Feeling Afraid, Scared All The Time

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated May 19, 2021

feeling afraid all the time anxiety symptoms

Feeling afraid all the time is a common symptom of anxiety disorder.

Feeling scared all the time is both caused by behavior and the consequences of stress, especially chronic stress.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety, stress, and feeling afraid all the time, and what you can do to stop it.

Feeling Afraid All The Time Anxiety Symptom Common Descriptions:

  • Feeling afraid all the time, even if you don’t think you are in danger.
  • A constant state of fear.
  • It feels like everything scares you.
  • Feeling like you are always afraid and react to everything with fear.
  • A constant feeling of gloom, doom, and foreboding that follows you everywhere.
  • Your thoughts are consumed by fear, and it feels like you can’t stop them.
  • React to everything with fear.
  • You can’t shut off feeling afraid, scared, and worried.
  • It feels like everything is dangerous.
  • It feels like your fear response is stuck in the “on” position.
  • You startle over every little thing.
  • It feels like a black cloud of danger has enveloped you.
  • It feels like everything is threatening and dire.
  • Feels 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 dangerous and a cause for concern, and that ordinary things that never used to bother you are now fear-provoking and perceived as dangerous.

This list is not exhaustive.

Feeling afraid all the time can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist 24/7 day after day.

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

It can also precede, accompany, or follow a period of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and stress or occur "out of the blue" and for no apparent reason.

Feeling afraid can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves where the feeling is strong one moment and eases off the next.

Feeling afraid all the time can change from day to day, moment to moment, or remain as a constant background to your struggle with anxiety disorder.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

This feeling can seem more disconcerting when undistracted, resting, doing deep relaxation, or when trying to go to sleep or when waking up.

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 it could be contributing to your anxiety symptoms, including feeling scared and afraid all the time.

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Why Anxiety Causes Feeling Afraid All The Time

Medical Advisory

We recommend all new, changing, persistent, and returning symptoms be discussed with your doctor as there are medical conditions and medications that can cause anxiety-like symptoms.

If you've done that and your doctor has attributed your symptoms solely to stress, including anxiety-caused stress, you can be confident there isn't a medical or medication cause.

There are three main causes of feeling afraid all the time:

  • Behavior
  • Stress
  • Hyperstimulation (chronic stress)

Behavior

Issues with worry is the most common cause of feeling afraid all the time.

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

Many people struggle with worry issues because they have learned to cope with adversity, uncertainty, and risk in overly apprehensive ways.

Consequently, worrying about everything can create a state of being afraid all the time.

There are many reasons why people develop a worry habit. Visit our “Underlying Factors of Anxiety” article for more information.

Uncontained worry is the most common reason why people feel afraid all the time.

Stress

Stress triggers the release of stress hormones into the blood stream where they cause many body-wide changes that prepare the body for immediate action.

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 the many ways it can affect the body and mind.

Some of these changes include:

  • An increase in blood sugar so that we have an instant boost of energy to take immediate action.
  • 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).
  • A heightened sense of danger and an urgency.

These combined changes can increase a sense of being in danger.

The more often the stress response is activated, the more often we can feel afraid.

Many people experience a heightened sense of danger and fear when they are stressed.

Feeling afraid all the time is a common consequence of frequent stress responses.

Anxiety also activates the stress response. Many overly anxious people have a heightened sense of being afraid all the time due to the combination of anxious behavior and the stress it creates.

Chronic stress (hyperstimulation)

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 anxious behavior, the body can’t complete recovery.

Incomplete recovery can create a state of semi-stress response readiness. We call this state “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]

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

Chronic stress response changes can cause a persistent feeling of being afraid all the time even though a person doesn’t feel anxious or stressed.

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

Hyperstimulation is a common cause of feeling afraid all the time.

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Chronic stress (hyperstimulation) can cause the stress response to act like a “hair trigger,” meaning the stress response can fire easily, quickly, and often.

Other Factors

Associated with anxiety, there are other factors that can cause and aggravate anxiety symptoms, including feeling afraid all the time, such as:

Medication

Side effects of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can mimic, cause, and aggravate anxiety symptoms.

Talk with your doctor and pharmacist if you are unsure if your medication is playing a role in your symptoms, including feeling afraid all the time.

Recreational Drugs

Many recreational drugs can cause and aggravate anxiety symptoms, including increasing a sense of danger and fear.

Many recreational drugs also have a profound effect on the nervous system, which can also aggravate existing anxiety symptoms since anxiety can dramatically affect the nervous system.

Stimulants

Stimulants bring about their stimulating effect by causing the secretion of stress hormones and other chemicals into the blood stream, stimulating the body.

Increasing stress hormone secretion can cause and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms, including increasing a sense of danger and fear since anxiety symptoms are fueled by stress hormones.

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 secretion to compensate for feeling tired (cortisol is a powerful stress hormone)

These effects can cause and aggravate anxiety symptoms.

Low Blood Sugar

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

Nutritional Deficiencies

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

Hormone Changes

Hormones affect the body in many ways. A change in hormones can cause many anxiety-like symptoms, as well as aggravate existing anxiety disorder symptoms, such as increasing a sense of danger and fear.

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How To Get Rid Of Feeling Afraid All The Time

When feeling afraid all the time is caused or aggravated by other factors, addressing those factors can reduce and eliminate feeling scared all the time.

When feeling afraid all the time is caused by an active stress response, calming yourself down will end the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, the feelings of being afraid should subside.

