Emotional Effects

Being Afraid: An Anxiety Cause and Symptom

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

Being Afraid: An Anxiety Cause and Symptom

Anxiety is, in a sense, fear. Anxiety isn't necessarily being afraid of anything, but anxiety is the activation of your fight or flight system - the system that is triggered by fear. This is one of the issues that makes anxiety so confusing. You can have anxiety and not be afraid, but anxiety itself is a malfunctioning fight or flight system, so your body is reacting like it's afraid.

But can being afraid also be a symptom of anxiety? The answer is absolutely yes, and we will explore it in this article.

How Your Anxiety Causes Fear

If fear is what's causing your anxiety, you're not alone. You may have a fear of public spaces, a fear of spiders, or just a lot of fears throughout your day. Fears do commonly cause anxiety.

But what about anxiety causing you to be afraid? That can happen too.

Anxiety causes several changes and symptoms that can actually create fear even when fear wasn't there. Below are just a small sample of the number of ways that anxiety can contribute to being afraid:

  • Symptom Fear One of the most common reasons that anxiety causes you to be afraid is because anxiety can cause you to fear the symptoms. As soon as your anxiety symptoms occur, you start to experience fear, because the physical symptoms and mental symptoms can be overwhelming. You know that they can control you, so you start to worry about your anxiety, causing you to worry about everything around you.
  • A Direct Symptom With some disorders, like panic disorder, being afraid is actually a specific symptom, though it's not clear why this occurs. Panic disorder causes a feeling of immanent doom, and that doom can lead people to fear what's going to happen next. However, some of this feeling is also from the physical symptoms of anxiety.
  • Associations Anxiety can also create associations with itself. For example, if you often have anxiety attacks in a mall, then every time you're in the mall you may find yourself experiencing anxiety and you don't even know why. These types of learned associations happen every day, and can cause you to feel fear without necessarily knowing why.
  • On-Edge Feeling Whether or not anxiety directly creates that feeling of being afraid and on edge isn't clear. But there is some evidence that your mind adapts to the way you feel. So when you have anxiety, and your body starts reacting like you're experiencing a fear response, then your mind may also adapt to that feeling and start to feel fearful as a result of your anxiety symptoms.
  • Neurotransmitter Changes Finally, we know that anxiety can change hormones and neurotransmitter levels. During times of anxiety, the brain is likely experiencing stress and changes that cause it to be more fearful.

These are all of the basic reasons that anxiety itself can cause being afraid as a symptom. We know that being afraid can cause anxiety, but there is a lot of evidence that the other way around is true as well.

Comprehensive Anxiety Treatment

Being afraid causes anxiety and anxiety can cause being afraid. This complicated relationship can make it really hard to control your anxiety and stop it from affecting you.

That's why you need to make sure that you're engaged in an anxiety treatment that is known to improve your long term ability to control fear.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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