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Fear's Connection to Anxiety

For some, the distinction between fear and anxiety is matter of semantics.

Guest blogger: Rita Schiano

Fear is a distressing negative emotion brought on by a perceived threat. It is a basic survival mechanism that triggers the 'fight or flight' response, that jewel of a primordial response mechanism that helps safeguard our survival. Our fears, however, can often take on a life of their own and stop us dead in our tracks.

While there is a distinction between fear and anxiety, for many people it is merely a matter of semantics. For example, I will say I have a fear of water when, in fact, what I experience is anxiety about being in the water. If I truly feared water, I would not shower, drink it, cook with it, or enjoy a refreshing walk when it sprinkles on a hot summer day.

Standing on a dock or in water that is more than roughly six inches deep is a whole other matter. Fear is a natural reaction of the fight-or-flight response that is triggered by danger. Once the danger passes, so does the fear response. The body calms down and returns to normal state of balance.

However, as we have evolved and the dangers to our survival have morphed, bypassing our rational mind, the fight-or-flight response is more accurately a biological and psychological change that occurs in the body when a danger is perceived.

Standing on a dock is not a threat to my physical survival. The thought of falling off the dock and into the water creates anxiety, trapping panicky thoughts. The voice of fear paints scenarios of disaster that seem believable. And panicky thoughts can quickly become obsessive.

As anxiety takes hold, it becomes more difficult to make rational decisions and the voice of fear becomes more believable. Rationality is bypassed; what you believe is what matters. And most of the time, what we fear, what we worry about, never materializes.

Jerilyn Ross, president of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) remarked that anxiety disorders “ . . . all involve irrational, seemingly uncontrollable and frightening thoughts, which often results in avoidance behavior. And in all cases, the person with the disorder is fully aware that their behavior is irrational. . . . What’s more, in most cases the disorder impairs the person’s normal functioning.”

Be mindful of your anxious thoughts. When anxiety or the act of worrying becomes excessive and all consuming, it may be time to talk with your primary care physician.

Bio: Rita Schiano is an author, keynote speaker, and founder of Live A Flourishing Life™, offering programs help people develop and tap into the skills and attitudes necessary for them to overcome personal and professional barriers, build resilience, and live a better life. An adjunct professor, Ms. Schiano teaches philosophy, leadership, and stress management courses. Her books include Live A Flourishing Life, a stress management and resilience-building process book, the critically-acclaimed novel Painting The Invisible Man, and the soon to be released, The Path To Flourishing. Visit her online at

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