By Jenny Hunt
March 28, 2012
Anxiety is something that affects everyone from time to time. It becomes a problem when it begins to occur frequently. The difference between fear and anxiety is that fear is a response to an immediately present stimulus and anxiety as a worry or rumination about something that has yet to occur, or may never occur. For example, if you are walking through the woods and you see a venomous snake, you will generally feel fear: a natural reaction to a present threat. The next day, you are walking in the woods again and you begin to worry that you will see another venomous snake. This feeling is anxiety. It is the expectation of a threat that may or may not come to fruition.
Fear and anxiety are not universal reactions in the animal kingdom. Every animal is born with the ability to detect and respond to certain kinds of danger, and to learn about things associated with danger. Fear is a necessary reaction for survival of a species. However, not all animals can feel anxiety. Anxiety depends on the ability to anticipate, which not all animals have. Humans are particularly skilled at projecting into the future, which is why anxiety is so common. Human anxiety is greatly enhanced by our ability to imagine the future.
Fear and anxiety can also become harmful. Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. Anxiety can affect how we behave and can manifest in real, physical symptoms. Most medical experts agree that when fear and anxiety begin to interfere with daily life, an anxiety disorder is present. Common anxiety disorders include phobias, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and generalized anxiety disorder. The complicated factors contributing to pathological fear and anxiety make these conditions challenging to diagnose and treat.
When we are experiencing anxiety, our body reacts to it like there is a present threat. Thus, fear and anxiety have similar physical manifestations. We have shortness of breath; our heart begins to pound; and our muscles tense up. Our body is reacting to the sharp increase of adrenaline that occurs when we experience fear and anxiety. Pathological fear and anxiety result from alterations of the brain systems that normally control fear and anxiety. Our bodies start to manifest the standard fear and anxiety reactions even when there is no present or potential threat, and it begins to interfere with us leading a normal life.
There are many treatments available for treating pathological fear and anxiety, but the most successful ones involve changing the reaction to fear. Medications can be used to calm the physical manifestation of fear and anxiety in everyday life. Another treatment of pathological fear and anxiety is known as exposure therapy. In this type of therapy, the individual is exposed to various stimuli that normally cause fear and anxiety. This is done in a safe environment under the care of a medical professional. Over several sessions, the fear elicited by the stimulus weakens, and the patient can live fear free, or at least with less fear and anxiety.