Difference between Fear and Anxiety

Two primal human emotions are fear and anxiety. Closely linked to one another, they are associated with uneasiness, dread, and negativity. Though similar, there are differences between them, and this article will help explain them.


Anxiety can either refer to an anxiety disorder or the general emotion of anxiety. In this case, the general emotion will be discussed. Anxiety is an emotional state characterized by worry, rumination, inner turmoil, and nervousness. Anxiety usually manifests as an apprehension of something or a worry about something. It is common for anxious people to not know what the source of their anxiety is, and in some cases it does not have a source. Anxiety has been described as the apprehension of a future threat, though this is only one facet of the emotion. Anxiety can strongly affect a person’s behavior, and negatively affect their ability to work or relate to others. Anxiety is classified as a disorder when it is pervasive and causes notable problems in a person’s life.

Fear is an emotional reaction to a perceived imminent and dangerous threat. It is characterized by a variety of other feelings such as horror, sadness, or anger, and is accompanied by a need to get away from the cause or stimulus of the fear. A common response to fear is known as the “fight-or-flight” response, wherein the person feeling fear either responds to the fear by preparing to confront it, or by running away from and escaping it.

Comparison chart

Fear Anxiety
A response to imminent and immediate stimuli A response to possible future events
Usually accompanied by a flight-or-fight response Not accompanied by a flight-or-fight response
Often seen as a response to something someone can control Often seen as a response to something someone cannot control

Fear vs Anxiety

What is the difference between Fear and Anxiety? Both emotions are very closely linked to one another and in some cases can be felt at the same time, but the main difference is whether or not the fear is related to something immediate or not.

Fear is a response to something immediate, whereas anxiety is a response to something imagined, or something that might happen in the future. Suppose a man is afraid of walking alone in a city late at night because he will get robbed or beaten. When he is worried about being robbed or beaten, he is feeling anxiety. Suppose a robber jumps in front of him one night when is walking alone and confronts him. The man would then feel fear, because the robber is an immediate, actual threat.

Fear is also strongly characterized by a “flight-or-fight” response, where the person feeling fear will either confront the source of the fear or flee from it.

Anxiety is also often a response to uncontrollable future events. Suppose a man loses his job, and he is worried he won’t find another one and he will wind up homeless. He can’t control whether or not he will get a job, and his anxiety is a result of that.


The below video is an animation describing the difference between fear and anxiety.