Perceiving Danger: What Is the Difference Between Anxiety and Fear?

When the world becomes a scary place and a person is always afraid, a person’s sense of well-being is damaged. No one wants to be anxious or afraid all of the time. It is important to differentiate between anxiety and fear to be able to cope with life. There are normal levels of anxiety and real reasons for fear. The problems occur when we lose the ability to control anxiety and fear. A person who is overly anxious or fearful can receive help with counseling and psychotherapy.

When should A Person Seek Help?

When a person is always anxious or afraid or can not tell the difference between real danger and irrational fear, help is needed. Some people are not sure whether the discomfort they feel is ongoing anxiety or if they are afraid of something specific. When a person realizes they are not happy and need help, they can take a huge leap of faith and contact a mental health professional.

When a person decides to seek help, they are making a commitment to themselves and their mental health. Mental health professionals can assist a person in achieving better mental health dealing with life experiences and managing as life happens around them. They can have help with things that happened in the past and what is happening now. They can learn new coping skills and how to overcome negative thoughts and behaviors. There is therapy for anxiety and other specific counseling programs to fit patient needs.

Types of Therapy

Among the newer types of therapy and counseling programs are wilderness therapy, somatic therapy, group therapy, nature-based therapy, and trauma-informed therapy. Other forms of therapy may include EMDR therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, gestalt therapy, and more. The patient and the clinician can work together to choose the correct type of therapy for them.

What is the Difference Between Anxiety and Fear?

Since fear and anxiety feel similar and are closely related it may be hard to tell the difference. Both give us a feeling of danger and the possibility of being hurt. Fear may be seen as a reaction to a specific threat or danger, while anxiety is thought of as a more diffuse, unfocused, future-oriented fear.

A person might be afraid or fearful of a barking dog near them or an approaching storm. Fear makes a person have a fight or flight response such as running away for safety. The person will be on high-alert with increased metabolism and an imminent need to defend themselves. The person has different blood flow and can be unable to move.

Anxiety on the other hand is like a person’s general fear of a future possible event such as dying or becoming ill, or losing a job. This anxiety does not have the same flight ot fight response and it does not have the same triggering event as the threatening dog or oncoming storm. Anxiety is the anticipation of a possible future event and makes a person become chronically aware of or anticipating future potential threats.

A person might have panic attacks or have chronic anxiety that interferes with their job performance or their enjoyment of life and personal relationships. A person can become anxious with “what if” thinking that makes them afraid of going to new places or traveling or trying new things. They no longer have an accurate or reliable signal for danger.

Both fear and anxiety are alerting signals, but they prepare a person for different actions. Fear is focused on a known external danger like a dangerous dog. but, anxiety is a more generalized response to an internal conflict or and unknown threat.

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