What Is The Difference Between Fear And Anxiety?

what is the difference between fear and anxiety

Fear, anxiety, and stress are closely related emotions that involve feelings of worry or discomfort.

Anxiety typically arises in anticipation of an event, while fear is a reaction to an event that has already occurred.

Stress, on the other hand, is the tension or pressure felt from external demands, such as deadlines.

Fear is an instinctual response to perceived danger, such as the fear experienced at the sight of a bear, which is a direct reaction to a potential threat to safety. In such situations, the fear response is rational, prompting actions to avoid harm.

Anxiety serves as a response to potential threats, similar to fear, but often occurs in situations where the threat is not immediate or is uncertain, like the worry about failing an exam.

Stress differs in that it is elicited by external pressures requiring adaptation or response, such as the pressure to meet a work deadline. It does not necessarily involve the perception of a direct threat to personal safety, which distinguishes it from fear and anxiety.

The physical symptoms experienced as a result of these emotions can vary based on the individual and the specific part of the brain that is activated during these emotional responses.

People with anxiety usually feel shaky, nervous, or tense. Some even feel scared or panic. These changes can include:

  • sweating
  • shaking
  • trembling
  • shortness of breath
  • rapid heartbeat

You shouldn’t use any medications to treat anxiety without first talking to your doctor or pharmacist.

Anxiety is most often noticed in young children through excessive crying, sleep disturbances, or restlessness.

As children grow older, they might exhibit aggression, social isolation, problems concentrating, or frequent headaches.

When treating adults, doctors recommend using both medication and counseling.

The medicine works best alongside cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and relaxation techniques. So how does anxiety affect the body?

When someone experiences anxiety, their bodies become activated. Their heart rate increases, and blood flow goes into overdrive. Adrenaline floods the system, and breathing becomes shallow.

Blood vessels dilate, making it harder to breathe.

This is not dangerous per se, but it could leave a person unable to cope with situations that usually wouldn’t cause them concern.

For example, if someone was driving down the highway, they might begin to feel anxious about approaching traffic lights.

Their body reacts by preparing itself for action to avoid this happening.

By increasing blood flow to specific brain parts, adrenaline prepares the body for action. However, high levels of adrenaline also make it difficult for the person to think clearly.

Without thinking clearly, they might lose control of their car.

It’s worth mentioning here that there are many types of anxiety disorder. In addition, different types of anxiety require different treatments.

For example, some types of stress can be treated successfully with CBT alone.

In contrast, others need more intensive treatment involving drugs and/or psychotherapy.

Do I Have An Anxiety Disorder?

Do I Have An Anxiety Disorder

Suppose you have been diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

In that case, you are undoubtedly aware that having this condition means you have significant worries about everyday things.

You may find yourself constantly worrying about everything, from losing money to getting fired at work.

There are two primary forms of GAD. One form occurs only once – known as ‘pure’ GAD, and the other is called ‘chronic’ GAD.

Pure GAD tends to be less severe than chronic GAD.

This is because pure GAD usually happens when something triggers bad feelings – such as losing one’s job – rather than occurring all the time.

Chronic GAD is defined as lasting for three months or longer.

It may be tough to recognize chronic GAD since you won’t necessarily have a strong difference in apparent symptoms.

While a doctor might initially diagnose you with a different anxiety disorder, they may diagnose you with chronic GAD.

This typically happens after running tests and seeing how your anxiety responds to treatment.

What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

The exact causes of GAD aren’t clear. But experts believe it has several contributing factors:

  • Genetic makeup. Studies show that people with family members with depression or anxiety disorders tend to develop these conditions themselves.
  • Stressful life events. These include serious illnesses, death in the family, divorce, financial problems, relationship issues, moving house, starting school, getting married, or being separated.
  • Life transitions. People who move away from home, get divorced, start a new job, or go back to college will experience increased stress.
  • Brain chemistry. Researchers suggest that some people have an inherited tendency to produce too much serotonin, which helps regulate mood and behavior. This imbalance can lead to anxiety.

How Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treated?

There are many ways to treat GAD. Medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes can help control anxiety and reduce its impact on daily living.


Doctors often prescribe medications to treat anxiety in adults. However, they are most effective when used with behavioral therapies like CBT.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavior therapies focus on changing unwanted thoughts and behaviors through learning strategies. Examples include mindfulness training, exposure therapy, and cognitive restructuring.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can play a significant role in managing GAD. For example, if you smoke, try to stop. Quit drinking alcohol if you can.

Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Exercise regularly. Eat smaller meals during the day.

