Understanding Fear and Stress

I’m Dr. Michael Olpin. Let me help you get rid of your stress … for good.

Article Highlights

  • What is the purpose for living and being?
  • One purpose for living is to learn how to expand ourselves
  • In order to expand and grow, we must step outside and that usually involves overcoming fear

Every turn you fear is empty air dressed to look like jagged hell.

—Richard Bach

Fear and stress are very similar. They oftentimes feel the same. If we truly understand fear and get a clear picture of what is happening when we feel fear, we can oftentimes dispense with the need to fear things at all. We can make the fear disappear!


In class, when we begin our focus on fear, I start with this ominous sounding question: “Why do you think you are here?” I don’t mean to ask the students why they are here in this building on this particular day. I ask them why they feel they are alive and what they are here to do. What is their purpose for living and being? They commonly respond with answers like these:

• To learn everything I can
• To enjoy life to the fullest
• To make a difference in other people’s lives
• To serve others
• To support a family and provide a quality life for my kids
• To develop my skills, talents, and natural abilities
• To have a good time
• To work toward and reach my goals I set for myself

After some discussion, I tell the class that I would like to add one additional purpose that takes into account some of those already mentioned. I introduce the idea that one purpose for living is to expand. I believe that you and I and everyone that gets to live a lifetime on this earth are here to expand, to grow, to become more of who we are. We are beings with infinite potential and amazing capabilities.

This desire to expand is an instinctive part of our nature. We may not always follow it, but inside of us, dormant perhaps, is this tendency, this urge, to become more of who we are. However, realizing that potential is a gradual process. It doesn’t happen in an instant. We expand in the direction of our potential much like a balloon expands as air is slowly blown into it.

Expanding and Our Comfort Zone

In contrast to our desire to expand is our tendency to gravitate toward our comfort zones. A comfort zone is any place, situation, relationship, or experience where we don’t feel any threat to our sense of well-being. It is where we feel safe. It is usually a known place or situation where we feel some control or at least we usually know what is going to happen. Examples of comfort zones include our homes, our jobs, and the things we commonly do every day. Our comfort zones also include the people with whom we spend time such as our friends or family members, the places we frequently go to eat, the types of food we eat, the places we go to exercise, the type of car we drive, and the routes we commonly travel to get to our various destinations. We prefer being in places, around people, and doing things that are routine for us, when they pose no threat.

In the illustration below, the circle represents us. In it, we put our “comfort zones.” This is where we prefer being most of the time.
Comfort Zones

Now comes the tricky part. In order to realize this aspect of our human nature, which is to expand and grow, we must leave our comfort zones. We must do things that feel uncomfortable. There is very little growth, expansion, or progress when we are spending our time and energy in those places we would call our comfort zones. Certainly, we are usually safe and tend to enjoy pleasant experiences there, but little expansive movement happens in our comfort zones. Like the expanding balloon, leaving our comfort zones might look like this:
Moving out of comfort zones
Moving out of our comfort zones doesn’t happen without effort on our part. Our effort produces the expansion. However, this effort usually involves overcoming or dealing with some type of fear. We could call the part outside the circle the “discomfort zone,” because the name implies that we don’t feel especially comfortable “out there.” Nevertheless, if we are to expand and grow, that is where we must put ourselves. Moving into our discomfort zones invariably involves facing our fears.

It important to understand what fear really is. When we understand what is happening in our mind when we fear something, it becomes easier to do something to change the feelings of fear.

In future articles we will discuss what fear really is and how to use it to our advantage in expanding ourselves, overcoming challenges, and experiencing peace of mind.

References: The World is Not a Stressful Place, pp. 88-90

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