Difference between Anxiety and Nervousness

Both anxiety and nervousness are emotions and consequent modes of behavior that are triggered as a response to an undesired event. While anxiety in some of its manifestations is traditionally put in the category of mental conditions, nervousness is rather a temporary human condition. Some specialists do not differentiate state, or temporary, anxiety from nervousness as the mental and physical symptoms of both conditions are similar. However, there are some telltale signs unique to each condition. We will take a closer look at them.


Anxiety symptoms appear when an individual sees the forthcoming event as threatening or potentially dangerous. The event might be not what the individual imagines it to be at all. The anxiety is a highly subjective state. Disorders associated with anxiety include social phobia, some forms of panic attacks and generalized anxiety disorder. The common symptoms of anxiety include a fast heart rate, muscle tension, rapid breathing, cold sweat, sleep disturbances, trembling and nausea.

Anxiety vs Nervousness
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Nervousness is a temporary state that is triggered by some unexpected event that affects an individual. Nervousness is not necessarily triggered by a threatening or unpleasant event. Once a person is prepared for the upcoming event, the symptoms of nervousness usually disappear. For example, one may feel slightly nervous when one receives an unexpected invitation to the big party, which one has had no knowledge of. The symptoms of nervousness include increased heart rate, sweating and restlessness.

Comparison chart

Anxiety Nervousness
Happens when the individual knows that an event is coming Happens when the individual is unprepared for an event
The mental state of overall uneasiness is intense and severe The feeling of uneasiness is less severe
Considered as a negative trait Sometimes considered as a positive trait

Anxiety vs Nervousness

What is the difference between anxiety and nervousness? Let’s compare them by the relation to the future event, the intensity and by the vector of the trait.

  • Anxiety usually manifests itself when the individual knows about the event he is about to face. Nervousness, on the other hand, is the condition usually triggered by the event for which the individual hasn’t been prepared. For example, one is sitting in the award ceremony and is being called on stage. In case one knows he is about to be called on stage, he may feel anxious with anticipation. When one is caught off-guard and is being called on stage, one has the symptoms of nervousness.
  • The symptoms of anxiety and nervousness are similar. Symptoms of both conditions include increased heart rate, sweating, sleep disturbance, excessive worry. However, when one suffers from anxiety, those symptoms are more acute and last for a longer period of time. In case of nervousness, symptoms associated with this condition usually subside once the individual gets accustomed to the triggering event or once the event has passed.
  • Severe anxiety is considered a mental illness and is treated as such. Anxiety is a negative trait that can be associated with delusions and mania because the events that trigger anxiety in reality are less threatening than the individual sees them. Nervousness, on the other hand, can be considered as a rather positive state, because it causes the individual experiencing it to be realistic and not excessively self-confident. For example, nervousness is common in the face of a romantic encounter.