Afraid Of Everything

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated January 24, 2022

afraid of everything anxiety symptom

Feeling afraid of everything, such as most, if not all things, seem more dangerous and threatening than unusual, is a common anxiety disorder symptom.

Many anxious people get this strong feeling from time to time, or as a constant backdrop to their struggle with anxiety issues.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and feeling afraid of everything symptoms, including descriptions, causes, treatment, and prevalence.

Afraid Of Everything Symptom Descriptions

Common descriptions of this symptom include:

  • Feeling afraid all the time about everything.
  • Feeling that everything is threatening to one degree or another.
  • Feeling that everything triggers a fear reaction.
  • Things that would normally not frighten you now generate a fear-reaction.
  • Feeling like a constant state of gloom, doom, and foreboding follows you everywhere.
  • Feeling like your thoughts are consumed by fearful thoughts that you feel you can’t stop.
  • Feeling like you can’t shut off feeling afraid, scared, and worried.
  • Feeling like everything is now dangerous.
  • Feels like your fear response is stuck in the “on” position.
  • Every little thing now startles you.
  • Feeling like a black cloud of danger has enveloped you.
  • Feeling like you are afraid of things you never were afraid of before.
  • A feeling of relentless dread.
  • Feeling as if normal things, situations, and circumstances are now fearful and a cause for concern, and that ordinary things that never used to bother you are now fear-provoking and perceived as dangerous.
  • Feeling that even things that normally wouldn’t frighten you now trigger a strong fear reaction.
  • You don’t feel safe anywhere.

To name a few.

This feeling can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you feel overly reactive once in a while and not that often, feel overreactive off and on, or feel overreactive all the time.

This feeling can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety symptoms or occur by itself.

This feeling can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and stress or occur “out of the blue” and for no reason.

This feeling can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.

This feeling can change from day to day and from moment to moment.

All combinations and variations of the above are common.

To see if anxiety might be playing a role in your symptoms, rate your level of anxiety using our free one-minute instant results Anxiety Test, Anxiety Disorder Test, or Hyperstimulation Test.

The higher the rating, the more likely anxiety could be contributing to or causing your anxiety symptoms, including feeling like impending doom symptoms.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

Causes

Medical Advisory

Talk to your doctor about all new, changing, persistent, and returning symptoms as some medical conditions and medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms.

Click the link for Additional Medical Advisory Information.

There are three main causes of the anxiety symptom “feeling afraid of everything:”

  • Behavior
  • The stress response
  • Hyperstimulation (chronic stress)

1. Behavior

Apprehensive behavior, such as worry, is the most common cause of feeling afraid of everything.

Apprehensive behavior involves imagining worst-case scenarios and fearing they could come true.

Consequently, overly apprehensive behavior can create a state of being afraid of everything.

We struggle with anxiety disorder because we cope with life in overly apprehensive ways, increasing the situations, circumstances, people, and things we become afraid of.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a classification of anxiety disorder that pertains to being afraid of many things.

2. The stress response

Anxious behavior, such as worry, creates anxiety: the physiological, psychological, and emotional state of being anxious.

When we behave in an apprehensive manner, we activate the body's survival mechanism, more specifically, the stress response.

The stress response secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream, where they travel to targeted spots to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat—to either fight with or flee from it.

This survival reaction is often referred to as the fight or flight response, the emergency response, the fight, flight, or freeze response (some people freeze when they are afraid like a “deer caught in headlights”), or the fight, flight, freeze, or faint response (since some people faint when they are afraid).[1][2]

Visit our “Stress Response” article for more information about its many changes.

Some of these changes include:

  • An increase in blood sugar so that we have an instant boost of energy to either fight or flee.
  • Heightened nervous system activity.
  • An increase in most of our senses.
  • Increased activity in the fear center of the brain (amygdala and others) and decreased activity in the rationalization areas of the brain (cortex and others) so that we immediately react to danger rather than remaining in harm’s way as we figure things out.
  • A heightened sense of danger and an urgency to escape.

These changes can increase a sense of being in danger.

The more often the stress response is activated, the more often we’ll perceive things as more threatening and thusly dangerous.

An active stress response is a common cause of feeling like everything is dangerous.

3. Hyperstimulation (chronic stress)

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the many stress response changes.

However, when stress responses occur too frequently, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body can’t complete recovery.

Incomplete recovery can create a state of semi-stress response readiness, which we call “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are stimulants.

Hyperstimulation is also often referred to as “hyperarousal,” “HPA axis dysfunction,” or “nervous system dysregulation.”[3][4]

Visit our “Hyperstimulation” article for more information about the many ways hyperstimulation can affect the body and how we feel.

Hyperstimulation can cause changes of an active stress response even though a stress response hasn’t been activated.

