Anxiety and fear are different emotional responses to a threat or perceived threat. Knowing how to recognize these emotions can help you cope.
Fear and anxiety are emotions we all experience from time to time.
Some people have occasional bouts of anxiety or fear. Others with anxiety disorders, phobias, and panic disorders may experience these emotions more frequently and intensely.
Your fear response activates when there’s a present danger. Anxiety is an emotional state that causes worry, often when there’s no imminent danger.
Anxiety can cause fear, and fear can also create anxiety. But while anxiety and phobias can make everyday activities difficult, help is available.
People sometimes talk about anxiety and fear as if they’re the same thing.
Anxiety can stem from past, present, or future worries. It can also make daily living difficult and interfere with your social life, job, or school.
Common anxiety symptoms include:
- difficulty concentrating
- excessive worry
- tense muscles
- sleep problems
- feeling of impending doom
- digestive issues
Fear, on the other hand, is a response to present danger. Your body goes into fight or flight mode when you’re fearful or afraid. You might also experience a fawn response.
This response happens when hormones released into the body prompt it to either stay and deal with danger or flee to safety.
Common signs of fear are:
- increased heart rate
- shortness of breath
- chills or sweating
- dry mouth
For example, if you live in an unsafe area, you may worry about someone breaking into your home. The environmental factors in this situation create anxiety symptoms and cause excessive worry.
If you had a burglar in your home, your body would activate its fight or flight response.
The way you respond to a situation depends on the severity of the threat.
Various treatment options exist for anxiety and fear. If fear and anxiety are interfering with your life, you may consider talking with a medical or mental health professional to determine the right treatment for you.
Psychotherapy may help with anxiety and phobias that cause fear. Therapy can teach you new skills and coping mechanisms to help reduce fear and anxiety.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Mental health professionals commonly use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat anxiety. It may help by educating you about anxiety, helping you recognize and challenge anxious thoughts, and gradually exposing you to things that make you anxious or fearful.
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
ACT is an evidence-based practice for treating anxiety disorders and phobias.
Most people try to avoid unpleasant and painful emotions. ACT uses mindfulness and various other therapeutic methods to help people find meaning and create a fulfilling life despite painful emotional experiences.
Emotional freedom technique
One technique mental health professionals may recommend for reducing anxiety or fear is called the emotional freedom technique (EFT). Also called “tapping,” it combines components of CBT, exposure therapy, and pressure points on the body.
A trained mental health professional can help you learn this technique.
You may also find it helpful to take medication for fear and anxiety. A combination of medication and psychotherapy is effective for treating anxiety disorders.
Common medications for anxiety include:
Benzodiazepines treat anxiety in the short term and may work faster than other medications. Because there’s a chance of becoming dependent on these types of medications, doctors don’t usually prescribe them long-term.
Common benzodiazepines include:
Doctors prescribe buspirone specifically for anxiety. It often takes 2 to 3 weeks to take full effect, and people are less likely to become dependent on this medication compared to benzodiazepines.
Antidepressants help treat depression, but some may also help with anxiety. Doctors typically prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) to treat anxiety disorders.
These medications may take a while to reach their full effectiveness, so it’s important to talk with your doctor about what to expect.
Beta-blockers can help with the physical symptoms of anxiety. Typically, they work on a short-term basis and help with acute anxiety symptoms.
If you experience fear and anxiety, you can do some things at home to alleviate the symptoms.
Yoga has positive physical and mental health benefits.
For example, research from 2019 explains that yoga and psychotherapy can help reduce anxiety symptoms, especially in people with panic disorder.
If you’re pregnant or have underlying health conditions, talk with your doctor before engaging in physical activity.
Try avoiding caffeine
A 2017 review suggests that drinking caffeine can increase anxiety symptoms and cause sleep disruptions in people with anxiety disorders. You may find it helpful to limit your caffeine intake to help reduce physical symptoms of fear and anxiety.
Try mindfulness-based meditation
Mindfulness-based meditation may help calm your mind and keep you in the present moment. Much of mindfulness practice focuses on the here and now.
More research is needed to determine whether meditation can reduce anxiety symptoms in the long term. But you still may find it helps you deal with acute symptoms like racing thoughts.
Journaling is another helpful coping skill for dealing with overwhelming thoughts and emotions associated with anxiety and fear.
You may find that writing down your thoughts helps you clarify your feelings. Journaling may also provide you with an outlet for your worries.
The physical and mental health symptoms of fear and anxiety can feel unmanageable for some people. If you’re overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety and fear, help is available.
When fear and anxiety make life difficult, it may be helpful to start with small steps like telling someone close to you how you feel or processing your thoughts in a personal journal.
Talking with a mental health or medical professional is another way you may be able to find relief.
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