Do you know the difference between nerves and anxiety? Have you ever felt worried or terrified about something for no apparent reason? Being nervous about an upcoming job interview or speaking in front of your class is a normal and healthy reaction. However, some people become more nervous than others, and some of this anxiety might reach the level of an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are a common condition affecting about 40 million American adults2. Read on, and learn about the connection between nerves and anxiety, the differences between the two, the symptoms of each, and tips on how to cope with them.
Nerves and Anxiety Connection
Nerves and anxiety are linked in that people with anxiety experience nervousness that ranges from mild to intense panic attacks1. Remember that queasy feeling and fear you felt when you had to give an oral report for your class or coworkers the next morning? How about getting ready to bungee jump off a cliff or ride a giant roller coaster? Many people will feel nervous and find it to be exciting and thrilling – that is if you do not get dizzy or sick from these types of rides. That nervous feeling was a mild form of anxiety that likely went away after the event was completed.
Feeling nervous is a normal human reaction caused by the fight or flight response2. When you sense a threat or danger, your body releases a small quantity of adrenaline, which triggers this fight or flight response to help you deal with the situation. However, the demands of modern life cause many people to feel chronic stress, which happens when adrenaline is constantly released, causing them to be in a continuous fight or flight mode2. Anxiety attacks occur because of too much adrenaline being released in your body, and this is not good for your physical or and mental health.
The Differences between Nerves and Anxiety
Nervousness commonly happens when you must do a particular activity or task that may be graded or assessed by others like a speech, an interview, or a test. It can also occur when you sense an impending dangerous situation that requires your immediate attention. Being nervous, therefore, is a healthy response that your body does to warn you of a potentially harmful situation. Without it, you would take too many risks that could cause you harm.
Nervousness stops once the dangerous event is completed. You worry about how well you did in your job interview, and when the employer calls you back for a second interview, you feel relieved, and your nerves end.
More persistent anxiety happens when you cannot control your nerves and become nervous consistently3. A hallmark of anxiety is that whatever is making you anxious is irrational, such as a routine doctor visit. Being nervous, however, is a rational reaction to something that could turn out bad, such as wondering what your blood test results are after your doctor noticed something irregular on your X-ray.
Another important aspect of anxiety is that it also affects you physically2. When you have a panic attack, which is a severe type of anxiety, you can experience symptoms that many people have mistaken for a heart attack, such as dizziness, extreme heart rate, and sweating. Nerves, however, do not affect you physically like anxiety can. When you are nervous about something, you might feel a slight discomfort in your stomach, or your fingers might shake a little more, but your whole body is not affected as it is if you have a panic attack.
When you feel nervous, your symptoms include lightheadedness, sweaty palms, stomach discomfort, and a slightly higher heart rate. Studies have found that alcohol, coffee, drugs, cigarettes, and allergies can contribute to feelings of nervousness2. Sometimes, you may not feel any physical symptoms but simply feel worried about an upcoming event.
The symptoms of an anxiety attack are triggered by a massive release of adrenaline into your blood that causes your heart rate and blood pressure to spike2. Your heartbeat also becomes irregular, and your blood rushes from your organs to your arms and legs, which affects your digestive system and makes you feel nauseous. You might also feel exhausted, shaky, and sweaty.
Anxiety disorders are damaging to your physical as well as your mental health. During an anxiety attack, cortisol, a stress hormone, is released into your blood, and this can harm your organs and cause a buildup of fat around your abdominal organs2. This fat buildup increases your likelihood of getting diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Everyone gets nervous. It is a natural human emotion that is necessary for us to live safely. Nervousness, however, must be contained, and something is wrong if you get nervous constantly. The following are some tips to control your nerves and prevent them from turning into anxiety3.
- Exercise regularly – People with nervousness and anxiety disorders complain of physical tension, and an effective way to reduce physical tension is to exercise your body until you feel tired. Do exercise activities that you enjoy, like jogging, weight-lifting, bicycling, or karate classes. Exercising tires your body and relaxes you in a way that can decrease your nervous and anxiety symptoms.
- Write down nervous thoughts – Nervous thoughts are commonly caused by your brain wanting to remember something that is important. This causes you to focus too much on something and become overly nervous. A way to reduce your brain’s need to remember an important event is to write down your thoughts on what concerns you, and this will help to reduce your nerves and anxiety.
- Talk about it, or get therapy – Talking about your concerns is an effective way to reduce nervous thoughts because it helps to highlight faulty thinking. For those who cannot afford therapy, finding a friend or family member who is willing to listen to you is the next best alternative. Sometimes, just the act of talking will help to prevent you from focusing on what is making you nervous.
Getting nervous is a healthy and normal reaction to stressful situations. However, anxiety causes you to become nervous regularly about things that you should not worry you. This is the key difference between nerves and anxiety.
Nerves, if left uncontrolled, can turn into anxiety, and this is how they are connected. People with anxiety and anxiety disorders need treatment because these disorders can harm your body and lead to other conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Have you ever felt nervous about something that should not have worried you? What did you do to reduce these irrational thoughts? Let us know in the comments.