Some of these changes include:

1. The fear center of the brain (amygdala) becomes more active and dominant.

As a consequence, we become more aware of, sensitive to, and reactive to the notions of risks and danger.

In a sense, the fear center goes on hyper-alert looking for and warning us of danger...in more situations and circumstances than normal.

As a result, the predominant tone of our thoughts and emotions is fear (danger, foreboding, impending doom), causing our thoughts and emotions to be perceived as more dire and threatening.

As the degree of hyperstimulation increases, so can the fearful tone of our thoughts and emotions.

This is one of the reasons why smaller concerns can cause overdramatic responses.

As hyperstimulation increases, the reactive nature of the stress response increases. And, the more reactive the stress response becomes, the easier it is to trigger another stress response (hyperstimulation causes the stress response to become like a “hair trigger”—easy to fire).

Similar to how a military base goes on high alert when a threat is detected, hyperstimulation causes the fear center to go on high alert.

Increased fear center alertness increases surveillance and readiness for threats, causing an elevated notion of danger, which places the body on high alert (hyperarousal).

The amygdala and body only “stand down” when hyperstimulation is eliminated. Until then, the brain and body remain on “high alert” and ready for immediate action.

2. Hyperstimulation suppresses the rationalization areas of the brain (the cortex and others).

Suppressed rationalization[2] can dramatically reduce our ability to rationalize and think clearly.

A reduced ability to rationalize can make it more difficult to dismiss irrational and fearful thinking, making it more difficult to calm ourselves down.

Even though we might realize our thoughts and fears are irrational, we’ll have a more difficult time dismissing them and keeping ourselves calm.

Keep in mind that the “anxiety brake” – the ability to stop fear messages from triggering the fear center – resides in the cortex.

Reduced rationalization diminishes the effectiveness of the “anxiety brake.”

3. Hyperstimulation increases the electrical activity in parts of the brain.[5]

An increase in electrical activity increases thought generation. This increase in thought generation is often referred to as “incessant mind chatter” and a “brain that never stops thinking.”

Similar to how an automobile engine revs up when you step on the gas pedal — more gas poured into the engine makes the engine’s speed increase — hyperstimulation increases brain activity since stress hormones are stimulants.

Moreover, brain cells (neurons) have an electrochemical makeup (combination of electricity and chemistry).

As the electricity in the brain increases, so does neural activity, increasing thought generation.

4. The Glutamate/GABA imbalance.

Hyperstimulation increases Glutamate, the neurotransmitter primarily responsible for excitation/stimulation.

Hyperstimulation also reduces GABA, the inhibitory neurotransmitter primarily responsible for keeping the body calm.[6][7]

As stress increases, so does the imbalance between Glutamate and GABA. As the imbalance increases, we feel more stimulated and anxious with a reduced ability to calm ourselves down.

As our excitability increases, we can experience an increase in dire and threatening thoughts.

Recovery Support members can read more about the relationship between anxiety, Glutamate, and GABA in the section, “GABA And Its Role In Anxiety And Hyperstimulation” in chapter 14.

5. Hyperstimulation increases our sense of danger.

Due to how hyperstimulation can affect the body, as the degree of hyperstimulation increases so can the feelings of fear and danger.

6.  Hyperstimulation can cause nervous system dysregulation.

Nervous system dysregulation can cause the nervous system to act erratically.

This erratic behavior can cause all sorts of nervous system anomalies, including an increased sense of danger and fear for no apparent reason.

Consequently, we can experience worrisome and distressing thoughts, emotions, and feelings involuntarily and at any time, to any degree, and about any situation, circumstance, subject, and topic.

As a result, involuntarily-caused episodes of distress and dread can appear “out-of-the-blue.”

7. Homeostatic dysregulation

The body has thousands of monitoring and regulating systems, all working together to keep the body functioning. To remain healthy, the body must be regulated and maintained in an ongoing state of internal balance, despite the ever-changing conditions.

Homoeostasis is the term used to describe this ongoing process.[8]

When the body is healthy, it does a good job managing itself. Consequently, we don’t notice the moment-by-moment adjustments when all systems are working as they should.

However, hyperstimulation can create a state of homeostatic dysregulation, also known as dyshomeostasis or cacostasis.[9][10]

Homeostatic dysregulation means the body can have trouble regulating itself, causing erratic swings in feelings, sensations, and symptoms for no apparent reason.

For example, the body might errantly:

  • Increase blood sugar or reduce it too much.
  • Increase heart rate for no reason.
  • Increase blood pressure or decrease it too much.
  • Increase perspiration.
  • Randomly increase or decrease nervous system activity.
  • Call for a stress response when one isn’t required.

And so on.

As long as the body is hyperstimulated, it can cause problems with homeostasis.

