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Anxiety vs. Fear: How to Tell the Difference

Have you ever been so scared you felt like your heart might beat right out of your chest or so anxious you couldn’t concentrate on anything else?

You’re not alone. Anxiety and fear are common emotions that we all experience from time to time. They can help us prepare for dangerous situations but can also overwhelm us and interfere with our daily lives.

When it comes to anxiety vs fear, it’s not always easy to tell the difference. Both emotions trigger similar physical reactions and can leave you feeling out of control. However, there are important distinctions between the two that can help you better understand your feelings and manage them more effectively.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety, a natural response to perceived danger or stress, is an uneasy feeling accompanied by physical symptoms like an increased heart rate, sweating, and tense muscles. Unlike fear, that’s typically triggered by a specific threat, anxiety can arise from various sources and may not have an obvious cause. It can range from mild to severe.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety can manifest in different forms, and some people may experience more than one type. Common types of anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD): A chronic, excessive worry about everyday activities and situations
  • Panic disorder: Recurrent panic attack episodes that often have no clear trigger
  • Phobias: An intense and irrational fear of a specific object or situation
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): An intense emotional response to a traumatic event
  • Social anxiety disorder (SAD): A fear of social interactions and situations

Everyone experiences anxiety differently. Some people may only experience anxiety in certain situations, while others may feel anxious most of the time.

Causes of Anxiety

There’s no single cause of anxiety. A combination of factors can contribute to feeling anxious to the point where it interferes with daily activities.

Common triggers for anxiety include:

  • Chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or asthma
  • Certain medications or substances
  • Genetics and family history
  • Stressful or traumatic life events

Anxiety can affect anyone, regardless of age, background, or gender. But certain factors, like ongoing stress or a family history, can increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

What is Fear?

Fear is an emotional response to a specific threat or danger. It’s a natural and adaptive response that helps us protect ourselves from potential harm. When we encounter something that triggers fear, our body releases hormones like adrenaline, which prepares us to either confront the threat or flee from it.

Unlike anxiety, which can arise from various sources, the fear response comes from a specific, identifiable stimulus. For example, someone with a fear of heights may experience intense fear when high up on a tall building or mountain.

How is Fear Related to Trauma?

When you experience fear in response to a traumatic event, it can become overwhelming and debilitating. Trauma occurs when someone experiences or sees an extremely distressing or disturbing event, like physical or sexual assault, natural disasters, war, or a life-threatening illness.

Traumatic events can have lasting effects on your mental health and well-being. Individuals who have experienced trauma may develop PTSD or other anxiety disorders like GAD or panic disorder. This is because trauma can alter the brain’s response to fear, increasing the likelihood of experiencing anxiety in situations that may not seem threatening to others.

How Do I Know if I Have Experienced Trauma?

If you have experienced a traumatic event, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, anxious, or fearful. However, if these feelings persist long enough and interfere with your daily life for more than a month, it may indicate that you are experiencing trauma.

Other symptoms of trauma may include:

  • Avoiding places or situations that remind you of a traumatic event
  • Behaviour changes like increased substance use or risk-taking
  • Being on edge and easily startled
  • Difficulty concentrating or sleeping
  • Experiencing negative changes in mood, such as anxiety or depression
  • Feeling detached from yourself or your surroundings
  • Having flashbacks or intrusive memories of the traumatic event
  • Struggling to maintain relationships

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, seek professional help.

Anxiety vs. Fear: Treatment Options

While self-care and support from others can help you manage anxiety or trauma, it’s important to seek professional treatment if needed. Treatment options include traditional and alternative therapies. Here’s a breakdown of some common treatments.

Traditional Treatments

A general practitioner or mental health provider may prescribe medication to help manage symptoms. Common medications used to treat anxiety symptoms include benzodiazepines and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is another effective trauma and anxiety treatment. It can help you understand the root cause of your anxiety and trauma.

It can also provide coping mechanisms to manage symptoms. Some common types of trauma and anxiety therapy include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): CBT focuses on identifying and changing negative behaviours and thoughts that contribute to anxiety. A 2020 report noted therapists have used it to successfully treat anxiety disorders
  • Exposure therapy: This treatment involves gradually exposing yourself to the feared situation or object in a controlled environment, helping you learn to confront and manage your fear.
  • Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is a therapeutic approach that uses eye movements along with other techniques to help process traumatic memories and reduce the impact of trauma on your daily life. Researchers found that EMDR is an effective treatment for mitigating PTSD symptoms and improving quality of life
  • Trauma therapy: If you’re experiencing fear or anxiety related to past trauma, you may benefit from therapy specific to processing and healing from that experience.

