We all deal with the occasional bout of anxiety. This uncomfortable reaction to stress is normal but often temporary.
For many people, the feelings of worry, nervousness, or uneasiness typically pass once the stress or threat is gone. But for millions of others, the persistent racing thoughts, fear, and constant worry overrun both mind and body.
Read on to learn why everyone has anxiety, how to tell the difference between nervousness and anxiety, how anxiety is diagnosed and treated, and things you can do right now if you feel nervous or anxious.
Anxiety is a physical and emotional response to a stressful situation. It can manifest as excessive worry, fear, panic, or a feeling of impending doom.
Additionally, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- muscle tension
- rapid heart rate
- shortness of breath
- headaches or stomachaches
- feeling out of control
- chest pain
- sleeping problems
- difficulty concentrating
- dry mouth
If you have an anxiety disorder, you’ll often experience these feelings even in the absence of a stressor. You may also experience anxiety in anticipation of a future concern.
There are several types of anxiety disorders, including:
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), it’s estimated that 19.1 percent of U.S. adults had an anxiety disorder in the past year. Moreover, around 31.1 percent of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetimes.
Feeling nervous is a “yes” box that everyone can check at some point.
Whether it’s nerves from starting a job, going on a first date, or competing in an event, your body responds to new and often stressful situations with a mixture of uneasiness, anticipation, and excitement.
This feeling is temporary, and once you settle in or the event is over, the physical response to feeling nervous often passes.
But for some people, nerves are just the beginning of a continuous cycle of anxious thoughts and feelings that don’t pass when the event is over. Typically, the fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the situation, and it hinders your ability to function normally with daily tasks and routines.
In general, everyone will feel anxious at some point.
Worry is considered protective since it alerts you to danger. This makes you pay attention to the stressful situation and react accordingly. For most people, this feeling typically passes and you go about your life.
But if the anxiety turns excessive and you find yourself overwhelmed, feeling out of control, and worrying about situations that others see as nonthreatening, you may have an anxiety disorder.
What you can do right now if you feel anxious
Feeling anxious or nervous? Here are some strategies that can help take the edge off.
- Make time for daily meditation. Even if it’s just a 5-minute break each day, taking time to meditate can help calm nerves and decrease anxiety symptoms.
- Practice diaphragmatic breathing. Otherwise known as belly breathing, diaphragmatic breathing involves inhaling deeply through the nose and breathing out through the mouth. This type of breathing can help reduce negative and physiological consequences of stress in healthy adults, according to a 2017 study.
- Move your body through physical activity or exercise. Exercise is an excellent tool for reducing anxiety. If possible, get outdoors. Taking a 10-minute walk is often enough to help distract your mind from racing thoughts.
- Get it out on paper. Have a journal close by to jot down your thoughts or feelings when anxious. You don’t have to do anything about your feelings. Sometimes getting them out of your head and onto paper provides relief.
- Skip your daily dose of caffeine. If your morning cup of coffee causes the jitters, you may want to opt for herbal tea.
- Stick to a healthy, regular diet. Eating a healthy diet that includes regular meals and snacks keeps your blood sugar levels balanced, which helps keep your anxiety and nervousness in check.
- Give yourself permission to say no. If a social obligation is triggering nerves or anxiety, respectfully decline the invite or have an exit strategy that allows you to leave a stressful situation.
They’ll use a combination of diagnostic tests, physical assessments, and criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to determine if you have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is treated using a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and self-management strategies such as lifestyle interventions and stress reduction.
Psychotherapy or “talk therapy” is the most common way to treat anxiety. Working with a therapist can help you understand anxiety, how it impacts your life, and tips and strategies to manage symptoms.
Therapists may use one type of psychotherapy or combine modalities. Some of the more common therapy types include:
- psychodynamic therapy
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- exposure therapy
- dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
- interpersonal therapy
Both in-person and teletherapy (online therapy) sessions are available.
Medications for anxiety help relieve the symptoms associated with the disorder. To treat anxiety, your doctor may use antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and beta-blockers, which can help treat the physical symptoms.
Lifestyle interventions such as exercise, meditation, deep breathing, journaling, and peer support can help manage anxiety symptoms.
With the proper treatment protocol, the outlook for people with anxiety is positive.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, combining psychotherapy with medication and other interventions can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.
That said, they point out that treatment success varies and depends on the severity of the anxiety and other co-existing conditions.
Everyone experiences occasional bouts of anxiety and nervousness.
Whether it’s the anticipation of a new job, nerves before meeting someone, or the uneasiness you feel when facing a potentially dangerous situation, anxiety is a normal reaction to stress.
However, when this normal reaction turns excessive and you find yourself overly worried and anxious about things like daily tasks or situations that others see as nonthreatening, you may have an anxiety disorder.
If this is the case, consider making an appointment with a doctor. They can do a general exam and refer you to a mental health professional.