Many “out of the blue” anxiety symptoms are caused by hyperstimulation-caused homeostatic dysregulation.

The above are just a few of the many changes hyperstimulation can cause, which can cause a myriad of symptoms, including feeling afraid of everything.

The overall takeaway is: Hyperstimulation INCREASES the sense of danger and fear, which can drive anxiety.

As the degree of hyperstimulation increases, so can the feelings of danger and fear. They are directly proportional: as one increases, so can the other.[11]

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

4. Other Factors

Other factors can stress the body, causing and contributing to this symptom, such as:

Medication

Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can mimic, cause, and aggravate anxiety symptoms.

Talk with your doctor and pharmacist about your medication if you aren't sure if its playing a role in your symptoms, including this one.

Visit our Medication article for more information.

Recreational Drugs

Many recreational drugs can cause and aggravate anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Recreational Drugs article for more information.

Stimulants

Stimulants bring about their stimulating effect by causing the secretion of stress hormones.

Increasing the body’s stimulation can cause and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Stimulants article for more information.

Sleep Deprivation

Going without adequate sleep can affect the body in many ways, such as:

  • Prevents the body from sufficiently refreshing itself
  • Stresses the nervous system
  • Impairs brain function
  • Increases blood pressure
  • Increases blood sugar
  • Increases moodiness
  • Increases cortisol to compensate for feeling tired (cortisol is a powerful stress hormone)

These effects can cause and aggravate anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Sleep Deprivation article for more information.

Fatigue

Fatigue can cause and aggravate many anxiety-like symptoms, such as:

To name a few.

Visit our Fatigue article for more information.

Hyper and Hypoventilation

Over and under breathing can also cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing symptoms.

Visit our Hyper And Hypoventilation article for more information.

Low Blood Sugar

Low blood sugar, even within the normal range, can cause anxiety-like symptoms. Low blood sugar can also aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Low Blood Sugar article for more information.

Nutritional Deficiency

Nutritional deficiencies, such as low vitamin B and D, can cause anxiety-like symptoms. Nutritional deficiencies can also aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Nutritional Deficiency article for more information.

Dehydration

Dehydration can also cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms, such as:

To name a few.

Visit our Dehydration article for more information.

Hormone Changes

Hormones affect the body in many ways and can affect each other. Hormone changes can cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Hormone Changes article for more information.

Pain

Pain stresses the body, especially chronic pain. If the pain is in the high degree range, it can cause and aggravate hyperstimulation.

If you are anxious, hyperstimulated, and symptomatic, pain can aggravate them all.

Visit our Pain article for more information.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

Treatment

When other factors cause or aggravate this anxiety symptom, addressing the specific factor(s) can reduce and cause this anxiety symptom to subside.

When an active stress response causes this symptom, ending the active stress response will end this symptom.

Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and needn’t be a cause for concern.

When hyperstimulation (chronic stress) causes feeling afraid of everything, eliminating hyperstimulation will end this symptom.

You can eliminate hyperstimulation by:

  • Reducing stress.
  • Containing anxious behavior (since anxiety creates stress).
  • Regular deep relaxation.
  • Avoiding stimulants.
  • Regular light to moderate exercise.
  • Eating a healthy diet of whole and natural foods.
  • Passively accepting your symptoms until they subside.
  • Being patient as your body recovers.

Visit our “60 Natural Ways To Reduce Stress” article for more ways to reduce stress.

Recovery Support members can view chapters 5, 6, 7, 14 and more for more detailed information about recovering from hyperstimulation and anxiety disorder.

As the body recovers from hyperstimulation, it stops sending symptoms, including this one.

Symptoms of chronic stress subside as the body regains its normal, non-hyperstimulated health.

But eliminating hyperstimulation can take much longer than most people think, causing symptoms to linger as long as the body is even slightly hyperstimulated.

Even so, since this is a symptom of chronic stress (hyperstimulation), it's harmless and needn't cause concern.

Anxiety symptoms often linger because:

  • The body is still being stressed (from stressful circumstances or anxious behavior).
  • Your stress hasn't diminished enough or for long enough.
  • Your body hasn't completed its recovery work.

Addressing the reason for lingering symptoms will allow the body to recover.

Most often, lingering anxiety symptoms ONLY remain because of the above reasons. They AREN'T a sign of a more serious medical problem.

Chronic anxiety symptoms subside when hyperstimulation is eliminated. As the body recovers and stabilizes, all chronic anxiety symptoms will slowly diminish and eventually disappear.

Since worrying and becoming upset about anxiety symptoms create stress, these behaviors can interfere with recovery.

Passively accepting your symptoms while doing your recovery work will cause their cessation in time. Passive acceptance means not reacting to, resisting, or worrying about your symptoms.