And take breaks throughout the day by going outside or doing another activity.

Support Groups

Talking to others who understand can be helpful. In addition, support groups offer emotional support and information.

Many local and national organizations provide support groups for those dealing with anxiety.

Alternative Medicine

There are growing studies showing positive effects from using alternative medicine to manage anxiety.

For example, research shows that certain herbs have antianxiety properties. Several vitamins also seem to decrease stress and anxiety.

However, many of these remedies haven’t yet been extensively studied.

What Are Other Effective Treatments?

It’s common to feel anxious about being anxious. You’re worried you’ll make yourself worse if you talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling.

But talking to someone else about your feelings can help ease them.

There are different types of support groups for people with anxiety problems.

For instance, some focus on specific issues, while others address general anxieties.

Support group members usually meet regularly in person or online to chat with other individuals going through similar situations.

Another option is to join a group at a local library. Online forums are great resources too.

Many websites offer tips and advice for managing stress, anxiety, and related conditions.

What Are Some Other Common Types Of Anxiety Disorders?

What Are Some Other Common Types Of Anxiety Disorders?

Social phobia is characterized by extreme anxiety about interacting with other people socially. Social anxiety may cause you to avoid social situations, stay in your room or even leave the country.

You may feel fearful about meeting new people or talking to strangers.

As a result, you may isolate yourself from friends and family.

Specific phobias involve intense fears about particular objects or situations.

People with specific phobias tend to overreact to perceived threats and become anxious due to their fears.

Phobic disorders are common among children and adults.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) involves recurring intrusive thoughts and images and repetitive behaviors such as handwashing, counting, hoarding, and checking.

Obsessions refer to obsessive thoughts that may include aggressive, sexual, or religious themes.

Compulsions are rituals performed to cope with addictions.

OCD might affect school performance, job productivity, and relationships.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops when someone experiences an event or series of events that cause serious injury, death, or physical threat.

PTSD often results in nightmares, flashbacks, and avoidance of reminders of the trauma.

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder involving sudden episodes of terror and fear.

The attacks are unpredictable, severe, and last up to thirty minutes.

During these “raids,” sufferers experience shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, and numbness.

They may also experience chest pain, heart palpitations, shaking, trembling, and choking sensations.

Sufferers typically try to control themselves through breathing exercises and muscle relaxation but find this difficult.

Postpartum depression has both psychological and physiological components.

Women who experience postpartum blues can be reassured by knowing they are not alone in their sadness.

However, if these mood swings persist for weeks or months, then it’s time to see a doctor.

Depression leads to changes in sleeping patterns and appetite. A woman experiencing this condition feels sad, irritable, and guilty.

She may lose interest in activities she once enjoyed, like spending time with her baby. She may sleep poorly and eat little or overeat.

This state of mind can continue for weeks or months.

If left untreated, depression can lead to complications such as low birth weight, premature delivery, and suicidal tendencies.

Are There Any Natural Treatments For Anxiety Disorder?

Many natural treatments for anxiety include herbal remedies and meditation.

In fact, some studies have shown that certain herbs can help boost serotonin levels, which helps reduce stress.

Homeopathy is another effective way to treat symptoms of anxiety.

Most Anxiety Symptoms Are Normal

If you’re worried about having anxiety attacks, they might not signify a large disorder.

Most anxiety symptoms fall into one of four categories: everyday concerns, worrying too much, worrying about nothing at all, or panic attacks.

You might not be suffering from long-term anxiety because most common anxiety symptoms are entirely typical.

Consequences Of Stress And Anxiety On Your Body

Stress can impact all aspects of our lives. From simple tasks to more complex ones, we constantly face challenges and stressors in life.

We have to learn to cope with these challenges and stressors and handle them appropriately.

Unfortunately, if we do not manage stress properly, it may result in physical ailments and diseases.

Moreover, chronic stress can also contribute to the development of psychiatric illnesses, such as anxiety.

Final Thoughts

Stress is unavoidable. However, learning how to deal with stressful events and circumstances can significantly improve your overall quality of life.

If you need help coping with stress, seek the aid of a qualified counselor who can provide you with the tools necessary to effectively manage stress in your life.

A healthy lifestyle, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and good relaxation techniques can help you overcome stress and anxiety.


About our Author Michelle Landeros, LMFT license# 115130
Author: Michelle Landeros, LMFT

Michelle Landeros is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist (LMFT). She is passionate about helping individuals, couples and families thrive.

Last updated: July 13, 2024