“What’s the difference between being scared and anxious?”
My therapist posed this question recently and I’ve been trying to form my thoughts since then. Just moments before, I had mentioned that I was anxious and then found myself saying that I was “really really scared.”
Initially, I didn’t know what the difference was; I never gave much thought to it. At the time, I responded the best I could, while knowing I needed more time to think about it.
It feels more socially acceptable to say, “I’m anxious.” I use scared when I’m feeling a bit daring or if I know someone is brushing off my anxiety, not understanding the extent it impacts my life. I realize it’s unfair for me to hope that people can read my mind and no one will ever understand me the way I understand myself. But I digress.
Scared is when my catastrophic thinking takes over and my mind believes every task is a life or death situation.
When I’m anxious, my mind is racing. When I’m scared, I feel paralyzed. Even though it’s only for a few moments, or a few minutes at most, it’s still an unpleasant and helpless feeling.
Maybe scared is a word reserved for children, especially those sharing their bedroom with a monster that awakens after the lights are turned out. I don’t hear adults using it very often, outside of discussing our current political climate.
In my experience, my scared and anxious feelings are both rooted in fear.
Fear of disappointing others who see the best in me.
Fear of every worst-case scenario becoming a reality.
Fear of not only feeling inadequate, but actually being inadequate. Of course, grades don’t determine my worth, but it’s hard to remind myself that when I have been studying all day, for weeks at a time.
While I am still cautiously optimistic, the fear of failing is still present. I know now that even if I’m nowhere close to failing (academically), that feeling will never go away.
To some extent, I know my feelings are shared by others. I’ve been reassured by mentors, professors, and friends that how I feel is completely normal.
But is it?