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

When feeling afraid all the time is caused by hyperstimulation, reducing and eliminating hyperstimulation will reduce and eliminate the increased sense of danger and fear.

However, eliminating hyperstimulation can take much longer than most people think. It’s common for hyperstimulation symptoms to linger as long as the body is hyperstimulated.

Nevertheless, eliminating hyperstimulation will eliminate its symptoms, including a sense of feeling afraid all the time.

You can reduce and eliminate hyperstimulation by:

  • containing worry
  • reducing stress
  • increasing rest
  • regular deep relaxation
  • regular light to moderate exercise
  • regular good sleep
  • eating a diet of whole and natural foods.

To name a few.

Unfortunately, there are NO quick-fix cures for hyperstimulation or its symptoms. Eliminating hyperstimulation requires faithfully reducing the body’s stress and for a long enough period for the body to recover.

But as with all symptoms of hyperstimulation, feeling afraid all the time will subside when the body has recovered from hyperstimulation and its effects.

Since worrying, fretting, and becoming emotionally upset about anxiety and hyperstimulation symptoms stress the body, these behaviors aren’t helpful to recovery and symptom elimination.

Passively accepting your symptoms in the short-term — allowing them to persist without reacting to, resisting, worrying about, or fighting them — while faithfully practicing your recovery strategies will bring about their cessation in time.

If you’d like more information about the many pitfalls of recovering from hyperstimulation and its symptoms, we recommend connecting with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists.

Our recommended therapists are specially trained in helping people overcome anxiety issues and recover from hyperstimulation and its symptoms.

Therapy

When this symptom is caused by behavior, we recommend working at Level Two recovery to address the apprehensive behavior that is creating issues anxiety, hyperstimulation, and their symptoms.

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 experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the best way to attain Level Two recovery success.

In many cases, working with an experienced therapist is the only way to overcome stubborn anxiety.
[5][6][7]

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Short-term remedies:

Even though addressing the cause of feeling afraid all the time is the best way to eliminate it, some people have found the following strategies helpful.

However, keep in mind that each person can have a unique symptom experience since each person is somewhat physically, chemically, psychologically, and emotionally unique. What might work for one person might not for another.

Reduce stress – Since stress, including anxiety-caused stress, is a common cause of feeling afraid all the time, reducing stress can reduce this symptom. Any stress reduction strategy can help improve this symptom. Visit our article “60 Ways To Reduce Stress And Anxiety” for natural stress reduction strategies.

Regular good sleep – Regular good sleep can reduce stress, cortisol, and the body’s overall level of stress. Their reduction can reduce and eliminate anxiety symptoms, including feeling afraid all the time.

Regular deep relaxation – Deep relaxation can also reduce the body’s overall level of stress and stimulation, leading to a reduction in anxiety symptoms, including feeling afraid all the time.

There are many ways to deeply relax. We have many deep relaxation MP3 downloads in our online store if you are looking for ideas and materials to help you deep relax.

Contain your anxiousness – Containing anxious behavior can dramatically reduce incidences of feeling afraid.

The more successful you are in containing your anxiousness, the more opportunity your body has to reduce stress and stimulation. A reduction in stress and stimulation can reduce episodes of feeling scared.

If you are having difficulty containing your anxiousness, we recommend connecting with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists to help you learn and apply this important anxiety disorder recovery skill.

Keep well hydrated – Dehydration can cause and fuel anxiety symptoms, including a heightened sense of feeling afraid. Keeping your body well hydrated can prevent hydration from being a factor.

Learn and apply healthy boundaries – Many anxious people struggle with anxiety because of unhealthy boundaries. Learning and applying healthy boundaries can reduce incidences of anxiety and being scared.

Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is a good way to learn and apply healthy boundaries, since ongoing support is an important part of learning to live assertively and authentically.

Prevalence

How common is feeling afraid all the time? In an online poll we conducted, 98 percent of respondents said they experienced this symptom because of their struggle with anxiety.

As you can see, feeling afraid all the time is a common anxiety symptom.

Feeling Afraid All The Time Frequent Questions

Can anxiety make you feel afraid all the time?

Yes, anxiety can make you feel afraid all the time. Addressing the cause of feeling afraid all the time can eliminate it. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome issues with anxiety and feeling afraid all the time.

How can I get rid of feeling afraid all the time?

Addressing the cause of feeling afraid all the time can eliminate it. For instance, if it’s behavior-related, working on your behaviors can eliminate feeling afraid all the time. If it’s stress-related, reducing your stress and increasing rest can eliminate it in time, as well.

Since there are many causes, you would find it helpful to work with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist to help you first determine the cause, and then successfully address it.

Can stress make you feel afraid all the time?

Yes. Stress affects the body in many ways. For instance, stress changes how the brain functions. This change in brain function can increase a sense of danger, doom, and foreboding. Chronic stress is well known to create an ongoing sense of feeling afraid all the time.

Can I overcome a feeling of being scared all the time?

Yes, you can! Since feeling scared all the time has specific causes, identifying and successfully addressing those causes can reduce and eliminate feeling scared all the time. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome feeling afraid all the time.

Visit our "Why Therapy" and "What Makes Our Therapists Unique" articles for more information.

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 All The Time anxiety symptoms.

References

1. Folk, Jim. “The Stress Response.” Anxiety Attacks, Anxietycentre.com, 2020.

2. Godoy, Livea, et al. "A Comprehensive Overview on Stress Neurobiology: Basic Concepts and Clinical Implications." Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 3, July 2018.

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. 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.

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

7. 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.