Fear and C Sickness

Fear makes the mind sick. And just like physical illnesses, the dis-ease brought on by fear vary. The spectrum ranges – again, like physical illnesses – from slight nuisance to terminal. Yes, terminal. Prolonged exposure to a fear of sufficient intensity can kill you.


Today let’s talk about fear and C sickness. I have three particular “Cs” in mind. Metaphorically, we can think of these Cs as progressive stages of a singular illness, to give us a mental picture to work from.


[su_heading size=”18″]Stage 1 – Fear brings CONFUSION[/su_heading]

As we saw in the first blog in this series, fear arises from the brain’s amygdala – it’s emotional center. Emotions fire off before the frontal lobe (source of thinking) gets into gear. We’re only talking nanoseconds to a few seconds of time – but in terms of the brain, that’s plenty of time. If you’ve ever used the phrase “Give me a minute to gather my thoughts,” you know what I mean.


When we try to think from a highly emotionalized negative state, we find it hard if not impossible to think clearly or well. This is exactly why fear is almost always accompanied by confused thoughts. And this is why we don’t want to make important decisions when we’re in the throes of fear. More often than not, the resulting decisions are less than optimal. If you are not in immediate danger, postpone any significant decision-making until you get your thoughts under you, get your composure back, and get that fear harnessed in a bit.


[su_heading size=”18″]Stage 2 – CHAOS[/su_heading]

If we fail to get our feelings checked in stage 1 and get our mind back in good working order regarding the accompanying fear, then we invariably slide into chaos. Our thinking becomes more muddled and we sit at a crossroads of the mind trying to figure out which road to take. Choices seem to multiply and become more confusing. This is another way in which the oft neglected third F – frozen (see 1st blog in series) comes into play. We become frozen in our decision-making and even in the way we are thinking about the source of the fear. It’s a fruit of the mental chaos.


[su_heading size=”18″]Stage 3 – CATASTROPHIZATION[/su_heading]

When we fail to rein in our mind and bring our feelings under the subjection of sound thinking – chaotic thinking turns into catastrophic thinking. We begin to “write the narrative ahead,” as I describe it to clients. And the story is rarely a pleasant one. We imagine how the fear-based scenario will play out to horrible ends. We are beset with “what if” thinking that multiplies the anxiety which always accompanies fear. As a result, both fear and anxiety begin to snowball as we replay the catastrophic scenarios out in our mental narrative over and over.



Fear causes C Sickness, if we allow it. The absolute best solution is to grab control of your thought train when the process begins. It’s much easier to subdue at that point. I often use the streets of San Francisco to illustrate this point with my in-office clients.

If you put a car in neutral at the top of one of SF’s famous hills, you can easily prevent the car from rolling. Just by leaning against the hood, you can hold the car in place. Virtually no effort is required.

However, what happens if the car begins to roll, gathers momentum as it advances, and about halfway down the hill you jump in front to try and stop its velocity? Exactly!

It’s the same way with thought processes. If we get control at the outset, when fear is just beginning to creep into our mind, it’s easy to subdue. If we wait until it gets halfway down the hill… now we have our hands full!



Dr Michael Ruth, Growth Resources, Personal Growth