Nervousness is OK, but anxiety is not so good

Everybody gets nervous. It’s a natural reaction when we expect, or imagine, that something negative is about to happen. That’s why an upcoming doctor’s visit might have you feeling nervous, while going to your favorite restaurant simply has you feeling hungry.

While both emotions that are a bit scary, nervousness and anxiety are quite different in character and how they affect us.

Being nervous is usually a short-term feeling. Part of what causes such a feeling is that while our bodies are locked in the present, our minds are free to wander into the past and the future.

Usually, thinking about things past and future is a pleasant thing. Past memories can remind people of good times and bring comfort. Thinking about the future allows people to plan successfully.

But thinking about past things sometimes brings nervousness. What is about to happen, like that doctor’s visit, may remind us of a past negative experience. When we imagine the future, we may find ourselves imagining all the possible catastrophes that could occur.

Nervous feelings are actually fairly easy to overcome or at least to limit. We can start to do that by realizing we are responsible for our own thoughts. If remembering past negative events is making us nervous, we can intentionally focus instead on happier, healthier and more comfortable thoughts.

To overcome nervousness, you have to get your mind and body in the same time zone. Remind yourself that this moment is now, and not the past. Ground yourself by paying attention to what you’re seeing, hearing, tasting and smelling. Take a deep breath. Think about now, and you lessen the negative, nervousness-producing thoughts about the past or future.

At times, however, nervousness can be more serious. When someone focuses excessively on negative past events or bad future outcomes, simple short-term nervousness can become real anxiety. Generally, being anxious is usually longer in duration and occurs with more intensity or frequency than nervousness.

Being severely anxious can have a crippling, negative effect on your life. You may find you are almost constantly remembering the past and negative events or anticipating future problems. Such severe anxiety can limit your ability to act and can hinder relationships with family and friends.

If severe nervousness or anxiety occurs on a regular basis and is causing problems, seek help. A professional counselor can assist in getting anxiety under control and helping you to a happier, more relaxed life.

“Counseling Corner” is provided by the American Counseling Association. Send comments and questions to [email protected] or visit the ACA website at

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