The Critical Difference Between Fear and Anxiety You Need to Know

The Critical Difference Between Fear and Anxiety You Need to Know

By Jamie Matthewman
August 30th, 2016

Knowing the difference between anxiety and fear is an important distinction you need to be aware of, otherwise you’re likely to hamper your ability to create what you want in your life, because taking action, irrespective of how you feel is one of the key factors for success and anxiety can often lead to a lack of action or making poor choices.

Whether your goal is to ask out the woman of your dreams, join a gym for the first time in 10 years, leave a job to start your own business or give a speech for the first time in front of 100 people, it’s normal to feel trepidation.

Whenever you take on a new challenge and step outside your comfort zone, you’re going up against well grooved habits, so it can take a leap of faith to go against what you know, which is why it’s often too much for many men, so they quit before they begin.

This feeling, which I suspect you might call fear, is the thing that’s going to hinder you most from taking the action needed to bring you a step closer to creating what you want in the world.

In fact not so long ago, I’d have gone so far to say, that fear is the biggest enemy to living an inspired life. However I’ve since learn it’s not really fear. So if you’ve been struggling to step outside of your comfort zone and do the necessary things required to get you closer to your goals. I want to share with you a story which helped me to see that fear isn’t my enemy, in fact REAL fear is very useful as I’ll explain. 

A few years ago, myself and a few friends had been enjoying a great night out at a gig, we’d had a evening of harmless fun and when it was time to leave the club to head home, we gregariously meandered our way through the city.

As we often did when inebriated, bromance bloomed and we put our arms around one another’s shoulders, as we slowly made our way back to one of my friends houses. As we walked past a club a group of younger guys who were lingering outside, called out some comments about our sexuality, to which I foolishly responded “I’m about as gay as your mum”, which at the time I thought was a fair and accurate response.

In hindsight I should have kept my mouth shut, and an even bigger error was to reference to a man’s mother, even though it was in good spirits. However these guys weren’t clever enough to see the irony in my come back and unbeknown to us, they proceeded to follow and as we turned off the main high street they made their attack.

Now I’m not Jean Claude Van Damme but even if I was highly skilled in the art of street fighting, it would have been futile. We were massively outnumbered by a pack of yobs ready to put pay to the insult they thought they’d be thrown.

Two of my friends wisely ran, but as I turned around to try and talk my way out of the looming aggravation, I was punched to the ground unconscious. As I quickly came round, I saw my friend who’d they’d been racially abusing (he’s Indian), stood behind me.

I knew without thinking, this could become really ugly if we didn’t get out of there, so I picked myself up and instinctively said to him RUN! So we ran quickly chased by these wild dogs who funnily become no threat as they broke into smaller packs and soon retreated – it seems without numbers their bravery diminished considerably.

The Difference Between Fear and Anxiety

The reason I’m sharing this with you, is because whilst I didn’t realise at the time, I learnt a very powerful lesson about fear that night. 

Luckily, probably like you, I don’t find myself in REAL life threatening situations very often. I live in an environment where I don’t have to think about the threat of bullets, falling bombs or violence.

However, I’m thankful for that experience because I learnt that in the face of real, life threatening danger, we have the tools to navigate such events effortlessly. If the fire alarm goes off at your place of work, you’ll soon forget you’re feeling hungry, tired or angry at your colleague. 

You know the sound of the fire alarm means possible danger, so you won’t spend 10 minutes thinking about what to do, you’ll get out of the building as quickly as possible.

The feeling of REAL fear has a purpose: Self-preservation. When there is real, objective danger staring you in the face, fear is what kicks you into the infamous “flight-or-fight” mode. This quick chemical response from the older part of the brain has helped humans survive for millennia.

So REAL fear is a good thing and certainly isn’t something to be scared of – fear is an inbuilt faculty designed to help save your life.
So if fear’s not the enemy what it is? Because I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt afraid many times in my life, even when 20 hooligans haven’t been threatening to kick the shit out of my head.

So why is it I have spent many days of my life feeling as though something dreadful is about to happen or intense fear when faced with a completely safe activity such as public speaking which I wanted to run from as fast as I could until (BTW I love it now)? When my friend asked me to be his best man, I felt privileged but remember feeling petrified that day and seriously thought of not going through with it!

But it wasn’t that the actual act of public speaking holds any fear, it was my thinking about how I might screw it up in front of my friends that bothered me. Humans are the only species on the planet capable of thinking critically about the future. Pretty cool, huh? The downside is that humans are also the only species capable of triggering that same stress response when there is no immediate danger because the mind and body cannot tell the difference whether a threat is real or imagined

Get this — you can be sitting peacefully at home and one simple worried thought about the future can throw your entire body into flight-or-fight mode, a response which pumps chemicals throughout your body, preparing you to escape danger. It’s the reason your heart races, palms get sweaty, stomach aches etc. — even when nothing is actually threatening your life! 

So anxiety is the REAL problem, but even anxiety isn’t REAL, it’s an illusion. As I explained in an earlier lesson, a thought is just a thought, it has no power over you unless you forget where your experience is coming from.

It looked to me when I before I was delivering the best mans speech that the situation was the cause of my anxiety, but it’s not possible for any circumstance to harm you psychologically, because you’re always living in the feeling of thought in the moment and no thought can hurt you.

Stuff can happen to you physically, like someone knocking you unconscious, but whatever happens in your life, the event itself has no emotional power over you.

the difference between fear and anxiety

However when you don’t see this, which you won’t, it will stop you asking the girl out, quitting your job to start your own business or anything else you want to do, where you imagine some kind of future consequence you don’t want. 

This is why coaching, (with a coach who gets this stuff) is so powerful in helping you raise your game and make bigger strides in your life because like I said, it’s a given that you won’t always see the principle of thought at work, because your creative process works at lightening speed.

Your mind creates a compelling reality as soon as you say something is a certain way. In an instant your thinking creates that reality, so it looks like it’s come from something outside of you, like some future catastrophic event you imagined. But it’s made up.

You see the illusion but not the magic behind it. But more you become aware of those patterns of thought that have probably been with you a lifetime, you’ll find that more and more you become more willing to take bolder action, and less bothered by situations that in the past you’d have blamed as being the cause of your fear.

Here’s a video for you to enjoy explaining Fear vs Anxiety in 98 seconds from

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How to Overcome the Illusion of Fear

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Jamie Matthewman

About Jamie Matthewman

Jamie is the founder, main contributor and editor of The Inspired Man.

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