The Difference Between Fear And Anxiety

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woman with fear and anxiety

Whether it's through small assignments or big presentations, we can all agree that experiencing fear or anxiety is a no-go. But did you know that there was a key difference between the two?

In the podcast "Schoolutions" with host Olivia Wahl, attachment therapist Eli Harwood discussed the difference between fear and anxiety — and why fear is crucial.

The Difference Between Fear and Anxiety

According to McLean Hospital, “Fear is the response to a perceived threat, while anxiety involves worry about a threat that has not yet, or may never, happen.”

If you are out at night and see somebody following you, then you're experiencing fear. But if you think about someone following you at night and it's not happening, that's anxiety.

Fear is our body's way of protecting ourselves. When we experience fear our body goes into fight, flight, or freeze mode. Through this, it keeps us safe and steers us away from potential danger.

Though anxiety isn't as intense as fear — it's more consistent. When we experience anxiety we tense up and become hyperaware of our surroundings.

Experiencing occasional anxiety during various stages of our lives isn't necessarily bad. However, continuously experiencing anxiety can have devastating consequences down the line.

RELATED: Why We Experience Fear — And What To Do About It

Why Anxiety Is Unhelpful

Our bodies react to anxiety in different ways.

According to Piedmont Healthcare, signs of anxiety can include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hyperventilation
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Change in eating habits

Anxiety can stem from various factors, including medication or personality traits.

Individuals who engage in substance use, have undergone trauma, or experience mental or physical illness are at a higher risk of experiencing anxiety. Prolonged anxiety can lead to depression, social isolation, and even suicidal thoughts.

Anxiety is detrimental both in the short and long term. As Harwood says, “Anxiety doesn’t offer us any protective experience.“

So, how do we manage our anxiety?

RELATED: The Hidden (And Most Dangerous) Symptom Of Anxiety

Overcoming Anxiety

"When feeling anxious ask yourself if your anxiety offers wisdom or protective measures," says Harwood.

If not, then it's time to do away with those anxious thoughts. "The most effective way is to seek professional counseling," says Harwood.

However, not everyone has access to that. So, what other options are there?

Licensed psychologist Dr. Alicia H. Clark suggests placing one hand on your chest and another on your belly for deep breathing exercises.

Breathing through your nose, direct the air to your belly. Note how your belly rises and falls.

Repeat this motion ten times until your anxious thoughts clear.

You can also try finding a support group or incorporating physical exercise into your daily routine. Harvard Medical School says, “Research shows aerobic exercise is especially helpful. A simple bike ride, dance class, or even a brisk walk can be a powerful tool for those suffering from anxiety.”

Understanding the difference between fear and anxiety can help us discern which coping mechanisms are healthy and which ones are not.

RELATED: There's Only One Way To Stop Being Afraid Of Anything

Marielisa Reyes is a writer with a bachelor's degree in psychology who covers self-help, relationships, career, and family topics.