The Difference Between Fear and Anxiety

Updated: Feb 1

Fear and anxiety both produce a similar stress response. But many experts believe that there are important differences between the two. These differences can account for how we react to various stressors in our environment.


Fear and anxiety often occur together, but these terms are not interchangeable. Even though symptoms commonly overlap, a person's experience with these emotions differs based on their context.


What is fear?

Fear is an emotional response to a known or definite threat. If you're walking down a dark street, for example, and someone points a gun at you and says, “This is a robbery," then you'd likely experience a fear response. The danger is real, definite, and immediate. There's a clear and present object of the fear.


Although the focus of the response is different (real vs. imagined danger), fear and anxiety are interrelated. When faced with fear, most people will experience the physical reactions that are described under anxiety. Fear can cause anxiety, and anxiety can cause fear. But the subtle distinctions between the two give you a better understanding of your symptoms and may be important for treatment strategies.


What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a word we use for some types of fear that are usually to do with the thought of a threat or something going wrong in the future, rather than right now.

Fear and anxiety can last for a short time and then pass, but they can also last much longer and you can get stuck with them. In some cases, they can take over your life, affecting your ability to eat, sleep, concentrate, travel, enjoy life, or even leave the house or go to work or school. This can hold you back from doing things you want or need to do, and it also affects your health.