Difference Between Fear And Phobia
By Andrew Parker - October 1, 2021

Fear and phobia can be easily confused for one another as they are directly related as fear is the feeling that is associated with suffering from a phobia. However, they are distinct terms that define different reactions to stimuli. The purpose of this article is to define those terms so that they can be easily told apart.

Table Summary

Emotional responseEmotional disorder
Normal and rationalAbnormal and irrational
Only present when threatening stimuli is presentPresent consistently over a period of at least 6 months
Measured and often manageableExtreme and frequently unmanageable
Butterflies in the stomach, fast breathing, fast pulse, nervousness, muscle tension, alertness, goosebumpsSame symptoms as fear but more severe. Can result in distress, panic attacks, fainting, or chest pains


Fear can be understood as the emotional response one feels when confronted with a stimulus that is threatening, dangerous, or painful. It can result in feelings of nervousness, having goosebumps, feeling as if you butterflies in your stomach, a heightened state of alertness, feeling tense, and quickened breathing. The response should last only as long as the feared stimulus is present.

Phobia is by definition irrational, the stimulus that is being responded to can be rational (though often is not) but is not always present. A phobia is a disorder whereby the sufferer has a sustained sensation of being fearful even at the thought of the feared stimulus and is consistently present for at least a period of 6 months. The emotional response is nearly identical to that of fear but is often, even more, severe and can result in fainting, panic attacks, and chest pains.

Fear VS Phobia

The primary difference between fear and phobia can be understood as the reasonableness of the response and the duration. For example, an individual can be afraid of poisonous spiders when there is one present and this would be considered having a normal fear response whereas if an individual has arachnophobia they will be in far deeper distress and can suffer from the phobia when there are no spiders present.