Handling Stress and Anxiety: Putting Anxiety in Its Place: Risks vs. Resources

Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus


Franklin was a good accountant and had a well paying job, but when he calculated various emotional risks, his figures were all wrong. “There’s no way I could ever ask Denise out,” he thought to himself. “I’d probably stumble all over my words, and she’d think I’m a jerk. I could never show my face around her again.”


The uneasy feelings of anxiety are usually due to some misfortune or dreaded event that people expect or anticipate ~ a sense of threat or of being at risk for suffering some loss or injury.

The amount of resources that people feel they have for coping with the risk also figures into anxiety experiences. Usually, when people feel extremely anxious, they tend to overestimate the risks and underestimate their ability to deal with them.

Here’s an example that helps to illustrate this point: Imagine you’re camping in the deep woods, sitting by a fire, when suddenly, out of the trees a large, ferocious and very hungry bear appears. On a scale of one to ten how scared will you feel? Probably a ten, right? O.K., let’s assume you have a strong, long and sharp stick to fend the bear off with, now how anxious will you feel? Maybe a nine? What if you were with a large group of people, all with sharp sticks? What is the fear now? Or, let’s say instead of sharp sticks, the group was armed with burning torches? What’s the level of fear now? Perhaps a six? Let’s go a step further and assume the group had rifles and shotguns. How frightened would you feel then? Probably much less than a ten, a nine, or a six, right? Sure, because in this last scenario you perceive yourself as having powerful resources (guns) for coping with the risk (a bear).

Of course, on our imaginary camping trip, we would merely fire a few blanks into the air and the bear would run off unharmed. (Never fire live ammunition into the air ~ it will come down somewhere!)

The point here is to underscore the relationship between our appraisals of risk and our estimates of coping resources and how this relationship influences anxiety experiences. Remember, most anxious people overestimate the risk or threat and underestimate their coping resources. Franklin probably would not make a jerk of himself in asking Denise out, even if she turned him down. What’s more, he very likely has the personal strength to recover with only a few “scars” if she did say “no.”

The next time you start to feel anxious,

• ask yourself if you are accurately gauging the extent of the risk you’re facing and then try to consider all the resources you have at your disposal for coping with it.

We believe this simple exercise will be very helpful in keeping a balanced perspective and can assist you to reduce unnecessary anxiety.


Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute. In addition to his general psychotherapy practice, Dr. Clifford Lazarus specializes in health and neuropsychology.

Dr. Clifford Lazarus received his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University where he was a Henry Rutgers Research Scholar.  Seen here are excerpts from one of his books, The 60-Second Shrink – 101 Strategies For Staying Sane In a Crazy World, a book, he co-authored with his father “One of the ten most influential psychotherapists in America”  Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D.  For more details on Dr. Clifford Lazarus visit this link to The Lazarus Institute.  Or visit his page here on friendlysuggestions.com.


Books available at Amazon by Arnold and Clifford Lazarus

Direct links to two highly recommended books by Dr. Clifford Lazarus and Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus:

The 60-Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World 

Don’t Believe It for a Minute!: Forty Toxic Ideas That Are Driving You Crazy

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