Most of us experience worry, anxiety, fear or panic to some degree these days, but not many of us understand these feelings.
We often try to categorise what we experience, however these feelings are all levels of the same state. Below are the definitions of each state.
Worry and Anxiety Responses to an unknown threat, in anticipation and created by our imagination. Worry usually leads to feeling anxious.
Fear and Panic
A set of responses to a known, well defined threat which can be real or vividly imagined. Usually around avoidance and escape.
Anxiety and fear start in different parts of the brain but eleict the same responses because they end up in the same place.
The thought process creating feelings of anxiety. Worry can be helpful in problem solving, however most worry is about problems that can't currently be solved.
Worrying can create feelings of:
Helplessness – insufficient information to handle the situation
Over stimulation – too much information
Incongruity – conflicting information
Unpredictability – Uncertain outcomes
Like being on alert continually. It’s about looking for possible danger and often centres around trying to find certainty in uncertain situations.
It is an attempt to stay safe – a survival tactic. Anxiety is often about the future and because it’s too far away the outcome can't be determined.
Changes that occur in the body include:
Jumpiness and feeling on edge
Heightened senses, looking out for danger
Tense muscles – in case physical action is required
This approach serves us well if there's an actual threat, like in caveman times. However anxiety is less helpful when trying to evaluate future situations in the mind.
Forecasting disaster scenarios leads to feeling apprehensive and fearful. We start to imagine the disasters would be like.
The mind can't tell the difference between a real and vividly imagined thought so we start to literally experience fear.
Fear is associated with more precise danger and starts to engage the fight or flight response. Fear is a stage away from panic. A definite threat of danger or at least something un has been sensed. This could be something tangible or something imagined, a future based ‘what if’.
The intensity depends on:
We feel scared and afraid in anticipation, we are thinking about a future event, but it isn’t actually happening and hasn’t been classified as life threatening yet. Therefore full panic mode hasn’t been triggered. Fear starts to engage the body’s fight or flight response at this stage, especially if the object of that fear is imagined vividly and physical changes are occurring within the body, including:
Raised heartbeat, to pump the oxygen rich blood to the muscles that have already been supercharged with adrenalin
Sweating to both cool the body and give the hands better grip
This state of fear can be experienced for prolonged periods when it’s due to thought and not a real situation.
This is why anxiety and fear can be extremely tiring, this is not the way it’s supposed to work.
Fear is intended for short term survival, not long term existence.
This state of readiness means the body can quickly step up to full panic response if events deem it necessary.
Panic is an extension on fear, but in an extreme form, feeling overwhelmed by physical and mental feelings of fear turn to panic. It happens when we're faced with sudden life threatening danger at this very moment. The panic response 'red alert' gets the body instantly into the optimum stage for survival; getting ready to fight, flee or sometimes even freeze. Panic is more often experienced as a panic attack. In a truly dangerous situation the physical effects of panic are put to good use fighting or fleeing and we would be focusing on doing just that not thinking about how we're feeling. It's only when panic strikes for no apparent reason that we have the chance to become aware of physical sensations.
This state often accompanies the above four.
While not directly related, depression shares some of the above negative thinking. Constant anxiety and fear eventually leave a person feeling overwhelmed and that life is hopeless. Feelings of hopelessness are key characteristics of depression.
I hope this was helpful.