Work with your provider to decide the best treatment plan for your needs.

Alternative Therapies

Traditional treatments are effective for many people, but alternative approaches to mental health treatment offer additional avenues for comprehensive healing.

Lifestyle Psychiatry

Lifestyle psychiatry integrates various lifestyle factors — such as nutrition, sleep, exercise, and stress management — into treating mental health conditions. By addressing the interconnectedness of lifestyle elements and mental wellbeing, this treatment aims to foster holistic healing and resilience.

Ketamine-Assisted Healing

Recent studies prove the potential of ketamine in treating severe and treatment-resistant anxiety or trauma-related disorders. Ketamine-assisted therapy, administered under professional supervision, has shown promising results in rapidly alleviating symptoms of anxiety and fostering emotional processing.³

Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (DTMS)

DTMS, a non-invasive brain stimulation technique, modulates neural activity in specific brain regions associated with anxiety and trauma. Targeting neural circuits implicated in these conditions offers a novel approach to symptom management and recovery.

Coping with Anxiety or Fear

While seeking treatment is important for managing anxiety and fear, there are also self-care strategies you can use daily to cope with these emotions.

Some strategies to consider include:

  • Mindfulness practices: Mindfulness techniques, like deep breathing exercises and meditation, can help you become more aware of your emotions or thoughts and learn to accept them without judgment.
  • Engaging in self-care activities: Getting enough sleep, eating well, and engaging in enjoyable hobbies or activities can help reduce symptoms.
  • Connecting with others: Talking to friends and loved ones can provide emotional support, helping you feel less alone in your struggles.
  • Learning relaxation techniques: Techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, visualisation, or guided imagery can help calm the mind and body when feeling overwhelmed by symptoms.
  • Challenging negative thoughts: When experiencing anxious or fearful thoughts, it can be helpful to question their validity and replace them with more positive, realistic thoughts.

While these coping strategies may not eliminate anxiety or fear completely, they can provide some relief. Everyone copes with anxiety and fear differently, so finding what works best for you may take some time. If one strategy doesn’t work, don’t give up and try another.

Embrace Comprehensive Treatment at All Points North London

At APN London, we understand the impact that anxiety and fear can have on your wellbeing. That’s why we offer a comprehensive treatment approach that addresses the symptoms and causes. Our team of experienced mental health professionals combine evidence-based therapies with holistic, compassionate care to help you manage symptoms and work towards long-term recovery.

Our treatment options include:

  • CBT
  • DTMS
  • Ketamine-assisted healing
  • Lifestyle psychiatry
  • Trauma therapy

We also offer dual-diagnosis treatment if you’re struggling with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders. Our goal is to provide personalised care that caters to your needs, helping you build coping skills to manage anxiety and fear in a healthy way.

With the support of trained therapists and counsellors, you can learn to manage anxiety and trauma in a safe, nurturing environment. We believe in empowering you to take control of your mental health.

If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety or fear, call 0203 984 7699 or complete the online contact form today to learn more about our comprehensive treatment options. Together, we can work towards a brighter and more peaceful future.


  1. Apolinário-Hagen J, Drüge M, Fritsche L. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and Acceptance Commitment Therapy for Anxiety Disorders: Integrating Traditional with Digital Treatment Approaches. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2020;1191:291-329. doi: 10.1007/978-981-32-9705-0_17. PMID: 32002935,
  2. Gainer D, Alam S, Alam H, Redding H. A FLASH OF HOPE: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. Innov Clin Neurosci. 2020 Jul 1;17(7-9):12-20. PMID: 33520399; PMCID: PMC7839656,
  3. Whinkin E, Eparwa TRJ, Julseth MC, Schneider A, Aggarwal SK. Reductions in anxiety and depression symptoms in a subset of outpatients with problematic substance use who received ketamine-assisted psychotherapy: a two-year retrospective chart review. Front Psychiatry. 2023 Aug 30;14:1160442. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2023.1160442. PMID: 37711421; PMCID: PMC10498542,