Anxiety vs. Fear: The Difference Matters

Happy Wednesday, my friends! This morning I woke up feeling the deep need to write. Unfortunately, that need did not come with inspiration as to what to write about, so we will see how this goes.

This month has seen a lot of life changes for me. My younger brother got married, I quit my job, and I packed up my car to move to Idaho. I’m still not sure what I am going to do here, but know that I am supposed to be here.

Well, in the midst of all these huge changes, I have been thinking a lot about the difference between anxiety and fear. For a long time, these two things felt synonymous. However, I have come to believe that they are completely different. To introduce this idea, lets look at the definitions for the two words.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines anxiety as “apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill; an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.”

Then, for fear, “to be afraid of; expect with alarm.”

Anxiety is something more complex and harder to overcome. Just as the definition for fear is more simplistic, so is the feeling itself. Now, I don’t mean to make light of fear. It’s a real struggle for many, myself included. It just isn’t on the same level as anxiety and that is a very important distinction.

The way I see it, anxiety is a mental condition whereas fear is an emotion. I have no way to prove it, but I would imagine that fear and anxiety became synonymous due to a common word in the middle ground, anxious. A person can be anxious without suffering from anxiety and I think that a lot of people lose sight of that.

Now, why does this matter? For years I have been living my life with the distinct impression that I had anxiety, because I was anxious a lot of the time. I allowed that to rule my life, because it wasn’t my fault I had anxiety. It was just something to work around.

Figuring out this distinction has been a game changer for me though. For fear can be worked through. Perhaps anxiety can be too, but the mental barrier of knowing, or thinking that I knew, that I had anxiety made it next to impossible. I am still figuring out how to work through fear, but it has allowed me to do big things. Big things like pick up and move when I feel it is time.

Much of life is a battle of the mind. We need to figure out what works for us and then move forward with it. Take the time to think about it. What works for you when things get tough and the anxious feelings arise? If you haven’t found it yet, experiment a bit. Life doesn’t become easy with this knowledge, but it sure does help.