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Difference Between Anxiety and Nervousness

author image Eshe Asale
Eshe Asale is a holistic massage therapist who began writing in 1995 with articles appearing on various websites and in "Iqra" newspaper and the "Between Love, Hope and Fear" anthology. She holds a massage therapy certificate from Lourdes Institute, a Master of Arts in media studies/communications from Goldsmiths University and a Bachelor of Arts in writing and publishing/film studies from Middlesex University.
Difference Between Anxiety and Nervousness
Feeling nervous before an exam or presentation is normal. Photo Credit Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Nervousness is a normal state when you are in a situation where you have to perform a specific task that may be evaluated or judged by others. Activities such as delivering a speech, attending a job interview or performing before a crowd of people may prompt "nerves." This reaction can actually be useful, but when your nervousness becomes irrational and overpowering, preventing you from participating in everyday life situations, you may be experiencing anxiety.

Fight or Flight

Difference Between Anxiety and Nervousness
You may develop a headache when anxious. Photo Credit Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

When the body senses danger, adrenaline is released. This hormone triggers the "fight or flight" mode, designed to get you out of trouble fast. One of the drawbacks of modern day life is the amount of stress people now experience. Chronic stress occurs when adrenalin or cortisol is continuously released, leaving you in a constant state of fight or flight. When you are nervous, your body releases a small amount of adrenaline, enough for you to deal with the situation appropriately. Anxiety attacks result from an overload of adrenaline, which has disastrous affects on your mental and physical health.

Feeling Nervous

Difference Between Anxiety and Nervousness
It's normal to feel nervous when in a new job or situation. Photo Credit Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images

When you’re nervous, you may get butterflies in your stomach, feel light-headed, your heart rate may increase and palms begin to sweat. These symptoms pass once you begin to feel comfortable while completing your task. Although it’s typical to experience these feelings when you encounter a situation that requires you to push past your comfort level, other things can trigger nervous symptoms. A 2009 article on Stress Center.com highlighted additional factors contributing to nervousness. These include alcohol dependency, excessive caffeine intake, drug use, allergies, hormonal imbalance, pre menstrual syndrome and cigarette smoking.


Difference Between Anxiety and Nervousness
Social phobia can lead to isolation. Photo Credit Design Pics/Design Pics/Getty Images

Anxiety disorders are usually based upon irrational fears or a dread of something you perceive as being a far bigger threat than is the reality. Anxiety disorders can manifest in a variety of ways, including social phobia, panic attacks and generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. According to a 2009 article on the National Institute of Mental Health, about 40 million Americans aged 18 and upward suffer from anxiety disorders. During an anxiety attack, massive amounts of adrenaline are released into your blood stream and through your body. Your blood pressure increases and heart rate speeds up and the heartbeat becomes irregular. Blood from your inner organs rush to your extremities, affecting the function of your digestive system, making you feel nauseous. You may also feel shaky, sweaty, fatigued and breathless. The stress hormone cortisol, which is released during times of anxiety, is a corrosive and has a damaging effect on your organs. It also contributes to weight gain around the midriff, which can lead to visceral fat. This fat surrounds abdominal organs, increasing your risk of cardio-vascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Anxiety disorders are not only detrimental to your mental health, they can seriously impact your physical health.

Relaxation Tips

Difference Between Anxiety and Nervousness
Relaxation techniques can help to reduce minor anxiety symptoms. Photo Credit Maria Teijeiro/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Meditation is a useful way to relax your mind and body. Join a meditation group if you’re a beginner or practice alone in a quiet setting. Learn deep breathing techniques to instantly calm your nerves. Yoga, visualization and the tensing and relaxing of muscle groups, known as progressive muscle relaxation, are all useful relaxation tools along with exercise, regular sleep and a healthful, balanced diet.

Treatment for Anxiety

According to a 2009 article on MayoClinic.com, treatment for anxiety consists of medication and psychotherapy. Antidepressants can treat symptoms of depression and buspirone, an anti-anxiety medication, can be taken continuously. Benzodiazephines are generally prescribed for short-term anxiety relief. All of these drugs have side effects. Psychotherapy or counseling can be useful in uncovering the source of your anxiety and is given alongside medication or separately. Consult your doctor for a diagnosis if you experience anxiety disorder symptoms.

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