despair?


The first person springs to action, taking his first faltering steps to escape his depression.


The second person remains paralyzed, for his path is still no easier.


Practice and Theory


To defeat depression, you must introduce a fresh perspective to your thinking.


Practice and Theory


You must begin to replace troubling, destructive thoughts with positive constructive ones.


Practice and Theory


Think good and it will be good.


This is not foolish optimism; this is recognizing the goodness within even a seemingly bad situation, recognizing that battling your fear means overcoming a challenge.


Practice and Theory


Get rid of the confusion in your life.


You must untie the knots that bind you, but you must also remember that you can only untie one knot at a time.


Do not be discouraged by the prospect; even the highest mountain must be climbed a single step at a time.


Just as confusion breeds confusion so does clarity dissipate confusion in its clear light illuminating the direction of your future life.


As you take one step in a positive direction you gain the momentum to travel whatever distance is necessary.


Practice and Theory


Write down and examine the five highest priorities in your life.


Are they ephemeral goals or eternal ones?


Are money and status more important than your family and helping other people?


If so then it is obvious why you have great fear in your life.


You know full well that you could always fall short of these goals.


You can distract yourself from your material cycle by focusing on the positive – your achievements, your abilities, the people you love.


Better yet, share your anxiety with friends and family members who will give you support, a fresh perspective, and positive suggestions.


Get involved in projects that are profoundly gratifying.


Soon enough your life will be so full of meaningful activities that there will be no time for fear and anxiety.


Finally introduce G-d into your life.


Realize that you are here for a purpose that is greater than all the greatest experiences in life.


The higher you set your values, the less you will fear the mundane anxieties that can dominate daily life.


Recognize that G-d within you protects your soul; even someone who has been battered and bruised in life has a pure soul.


You must remember…


That there is nothing on this earth to fear, for G-d is always with you, and by following his instruction, you open the channels for his blessings.


Practice and Theory


No matter how overwhelming your fears may seem, give your soul time to speak to you.


Initially, fear may prevent you from hearing your soul.


But be patient and persistent.


There is only one condition – that you address your fears truthfully and sincerely, for fear and anxiety will not respond to hollow statements.


Practice and Theory


Imagine coming to a place where money and power and vanity have no value.


That place is here and now.


The moment you look fear in the eye it begins to crumble.


Use your intellect to harness your emotions, and use your spirit to conquer your fear.


Above all, let joy and enthusiasm – and G-d – come into your life.


Let the brilliance of your own soul shine into every dark corner where fear might flourish.

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