Fear vs Anxiety: The Differences You Need To Know

Last Update on April 7, 2022 : Published on April 9, 2022
Fear vs Anxiety

Fear and anxiety, while there are similarities between the symptoms of the two, there are some subtle differences that we often overlook. Many of us (including myself) may have interchangeably used fear as a substitute for anxiety and vice versa.

Easily mistaken for each other, fear and anxiety often co-occur together and even though their symptoms might overlap, the emotions you feel during each experience differ a lot.

Both these emotions produce a stress response and can cause us to experience muscle tension, rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, and other physiological symptoms often associated with being threatened. These symptoms can activate the fight-or-flight response that is necessary for survival.

In this blog, let’s take a look at the definition, origins, symptoms, common causes, and more on fear and anxiety and how anxiety differs from fear.

Also, Read Stress Vs. Anxiety: The Basic Difference That You Need To Know

Fear Versus Anxiety: The Definition

Fear is a response to a threat or anything we perceive as danger. While we have evolved with time, the response to fear and the need to survive hasn’t evolved much.

The emotional brain or the limbic system is activated when we sense a threat or when we experience fear. Fear can cause changes in our senses and can either cause us to fight or flee to stay safe. The experience of fear is out of your control and is more often than not immediate.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is the uneasiness we feel when under stress. Anxiety can make you feel uncomfortable, cause racing thoughts, and can be considered an onset of the fear response.

Anxiety is caused by non-specific threats that may or may not have the ability to harm you. The feeling caused by anxiety can be considered having a sort of discontent. For example, the kind of unease you may feel walking down the street in the dark.

Fear Versus Anxiety: The Symptoms

The symptoms, while shared, may still have different effects. Some of the symptoms of fear can include:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Tightness in chest
  • Dry mouth
  • Trembling or sweating
  • Experiencing detachment from reality
  • Inability to focus
  • No emotional control
  • Feeling stressed
  • Clenching fists
  • Being aggressive
  • Freezing or fleeing

Anxiety is a mechanism that works in protecting us against any unperceived or perceived threat. Anxiety can also be a warning system to warn us against something dangerous. Symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • Trembling or sweating
  • Tightness in chest
  • Nausea
  • Shallow breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hot flashes
  • Increased heart rate
  • Muscle pain or headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Over-worrying
  • Catastrophizing
  • Feeling restless, irritable, fatigued
  • Substance or alcohol use
  • Social isolation

How Is Anxiety Different From Fear?

Anxiety differs from fear in many ways but the more clear differences lie in emotions. Fear is an emotional response to real and specific danger or anything you perceive as dangerous or threatening while anxiety is a vague apprehension for something that can be triggered by many different events.

Anxiety can also be a response caused by stress that may present itself with or without a trigger.

When you experience anxiety, you may find it hard to focus on the tasks at hand and when anxiety is left unaddressed, then the fear of getting anxious can develop. This ever-running cycle can ultimately lead to you developing unhealthy coping mechanisms and habits to avoid anxiety triggers.

These extreme feelings of anxiety, when causing enough disruption to your daily life, can be diagnosed as anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions that can cause feelings of anxiety in inappropriate situations like going grocery shopping or moving to a new city.

An anxiety disorder can only be diagnosed by a professional and if you or your loved one may be experiencing persistent feelings of anxiety, then it is recommended you consult a therapist for a proper diagnosis.

Anxiety is a response that can be triggered by anything unlike fear, which can be only triggered by a specific event.

Getting Help…

Generally, anxiety disorders and even fears can be treated by combining psychotherapy, medications, and self-help coping strategies. In any case, psychotherapy is the first line of treatment, and medication is prescribed only if psychotherapy doesn’t help or if the causes of anxiety disorder are severe.

Fear and anxiety can be linked with many mental health disorders including specific phobias, social anxiety, and panic disorders.

Again, a psychologist can make a proper diagnosis and offer a treatment plan to help you overcome or ease your symptoms. Of course, with so many similarities between the two experiences, a professional diagnosis can help in clearing the confusion, learning the differences, and coming up with the right camping and treatment strategies.

If you or your loved one is struggling with symptoms of anxiety or fear, you can reach out to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) or contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1800-662-4357.

You can also reach out to your local helpline number for more information and assistance.

If you’re seeking professional help or consultation, you can connect with a professional at BetterHelp. BetterHelp’s trained and experienced professionals can make it easier for you to understand the difference between fear and anxiety and help you get the right treatment.

(BetterHelp Link)

As a BetterHelp Affiliate, we may receive compensation from BetterHelp or other sources if you purchase products or services through the links provided on this page.

 I hope this blog helped you understand how anxiety differs from fear and how to get help. For more, you can write to us at info@calmsage.com or DM us on social media.

Take care and stay safe.

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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