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Do I Have Anxiety, Or Am I Just Really Nervous Or A Worrier?  

By: Milissa Aronson

A woman hiding her face outside a broken window, struggling to figure out what is going on.  How can you tell if you are a worrier, nervous, or have anxiety? Magnolia Psychotherapy provides treatment for anxiety disorders and can help you manage these feelings.

Is it Anxiety or Am I Just Nervous? The Difference Between Worrying, Nervousness, and Anxiety 

Although worrying, nervousness, and anxiety are terms that are often used interchangeably, they are three distinct mental states characterized by different emotions and physical sensations that can affect someone’s thinking, behavior, and overall well-being. 


Worry involves excessive concern about potentially negative outcomes related to future events. Worry is a common experience and can occur in different situations such as relationships, job insecurity, health concerns, or financial difficulty. Sometimes worry can have a positive impact by motivating someone to take necessary precautions.  However, excessive worry can be detrimental to mental health by causing stress, fatigue, concentration problems, and can lead to Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Fisher & Wells, 2012). 


Nervousness refers to a state of heightened emotional and physical arousal typically linked to the anticipation of future events or situations. Nervousness is often associated with feelings such as tension, apprehension or restlessness.   Unlike worry, nervousness is generally short-lived usually passes after the anticipated event or situation has passed.  Occasional feelings of nervousness can have a positive effect by increasing one’s motivation and focus; however, it can also lead to negative outcomes, like impaired performance or avoidance behavior (Ledoux, 2015). 


While nervousness and worry are generally short in duration, often passing when an environmental situation passes or changes, anxiety is a more persistent and intense emotional state, characterized by excessive feelings of worry and nervousness regarding future events or potential situations perceived to be threatening or dangerous. Anxiety involves a range of physical and psychological symptoms, such as muscle tension, pounding or racing heart, shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue, racing thoughts, insomnia, upset stomach, and difficulty concentrating.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) 5TR (2022) characterizes 11 different types of anxiety disorders, which include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Phobias. Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the United States, with over 19% of adults diagnosed as having an anxiety disorder (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2022).  


Anxiety Disorders are also different from nervousness and worry in their causes. Nervousness and worry are caused by environmental factors, while anxiety disorders are caused by a range of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, traumatic experiences, chronic stressors, and difficulty regulating excessive worry or nervousness.  


These conditions also vary in how they can be managed and treated. Anxiety also has a range of treatment options, including medication, psychotherapy, support groups, exercise, mindfulness, and stress management techniques.   Anxiety is a diagnosable condition, which should be managed for optimal health. Nervousness and worry can be adaptive emotions, when they motivate us to make positive changes.  However, when feelings of nervousness or worry go unmanaged, they can lead to chronic stress and other health conditions, such as anxiety, making it important to regulate these emotions. Nervousness and worry can be managed through exercise, mindfulness, and stress management techniques.  Psychotherapy or other professional supports may also be beneficial for someone who has difficulty regulating their emotions or who is experiencing these emotions to a persistent or excessive degree.