22 Insights – What is the difference between fear and anxiety (2024)

Anxious and frightening emotions can feel the same and be easily confused. They both produce a similar stress response to a real or a perceived threat.

Many experts believe there are important differences between the two. These differences can account for how we react to various stressors in our environment.

Let’s dive right into it.

Keep reading for insights on ways to know the difference between fear and anxiety:

11 Insights On Fear:

  1. Fear arises with the threat of harm, either physical, emotional, or psychological, real or imagined.

While traditionally considered a “negative” emotion, fear actually serves an important role in keeping us safe as it mobilizes us to cope with potential danger.

  1. Fear starts in the part of the brain called the amygdala. According to Smithsonian Magazine, “A threat stimulus, such as the sight of a predator, triggers a fear response in the amygdala.

This activates areas involved in preparation for motor functions involved in fight or flight.

  1. Fear is an important human emotion to help protect you from danger and prepare you to take action. 

Finding ways to control your fear can help you better cope with these feelings and prevent anxiety from taking hold.

  1. Fear weakens your immune system and can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, and decreased fertility.

It can lead to accelerated ageing and even premature death.

  1. Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are released. Your blood pressure and heart rate increase. You start breathing faster.

Even your blood flow changes — blood actually flows away from your heart and into your limbs, making it easier for you to start throwing punches, or run for your life.

  1. Fear of God refers to fear of, or a specific sense of respect, awe, and submission to, a deity. People subscribing to popular monotheistic religions might fear divine judgment, hell or God’s omnipotence.
  1. Fear works similarly to storytelling where imagination is the main drive. Everyone has an ability to learn from fears just like learning from stories or movies.

The science behind fear stems from being able to imagine bad scenarios.

  1. Fear can be learned through direct experience with a threat, but it can also be learned socially through verbal warnings or observing others.

Research shows the expression of socially learned fears shares neural mechanisms with fears that have been acquired through direct experience.

  1. Hidden or unexpressed feelings become frozen into the structure of your body. These negative emotions become stored along your spine and in the backs of your legs.

Most of your powerful emotions such as anger and fear are stored in your back.

  1. Fear is powerful enough to keep us from achieving our goals and living our best lives. It feeds stagnation and keeps us from taking advantage of opportunities. 

Many people are living in the self-made prisons of their own fears. Healthy fear however, helps us discern safe situations from dangerous ones.

  1. The trance of fear traps the mind in rigid patterns. The mind obsesses and produces endless stories, reminding you of bad things that might happen and creating strategies to avoid them.

When you bring unconditional presence to the trance of fear, you create a foundation for true spiritual awakening. Courage and kindness allow you to discover that loving awareness is your true nature.

This awakening is the essence of all healing, and its fruition is the freedom to live and love fully.

Related Article: Ways How To Overcome The Fear Of Driving On A Highway here.

What Is The Difference Between Fear And Anxiety
Photo by Ethan Chang on Unsplash
  • 11 Insights On Anxiety
  1. With an anxious temperament, your body goes on high alert, looking for possible danger and activating your fight or flight responses.

As a result, some common symptoms of anxiety include: nervousness, restlessness, or tension, feelings of danger, panic, or dread.

  1. Long-term anxiety and panic attacks cause your brain to release stress hormones on a regular basis. This can increase the frequency of headaches, dizziness, and depression.
  1. Anxiety is distress or uneasiness of mind caused by a thought of impending danger or misfortune. People with anxiety also often hold onto worries.
  1. Anxiety will run tension through the body and impact different muscles.

Some feel it in their neck, jaw, chest, or stomach. There is no specific area – wherever the brain sends the nerve signals.

  1. Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives.

Anxiety disorders are treatable and a number of effective treatments are available which help most people lead normal productive lives.