Acceptance, practice, and patience are key to recovery.

Keep in mind that it can take a long time for the body to recover from the effects of hyperstimulation. It's best to faithfully work at your recovery despite the lack of apparent progress.

If you persevere with your recovery work, you will succeed.

You also have to do your recovery work FIRST before your body can recover. It's the cumulative effects of your recovery work that produce results down the road. And, the body's stimulation has to diminish before symptoms can subside.

  • Faithfully practicing your recovery strategies.
  • Passively accepting your symptoms.
  • Containing anxious behavior.
  • Being patient.

These will bring results in time.

When you do the right work, the body has to recover!

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

Therapy

When this symptom is caused by behavior, we recommend working at Level Two recovery to address the apprehensive behavior that is creating issues with this symptom.

Unidentified and unaddressed underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety and stress are the number one reason why anxiety disorder and its symptoms persist.

Dealing with your anxiety issues (Level Two recovery) is the most important work overall if you desire lasting results.

If this symptom is being caused by overly anxious behavior and what can seem like out-of-control worry, consider connecting with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists.

All of our recommended therapists have personally experienced anxiety disorder and have overcome it. Their personal experience with anxiety disorder combined with their Master's Degree and above professional training makes them a good choice when wanting to achieve lasting success over anxiety disorder, its symptoms, and worry.

Working with an anxiety disorder therapist on Level Two recovery is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder.[12][13][14]

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

Feeling Afraid Of Everything Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I feel afraid of everything, especially when I have a panic attack?

Anxiety and panic attacks are accompanied by high degree stress responses. As mentioned, stress hormones can make things seem more threatening.

The higher the degree of stress response, the more threatening things can seem.

Since anxiety and panic attacks are episodes of high degree anxiety accompanied by high degree stress responses, it’s common to feel more afraid and afraid of everything when an anxiety or panic attack occurs.

Typically, this feeling diminishes as the anxiety or panic attack ends.

Is feeling afraid of everything a sign of a serious mental illness?

In most cases, feeling afraid of everything indicates a problem with anxiety, and that’s all. However, there are instances where feeling afraid of everything could be a sign of a more serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

This is why we recommend discussing all new, changing, persistent, and returning symptoms with your doctor or mental health professional to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Can a person get over feeling afraid of everything?

Yes, you can lose your fear of everything. Reducing stress and addressing your anxious behavior can relieve you from feeling afraid of everything.

Can feeling afraid of everything become permanent?

If feeling afraid of everything is solely caused by issues with anxiety, no, it doesn’t have to become permanent. Addressing both levels of recovery can overcome issues with anxiety.

Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome issues with anxiety and its symptoms.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

Prevalence

In an online poll we conducted, 87 percent of respondents said they became afraid of everything because of their anxiety. Of this number, more than half said it was severe or their worst symptom.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including feeling afraid of everything anxiety symptoms.

References

1. Harvard Health Publishing. “Understanding the Stress Response.” Harvard Health, May 2018.

2. Ressler, Kerry J. "Amygdala Activity, Fear, and Anxiety: Modulation by Stress." Biological Psychiatry, 15 June 2011.

3. Elbers, Jorina, et al. "Wired for Threat: Clinical Features of Nervous System Dysregulation in 80 Children." Pediatric Neurology, Dec 2018.

4. Teixeira, Renata Roland, et al. “Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015.

5. Patriquin, Michelle A., and Sanjay J. Mathew. “The Neurobiological Mechanisms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Chronic Stress.Chronic Stress (Thousand Oaks, Calif.), U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2017.

6. Griffin, Charles E., et al. The Ochsner Journal, The Academic Division of Ochsner Clinic Foundation, 2013.

7. Hasler, Gregor, et al. The American Journal of Psychiatry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2010.

8. Cannon WB. Organization for physiological homeostasis. Physiol Rev. 1929a;9:399–431.

9. Marks, David. "Dyshomeostasis, obesity, addiction and chronic stress." Health Psychology Open, Jan 2016.

10. Nicolaides, Nicolas, et al. "Stress, the stress system and the role of glucocorticoids." Neuroimmunomodulation, 2015.

11. Hitti, Miranda. “Chronic Stress May Increase Anxiety.WebMD, WebMD, 17 Apr. 2006.

12. Hofmann, Stefan G., et al. “The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Oct. 2012.

13. Leichsenring, Falk. “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy?” JAMA, American Medical Association, 10 Oct. 2017.

14. DISCLAIMER: Because each body is somewhat chemically unique, and because each person will have a unique mix of symptoms and underlying factors, recovery results may vary. Variances can occur for many reasons, including due to the severity of the condition, the ability of the person to apply the recovery concepts, and the commitment to making behavioral change.