Anxiety vs nervous: why everyone should know the difference

‘Everyone gets a bit nervous’ is just one of those inherently annoying phrases people say, no matter how well-intentioned – so I thought I’d try and set things straight.

I’m a bit worried (obviously) that this particular blog might come across as a bit ranty, but it’s a misunderstanding I think deserves attention.

See, it can be quite a tricky situation. We realise that this person is probably trying quite hard to be helpful in some way, but what they’re actually doing is adding insult to injury.

I’m not nervous. In the throes of anxiety, I’m lucky if I have the awareness to realise I’m being irrational. Even if I do, it doesn’t change anything.

Job interviews are nerve-racking. First dates make people nervous. Public speaking can be stressful. These are all things you can prepare for and anticipate.

I can’t stop being horribly paranoid that people I know and like are talking about me behind my back. I cannot help but obsess over details   when I leave the house (I’ve gone to pick my partner up from work and turned around halfway to check the door was locked. It was.). I can’t explain why some days I feel like I’m on high-alert the whole time and everyone is watching me.

I can’t explain these things because they’re irrational. Being nervous is usually a rational reaction to a high-stress situation. Anxiety is experiencing symptoms of high stress for irrational reasons.

Think that’s bad enough? It gets worse

The problem escalates when we can’t find an appropriate way to deal with our anxiety. In fact, some sufferers might go ahead act in a way that’s actually the complete opposite of helpful. We’ll start practising avoidance behaviours. That paranoia? Might as well stop talking to people altogether. Leaving the house? I’ll stay here curled up on the sofa, thank you.

This is a problem. For example, going to work – a very routine, normal thing you’ve always done – can become quite the ordeal. And even if you get through it every day, that initial vacating of your ‘safe’ zone in the morning can be enough to give you a panic attack.

And so it spirals. This is not being nervous. You can be nervous about a big meeting. Or a ludicrously difficult deadline and whether you’ll meet it. That’s normal. It’ll pass.

It’s not ‘being a bit nervous’ to have those reactions every day. Anxiety can be a daily struggle.

How to be the most supportive person ever

So what can be done?

Well, we don’t expect you to become an expert – in fact, that can actually be tiny bit annoying if you start making assumptions.

The appropriate answer is, of course, to simply listen – and for us to talk.

We know we’re probably not the easiest person to accommodate – we’re obsessing over whether to’burden’ you with our issues in the first place – but most of the time we just want someone to recognise our feelings as valid.

Please, for the love of God, don’t dismiss what can be quite a complex, individualistic thing with a sweeping statement. For the most part, a little patience and understanding goes such a long way.

Don’t get us wrong, we know that’s a big ask. No-one more than us wishes that we – and those we love – didn’t have to deal with the impact of such inane but destructive thoughts.

So to all of those lovely, tolerant people out there, thank you. You’re the best.

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