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Difference between Fear and Anxiety

2nd March 2015

One of the most commonly asked question I receive when lecturing is the role fear plays in change or innovation. It is common vernacular to say that fear stops us from accomplishing goals or from doing what we desire, however this is not quite accurate. Most likely you are experiencing anxiety rather than fear. First we will  start with understanding and differentiating them, then move on to how they correlate, and then we will end with tools to manage them.

“Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, and uneasiness, usually generalised and unfocused”(1). Most importantly it comes from an extended amount of time ruminating over a particular thought, concept, or idea. Fear on the other hand is an emotional response to a known or defined threat. To differentiate further lets take this example, imagine you are walking down a dark street, you may feel uneasy and with butterflies in your stomach. These thoughts come through the creation of different scenarios that could happen, rather than anything that is actually happening. This is anxiety. In contrast, say you are walking down the street and you are mugged, that immediate feeling and reaction to the attack, is fear.

They are both part of our survival motivations and due to the perception of danger. However, when we are ruminating and creating different scenarios of why we won’t get the pitch, or feeling we don’t have the right skills, or that no one will like an idea and you will be fired. All of these imagined scenarios cause anxiety. Sadly, our lifestyles of little rest, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, long working hours, and more, provide the perfect environment for anxiety.

There are tools you can use to manage anxiety. Look at diet, whilst the debate is ongoing having a high protein diet, regular meals, staying hydrated, and staying away from processed food help create a better mental environment, which helps manage anxiety(2). Secondly, regular exercise helps reduce anxiety as the release of dopamine and serotonin play a key role in its regulation. Amazingly exercise can also make you braver as it makes you less inhibited(4). Unfortunately, we cannot cannot our working hours, but we can control the amount of sleep and rest we get to tackle a large workload. There are numerous studies indicating that a good nights sleep reduces cortisol, which is one of the main chemicals behind anxiety. So, if you know if you have a particularly challenging week ahead don’t plan for a lack of sleep, do the opposite, ensure that instead you include full nights rest in your schedule(5).

REFERENCES

1 // http://www.biolmoodanxietydisord.com/content/3/1/9

2 // http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/expert-answers/coping-with-anxiety/faq-20057987

3 // http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743505002331

4 // http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166432804001585

5 // http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/06/27/sleep-loss-increases-anxiety-especially-among-worriers/56531.html