This site is intended for Healthcare Professionals only

Fear and anxiety


Fear and anxiety

I have undergone a type of cognitive behavioural therapy approach to overcoming my fears, says Peter Kelly


Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying the two certainties of life are death and taxes. Another two certainties of life are fear and anxiety. There is no state of being permanently free from fear and anxiety. The world is a dangerous place, always has, always will be.

Fear is a fascinating thing. There is always plenty to fear and yet we often feel fear for things that are not dangerous. In the book Moby Dick, the narrator observes how sometimes he feels as safe and sound on a boat on the high seas as he did when rocking in his chair on dry land. Our fear radar is often not well calibrated.

Which brings us nicely to phobias. I used to have a fear of public speaking. If I was due to speak in public, I would physically feel different that if I was not due to speak in public. I would feel a mild sense of dread, hands might become a bit clammy, throat a little dry.

I would overthink everything about the situation. I remember times waiting to hear a two line, pray of the faithful at mass. I would reread the lines over and over again and still somehow imagine that when the time comes, I will go blank or forget how to read. My body would feel like it was getting ready for some kind of flight or fight response.

On some level, a part of me would feel like I was about to do something dangerous. The brain would have half-baked thoughts circulating, prophesying, what if you say the wrong thing, what if you say something mad and so upsetting, that everyone turns on you. I was naïve enough to believe that people listen to the prays of the faithful!

In the last 10 years however, I have done a lot of people-speaking. I have hosted radio shows, spoke to assemblies of students, performed in a couple of plays, attended acting classes and performing an unaccountable amount of stand-up comedy shows. Most weekends now, I perform in comedy clubs to hundreds of people.

And while I may still get some nerves, it more the nerves of an athlete wanting to win a race or a match. Comedy is very competitive, you have to deliver. Physical my body does not react anywhere near as dramatically as it once did. I do not feel in any danger.

This of course makes sense and is in many ways the basis for a cognitive behavioural therapy approach to overcoming fears. I have become climatised to being in front of a crowd speaking to the extent that the fear factor has dissipated.

The strange thing about this, is I now have a mild fear of heights which I never had before. I now get feel slightly physically different when I am high up somewhere with a drop. Basically, a balcony. It is almost like on some level, my body and mind, have decided we need to be afraid of something.

Or we need to project our fear onto something. Now I would say the physical sensation I get now from heights is in no way comparable in intensity to the fear I once had over public speaking. But I never had any before. I think anxiety is also like fear. I do not think it can ever be fully erased.

You can work on something that gives you a high level of anxiety and remove it but it may lead to a lesser degree of anxiety being redirected in a different direction. We all have anxieties about how we live our lives. In some economic theories, there is an assumption that people will live in a way that maximizes their earning potential.

Of course, this is nonsense. Most people do not live like this. The system will reward you if you do live like this but is it worth it. When I first qualified as a pharmacist, I was 24 years old and did not really know what I wanted to do with my life. I decided to take the path of maximising my earnings while at the same time, reading as much as possible and taking time to really think what I wanted to do with my life.

During this time, I had persistent anxiety and a nagging feeling that I was wasting the one life I had. The only really sense I had, was a feeling that I would never feel satisfied unless I was doing something creative and performative.

I am now fully committed to trying to become a full-time comedian. I still have a way to go but I am getting closer. I still get a little anxiety about whether I am making the right decision in this pursuit but it pales in intensity compared with the anxiety I had when maximising my earnings was my goal.

You can never be fully safe and you can never be fully sure you are making the right decision for you.


Peter Kelly is a pharmacist based in London and stand-up comedian.





Copy Link copy link button