  1. Follow the 3-3-3 rule to learn to control feeling detached.
  • Start by looking around you and naming three things you can see.
  • Then listen. What three sounds do you hear?
  • Next, move three parts of your body, such as your fingers, toes, or clench and release your shoulders.
  1. Anxiety leads to nearly identical symptoms as stress: insomnia, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, muscle tension, and irritability. Both mild stress and mild anxiety respond well to similar coping mechanisms.
  1. The groups of people who are most affected by anxiety disorders are women, adults under the age of 35, and people with other health conditions.

Around 10.9 percent of adults with cardiovascular disease in Western countries also had generalized anxiety disorder.

  1. It’s normal to feel anxiety from time to time. Maybe you’re nervous about speaking in public, worried about a health issue or concerned about your finances.

As troubling as it can be, occasional angst is not harmful. In fact, it can actually be helpful, serving as the motivation you need to tackle new challenges.

  1. To diagnose an anxiety disorder, a doctor performs a physical exam, asks about your symptoms, and recommends a blood test.

This helps the doctor determine if another condition, such as hypothyroidism, may be causing your symptoms. The doctor may also discuss any medications you are taking.

  1. Worry prods you to use problem-solving skills to address your concerns.

Anxiety is persistent, even when concerns are unrealistic. It often compromises your ability to function.

Related Article: CLEAR Signs Of Introvert Burnout & Effective Coping Strategies

Fear And Anxiety Symptoms

Fear causes many changes in the body similar to that of anxiety. Fear and other core emotions are automatic physical reactions you can’t prevent. Nature designed you this way for a reason.

Fear and anxiety often occur together, but these terms are not interchangeable. Even though symptoms commonly overlap, a person’s experience with these emotions differs based on context.

However, fear is an immediate response to a known or definite threat, whereas anxiety occurs in anticipation of a threat. Examining these different emotions can help you determine what you’re truly experiencing.

Anxiety stems from your mind’s interpretation of the possible dangers. It’s often accompanied by panic disorder with many sudden feelings that can add to the anxiety.

Some of the most common physical symptoms of anxiety feel like:

  • Accelerated or rapid heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Cold chills or hot flushes
  • Depersonalization and derealization
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Excessive sweating
  • Feeling like you’re going insane
  • Headaches
  • Muscles tense or pain
  • Numbness or tingling 
  • Ringing or pulsing in ears
  • Shaking and trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Tightness felt throughout the body, especially in the head, neck, jaw, and face
  • Upset stomach or nausea

Some of the most common obvious effects of fear include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Faster breathing or shortness of breath
  • Butterflies or digestive changes
  • Sweating and chills
  • Trembling muscles
  • You see only the downside
  • Fear doesn’t let you stop to think it through
  • Fear tells us to avoid anything new or unknown
  • Constricts rather than expands who we are
  • Fear obscures your intuition
  • Keeps us from making any decision at all

Fear And Anxiety Meaning

Experiencing fear and anxiety present subtle distinctions. Both contain the idea of danger or possibility of injury. They also both activate the stress response.

A better understanding tells us they appear to be a protective mechanism to prepare the body for different actions.

Anxiety is a generalized response to an unknown threat of impending danger or internal conflict, whereas fear is focused on an external real danger.

Early humans needed the fast, powerful responses that fear causes, as they were often in situations of clear and present object physical danger. However, we no longer face the same threats in modern-day living.

Despite this, our minds and bodies still work in the same way as our early ancestors, and we have the same reactions to our modern worries about bills, travel and social situations. We can’t run away from or physically attack these problems though, so anxiety continues.

The physical feelings of anxiety fear can be scary in themselves – especially if you’re experiencing them and you don’t know why, or if they seem out of proportion to the situation.

Instead of alerting you to an immediate danger and preparing you to respond to it, your anxiety, fear or worry can kick in for any perceived threat, which could be imaginary or minor depending on your thoughts about it.

What Is Fear

Without fear, we’d be easier prey. It’s an emotion believed to have evolved to increase our probabilities of staying safe when faced with a threatening situation.

