I’ve learned in therapy a lot about the difference between fear and anxiety. More than one clinician has used what I’ve termed “the bear analogy.”
Fear is a bear chasing you in the woods—you have to save yourself or die.
Anxiety is feeling like a bear is chasing you when you’re lying safe in bed.
Sounds simple. But there are different types of anxiety. Following the bear analogy, here are some basic definitions for the anxious and non-anxious alike.
Phobia: Pictures of bears freak me out. Real bears freak me out. Yogi Bear freaks me out. I will avoid at all costs anything to do with bears.
Panic Attack: The thought of a bear makes my heart race and my palms sweat. Some might mistake these reactions as an actual heart attack.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: I’m anxious about a lot of things. Sometimes it’s bears, sometimes it’s snakes, sometimes it’s the thought I’ll lose my job, wife, house, car, etc. for no good reason.
Social Anxiety: Oh no, I’m supposed to attend a party tomorrow with a bunch of zoologists. The host is a bear expert. I know nothing about bears; I’ll make a fool of myself.
Anticipatory Anxiety: I know tonight when I drive past that forest preserve I’ll be worried about hitting a bear. I’m anxious about being anxious about that.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: One time I returned from the nature center and felt a strong urge to wash my hands, fearing I had touched a picnic bench a bear had peed on. Now I feel compelled to wash my hands every fifteen minutes to make sure I’m always “clean.”
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: I survived a bear attack and deal with the horrors of the experience every day. The smell of campfires returns me to the terrifying moment the bear took a swipe at my face.
NOTE: THESE LAST TWO CONDITIONS ARE NOT ANXIETY-BASED BUT STILL INTEREST ME
Depression: Sometimes life sucks so much I wish a bear would eat me.
Schizophrenia: I am TEDDY, King of the Bear-People!