What’s the difference between fear and anxiety? I’ve been pondering that lately (mainly because my anxiety has been in overdrive since before the holidays) and I think I can explain it this way:
My anxiety is an overreaction to negative thoughts. For me, it can help to mentally play out the hypothetical and think about the actual worst-case scenario, which, for something I’m just anxious about, is usually not the end of the world.
Fear on the other hand, is a response to something real impacting me. A real risk. Something where if the worst-case scenario happened, it would be catastrophic (or at least really terrible).
One is useful, one is not.
Last weekend our new puppy gave himself an idiotic injury by licking metal while outside in sub-zero temperatures. He had a little cry, bled a bit, then went to sleep. I didn’t start to be afraid until the next day when he was refusing to eat or drink, quickly becoming lethargic and low. It reminded me of our previous dog who died from IMHA (google at your own peril, though every dog owner should know the signs), which sent my fear into overdrive. Worst-case scenario: death. Definitely on the catastrophic end of things.
I called the emergency vet who gave me some really good advice and steps to take, and sure enough, within a few hours Rocket was back to his old self, just with a sore patch of skinned tongue. My fear led me to take a real action that in turn alleviated my fear.
Anxiety may require outside help (from a therapist or psychiatrist, for example), but ultimately learning to cope has to come from within. It involves changing the way you think and training your brain not to worry needlessly. With fear, you often need something external to change, whether it’s getting new information, removing yourself from a situation, changing your behaviour, etc.
Figuring out whether I’m experiencing anxiety or fear is my first step before I start implementing coping mechanisms for anxiety. I need to know whether I’m overreacting or whether a reaction is warranted. I will remember that fear can be useful.