Fear automatically kicks in as a response to a real or perceived mental or physical menace to your well-being or safety and releases when the danger is no longer present.

What follows is a series of biochemical reactions in your body where your sympathetic nervous system is activated, and stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are released priming you to either stay or escape the adverse or unexpected event.

This is known as the fight-or-flight response, which is deemed essential to life.

This survival mechanism plays a vital role in how you manage stress and detect hazards in your environment. Fear functions as an alerting system that can shield you from danger and provide you with the leeway to make appropriate decisions, such as to stay or leave. 

However, feeling disproportionate levels of fear or having a heightened sensitivity to possible threats may be indicative of a chronic psychological condition like anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Fear And Anxiety
Photo by Alexandra I. on Unsplash

What Is Anxiety

Anxiety is a natural human emotion in response to a stressful or perceived threatening situation. 

This cue allows you to make the necessary adjustments and take appropriate measures to cope with the stressors, or risks in your environment.

Anxiety can manifest as a different emotional response in everyone, for instance:

  • Normal anxiety surfaces in anticipation of an unclear threat or a future event, like an imagined danger of walking down a dark street
  • Anxious feelings can emerge if you believe you are in danger of possible future threats but you are not
  • Higher levels of anxiety, like a panic attack, may be prompted by an overreaction to a threat you perceive as more serious than it really is

These disproportionate reactions usually produce intense, and frequent physical reactions of anxiety.

These reactions can lead to self-destructive behavioral reactions such as:

  • avoidance of anxiety-provoking situations
  • obsessive worrying/overthinking
  • social isolation
  • dependent behaviors like substance misuse or overeating

How To Overcome Fear And Anxiety

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can be beneficial in some situations. It can alert us to dangers and help us prepare and pay attention.

Anxiety fear differs from normal feelings of nervousness or anxiousness. Anxiety disorder is the most common mental illness and affects nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives.

However, anxiety disorder as a mental health condition is treatable and a number of effective treatments are available.

Treatment strategies like, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), is very effective for people with anxiety disorder, including Computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which takes you through a series of self-help exercises on screen.

Here are some ways you can help yourself:

1. Face Your Fear If You Can

If you always avoid situations that scare you, you might stop doing things you want or need to do. Exposing yourself to your fears can be an effective way of overcoming this anxiety.

2. Know Yourself

Keep an anxiety diary or thought record to note down when it happens and all the physical changes that happen. Set small, achievable goals for facing your fears. 

Address the underlying beliefs that triggers anxiety.

3. Exercise

Exercise more as it requires some concentration, and this can take your mind off the fear and anxiety.

4. Relax

Learn relaxation techniques to help calm the mental and physical feelings of fear. It can help just to drop your shoulders and breathe deeply. Or imagine yourself in a relaxing place. You could also try learning things like yoga, meditation or massage.

5. Healthy Eating

Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and try to avoid refined sugar. Resulting dips in your blood sugar can give you anxious feelings. Also avoid caffeinated drinks as caffeine can increase anxiety levels.

6. Avoid Excess Alcohol

It’s common for people to drink when they feel nervous. The after-effects of alcohol can make you feel even more afraid or anxious.

7. Faith/Spirituality 

Feeling connected to something bigger than yourself can provide a way of coping with everyday stress, and attending church and other spiritual groups can connect you with a valuable support network.

Many wonder, Does My Anxiety Ever Go Away On Its Own – Effective Strategies (Link will follow).

Fear And Anxiety Quotes

Sometimes wise quotes can help to adjust our perspective.

“I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” – Mark Twain

“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” – Helen Keller

“Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” – Winston Churchill

“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda

“Have no fear of perfection–you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali

If you feel anxious, fearful or have other mental illnesses which are negatively impacting your everyday life, getting to know the thoughts contributing to it and/or speaking with a therapist can help.

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About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.