Anxiety and fear are normal experiences that we all experience from time to time. Fear arises from an identifiable external threat and is one of the six basic emotions. This emotion is considered essential for survival because it prepares us for the fight-flight reaction in imminent risk situations. On the other hand, anxiety is an unpleasant emotional state accompanied by nervousness and a feeling of restlessness. Usually, fear appears at the same time that danger is presented to us (for example, when we meet a bear in the forest). And, anxiety on the other side can appear when imagining the danger (anticipatory anxiety), after the threat disappears or without apparent cause. Physical and behavioural changes often accompany both anxiety and fear.
Differences Between Anxiety and Fear
Behavioural changes that occur in fear or anxiety situations are related to avoidance behaviours (avoiding danger or what scares us) or fighting (such as getting angry or wanting to be right in an argument). While physical changes take place, as we said, to prepare the body to fight or flee. Therefore, the heart will beat faster, the breath will accelerate, and our senses will heighten. These physical changes are useful if we have to face a mugger, as in the previous example, and are considered adaptive. However, they will not help other circumstances where the threat is not physical, such as paying a mortgage every month. To organize household chores, pay bills, or find work, we don’t need our bodies to prepare to fight or flee physically.
« Anxiety at certain times is adaptive and favours survival. »
A certain degree of anxiety in certain circumstances is necessary. For example, being a little nervous when facing an exam will allow us to concentrate on the task and be motivated to do well. However, when anxiety exceeds a certain threshold or is maintained for a very long time, it is no longer considered adaptive. This situation marks the beginning of an Anxiety Disorder because it begins to cause excessive distress, significant discomfort and a deterioration in performance. Some people have a higher tolerance for anxiety than others, but everyone can develop an Anxiety Disorder. To delimit the line that separates the adaptive Anxiety of Anxiety Disorder, we must pay attention to the patient’s subjective experience, the interference with the day to day, the persistence over time and the intensity of the symptoms.
Types of Anxiety
Anxiety is classified into different anxiety disorders, according to its main characteristics. Among the various anxiety disorders, we highlight the following:
It is characterized by short-lived, unexpected, recurring, too anxious panic attacks. The patient usually presents a deep concern and intense fear that the anxiety attack will recur between crises and crises.
Fear and anxiety in the face of many situations where escape can be difficult or embarrassing. In extreme cases, it can relegate a person not to leave their home for an extended period.
This type of phobia is the persistent fear of social exposure situations for fear of being analyzed by others. There is intense shame at being negatively valued by others or feeling humiliated.
These are fears of specific issues, usually related to blood, animals, insects, small spaces, means of transport, etc.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety and excessive worry around multiple situations. It is not very intense anxiety, but continuous and before any minimally stressful factor.
Excessive and recurrent discomfort due to separation from attachment figures or home. Very common in boys and girls.
« Those suffering from anxiety usually have several different types of anxiety. »
These anxiety disorders developed in their respective sections have two main characteristics: fear and worry. Around these two main symptoms orbit other symptoms that differentiate one anxiety disorder from another. Still, it is not uncommon for people with anxiety to meet the diagnostic criteria for two and up to three of these anxiety disorders. As far as we know, neither the anatomical location nor the neurotransmitters involved differentiate one anxiety disorder from another. The difference may be like the malfunction.
Thus, in generalized Anxiety disorder, the malfunction is continuous but not acute; in panic disorder, it is severe, intermittent and unexpected. In phobias (agoraphobia, social phobia and specific phobias), it is expected. Finally, it may be that circuit malfunction is traumatic in origin, as in post-traumatic stress disorder or acute stress disorder.