Stress, Fear and Anxiety: What is the Difference?

An example may be the best way to illustrate the differences between stress, fear and anxiety.

Imagine the following scene:

Picture yourself walking along on the sidewalk, enjoying nice, sunny weather. You are about to cross a quiet street. You come to the corner, and step off the curb into the street. Suddenly, a car comes rushing toward you!

Your heart races, your breathing rate increases, and with a surge of adrenaline, you leap out of the way! It was a near miss.

After jumping out of the way to safety, you pause for a moment before continuing your walk. You are shaking. Your palms are sweaty. Your knees feel weak. Your heart is still pounding, and you are breathing heavily.

Eventually you resume your walk, and slowly your heart rate and breathing return to normal, the shaking stops, and you feel like your normal self again.

The next day, you are out for a walk again. You enjoy the beautiful day. As you step out to cross the street, you suddenly experience a pounding heart, trembling, and a great sense of fear! Your mouth is dry, your chest aches, and you feel dizzy. But there is no car coming.

Now let's consider what is going on in this scenario, looking at elements of stress, fear and anxiety.

Suddenly, a car comes rushing toward you! This can be referred to as a stressor (an event that causes stress), signified here by the presence of physical danger.

Your heart races, your breathing rate increases, and with a surge of adrenaline, you leap out of the way! This is the body's stress response in action. You experience fear.

You are shaking. Your palms are sweaty. Your knees feel weak. Your heart is still pounding, and you are breathing heavily. These are the continued effects of the stress response, brought on by the stress hormones that were released to allow you to effectively jump out of the way.

Eventually you resume your walk, and slowly your heart rate and breathing return to normal, the shaking stops, and you feel like your normal self again. In the normal course of the stress response, you react physically to danger, and then return to baseline (the stress symptoms go away).See this page for more information about the symptoms of stress.

The next day, you are out for a walk again. You enjoy the beautiful day. As you step out to cross the street, you suddenly experience a pounding heart, trembling, and a great sense of fear! Your mouth is dry, your chest aches, and you feel dizzy. But there is no car coming. THIS is anxiety. The body experiences all the symptoms of fear, but there is no real danger.

Remembering the danger you were in the day before is one of the causes of anxiety symptoms that you are experiencing.

The links between stress, fear and anxiety are the body's fight-or-flight response, the mind's interpretation of events, and perceived danger. Stress, fear and anxiety can be quite similar.

In the example above, you feel fear in response to danger and experience stress. Later, you experience anxiety when you have all the same symptoms as you do when you are afraid, but there is no real danger.

Fear = a feeling of doom, unease, or apprehensiveness in response to imminent danger.

Anxiety =a feeling of doom, unease, or apprehensiveness when no danger is imminently present.

Stress = the body's response to danger (or stress-provoking events) and the associated symptoms.

Anxiety, therefore, is the same feeling as fear, but there is no danger to react to. With no specific threat, the anxiety is a free-floating, vague feeling. That's why it can be difficult to pinpoint and treat.

The causes of anxiety can also be very vague (it can be hard to pinpoint fears that are not specific!).

More information on....

Stress

Anxiety

Relaxation

Return from Stress, fear and anxiety to Relaxation Advice


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