Do You Know The Difference Between Anxiety & Fear?

What happens for you when anxiety strikes?

If you’re like me, you might notice that your palms and armpits are starting to sweat. It feels hot in the room, and you might start feeling self-counscious. Can people see I’m sweating?

Your neck might start to feel tight; perhaps it feels like someone is choking you.

Do your muscles go tense? I feel tension in my shoulders and my leg muscles. Sometimes I feel butterflies or even nausea in my stomach or gut.

Being anxious is very uncomfortable. In many ways, the bodily sensations of anxiety are similar to those of fear.

You’d probably feel a lot of the same sensations and discomforts in a moment of fear, like if a tiger were running towards you.


So, What Makes anxiety different?

You experience fear when you are in immediate danger.

Notice that I used the phrase “immediate danger” when defining fear. Fear always happens in real time and in real life.

What kinds of events cause fear?

  • If you’re being chased by a tiger or bear, that’s fear.

  • If a group of angry people is holding you down and threatening to hit you, that’s fear.

  • If you’re being shouted at by an abusive boss, parent, or spouse, that’s fear, too.

Fear happens when we are confronted by something real and dangerous in real life.

You experience anxiety when you predict or imagine you might be in danger in the future.

The important thing about anxiety is that it’s a thought about something that may or may not happen at some time in the future.

What kind of thoughts cause anxiety?

  • “I’m going on a safari tomorrow. What if the truck breaks down and a pack of animals comes chasing after us.” That’s an anxiety producing thought.

  • “My boss didn’t smile at me when leaving the office today, she must be about to fire me. I won’t be able to pay my rent or mortgage.” That’s an anxiety producing thought.

  • “I cut myself today. It will probably become infected and I’ll lose my finger.” Definitely and anxiety producing thought.

Each of these examples are things that might or might not happen.

Safaris happen without incident all the time; your boss might have left in a bad mood because she just found out her son got in trouble at school again; your finger will probably heal without infection because you know how keep the area clean and protected with first soap or antiseptic and a band aid.

Your thoughts, fantasies, and predictions about the future cause anxiety.

Fear Subsides When The Danger Has Passed, But Anxiety Can Last Years

Another important difference between fear anxiety is that fear generally subsides once we are out of danger.

Anxiety, however, can stick with a person for years or even a lifetime. As long as you are working, you can have anxiety about our job security. As long as you’re in a relationship, you can worry that your partner is upset, cheating, or thinking about breaking up.

When you experience anxiety, your body produces more the stress hormone cortisol, and over the long term, cortisol causes damage to cells in our body and also to our blood vessels.

Chronic anxiety doesn’t just make life harder, it also has the potential to make life shorter.

It’s important to remember that anxiety comes from thoughts and fantasies about the future—things that might happen, but aren’t real right now.

Don't let your anxiety go untreated

With anxiety, we try to predict the future, but the reality is, we can’t predict the future. Our predictions may never come true, but when we treat the predictions as real, we make ourselves anxious and keep ourselves awake at night.

The key to fighting anxiety is interrupting these predictions.


Brian, What Can I do About My Anxiety?

Fortunately, there are treatments for anxiety. Here are a few of the most researched protocols.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

  • Mindfulness

  • Relaxation Techniques

  • Meditation

  • Exposure Therapy

  • Medications

As a therapist, I’m trained in these methods except medications (I am not an MD and cannot prescribe medications.)

Working together, you and I can find a strategy for tackling your anxiety. I’ve dealt with significant anxiety in my life, starting at age 13. Therapy helped me overcome my anxiety, and I’m sure I can help you reduce the stress and sleeplessness in your life.

If you’d like to schedule an appointment or ask me a question, then click the red button below to reach my contact page.