Knowing the Difference Between Anxiety and Fear
I think one of the most difficult aspects of coping with anxiety is dealing with the fear that is inherent to this experience. While fear and anxiety are not necessarily the same thing, they typically walk alongside one another, and that is why it can be helpful to analyze one in order to understand the other.
The Relationship Between Anxiety and Fear
According to NAMI, fear is our reaction to immediate threats in our environment, while anxiety is a reaction to our emotions.1 NAMI also states that anxiety results from the effort to push aside emotions so that we don't have to experience them. But, the physical reaction of both is very similar, and that is why it can sometimes be difficult to figure out what you are experiencing.
Why is it so important to identify what you are experiencing? For myself, I have found that identifying whether the symptoms are a result of fear or anxiety helps me to figure out how to cope. If I am feeling anxious, but there is no immediate threat around me, it is usually safe to say that I am dealing with anxiety, and I need to take a close look at what has triggered the reaction and what my current situation is.
How to Cope with Fear and Anxiety
Unfortunately, many times, there isn't a specific trigger, and I find that the anxiety I am experiencing is related to anticipation of a potential threat, even if I have no idea with that threat is, and even if, rationally, there doesn't seem to be an imminent threat. Therefore, sometimes anxiety can be hard to figure out. And while anxiety isn't always debilitating for everyone, it can be difficult to manage if the lines seem to be blurred between fear and anxiety, resulting in a constant state of worry, panic, and fearfulness with no end in sight. Here are some of the things that can be done to help in the face of these physical symptoms of anxiety:
- Identify what you are feeling. It can be helpful, as I mentioned, to first identify whether it is fear or anxiety, or even whether it has now become fearfulness of being anxious. This can be done by paying close attention to your symptoms and even journaling your experiences and symptoms.
- Find ways to relax. This is so important for me. I exercise, watch a funny movie, do a meditative activity, even cook, and this can put me in a more relaxed state that calms the physical symptoms. Sometimes, this can help me to revisit the anxious thoughts later on, to put things into perspective.
- Talk it out. This is also vital for me. If I talk it out, I can process the symptoms, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors to help me see, logically, whether there is an imminent threat or I am feeling the result of chronic stress that I have been going through. If it is the latter, then I know I need to work on this. But it also helps to become calming because, by processing what I am feeling, I am able to regain a sense of control.
Try these steps to help you face your anxiety. If there are steps you take to help you differentiate between anxiety and fear in order to help you cope, share them in the comments below.
- Hendel, H., "Anxiety and Fear: What's the Difference?" NAMI, May 2021.
Bermio-Gonzalez, R. (2021, December 7). Knowing the Difference Between Anxiety and Fear, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, September 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2021/12/knowing-the-difference-between-anxiety-and-fear
Author: Rizza Bermio-Gonzalez
Excellent read! This is something that so many people can relate to. I love "talk it out" as a way to help when fear and anxiety arise. I've also found that naming our fear or anxiety "personas" can be helpful because it reminds us that we are not these things, they are something that we are experiencing. It helps to minimize that spiral intensity and allows you to keep things in check, talking with your fear and anxiety rather than being controlled by it.