That quote was from Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt therapy.

And it's a beauty!

So, what does it mean?

Well, when explaining this to patients, I'll usually start by describing what happens in the body when we are excited or exhilarated: adrenalin starts pumping. This serves to focus your attention on the pleasurable circumstance by heightening the senses, encouraging your body and mind to continue moving towards the pleasure. Cool, right?

Yes, but... fear also causes adrenaline to be secreted, so that in situations of actual danger, your senses will be on high alert, enabling you to quickly engage in a fight or flight response. Unfortunately, because of early life experiences and associations, we can mistakenly react to pleasure as if it were something frightening. This is so embedded in us that is almost at the level of a reflex, and therefore, almost impossible to control.


There is one action that can decrease the fear reaction in the body, and it sounds so simple or cliche as to almost be unbelievable - breathe. Yep. A few deep breaths can reduce the fear state and actually bring you back to the pleasurable feelings.

Here's Gay Hendricks from his book, THE BIG LEAP, a good read for every advanced student of happiness:

"When scared, most of us have a tendency to try to get rid of the feeling. We think we can get rid of it by denying or ignoring it, and we use holding our breath as a physical tool of denial. It never works, though, because the less breath you feed your fear, the bigger your fear gets."

I believe that the breathing works because adrenaline needs to be used quickly and discharged through action, and if you actually don't have to discharge the energy by fighting or running away, you can discharge the excess hormonal energy through deep breathing. In other words, breathing through your fear is meant to be taken literally as an antidote to fear, and a way to get back to pleasure.


  1. It is widely believed that the quote "Fear is excitement without the breath" is actually by Robert Heller.

  2. Bollocks. Try telling somebody with a panic and anxiety disorder this.

    Well I suppose this may work if we breathed into the fear for a year or so.

    Apart from that, this is simplified bollocks.

    1. No, your just posing a complete impractical reduction of the insight for some personal rant that won't let you see the forest for the trees. So, as you feel that same feeling you had that rough New Years morning, try to keep you breath slow, full and deep when i ask you,
      Your not really that big of an anal retentive idiot, are you?

  3. I work with people on a daily basis like this and anyone who does and gets results for their patients knows it isn't 'bollocks'. In that one statement you offer a shift in perspective and a conscious ability to affect physiology.