Nervousness is a feeling of fear, worry, or apprehension. Feeling nervous on occasion is normal and even beneficial.

While nervousness is usually temporary and specific to a situation, it can also be a symptom of an anxiety disorder. With anxiety disorders, the nervousness is excessive or persistent, and can affect a person's ability to function in daily life.

Read on to learn more about nervousness, its symptoms, causes, and when it needs to be addressed.

Nervous woman against a wall

Emilie Barbier / EyeEm / Getty Images

Symptoms of Nervousness

Nervousness is a temporary feeling of worry, anxiety, apprehension, or fear. Typical nervousness is specific to a situation, such as before taking a test, speaking in front of a crowd, or going for a job interview. When the situation is over, the nervousness usually goes away.

A person who is feeling nervous may also:

Nervousness can also be a symptom of another condition, such as an anxiety disorder. When nervousness is a symptom of an anxiety disorder, it's not only excessive or persistent, but there are also additional symptoms that can accompany it. Along with nervousness, people with anxiety disorders can experience symptoms that interfere with their everyday lives, and even be debilitating.

How Is Nervousness Different From Anxiety?

The terms "nervous" and "anxious" are often used interchangeably, but they mean different things.

Nervousness by itself is temporary, has a known cause, and doesn't usually prevent someone from doing the activity they are nervous about. When someone is nervous, they know why they are nervous (for instance, because they are heading into a job interview), and they know the nervousness will go away after they do what they need to do.

Anxiety is the anticipation of some future threat. It often prevents people from doing things they need or want to do.

Causes of Nervousness

Nervousness is a natural reaction to our perception that something could be dangerous. It is part of the fight-or-flight response that is necessary for survival. While standing up in front of the class may not actually put you in danger, your body can perceive it that way.

Nervousness is your body's way of telling you to be alert. In addition to helping to keep you safe, nervousness can also be helpful by giving you a boost of energy and helping you focus.

Some situations that may trigger nervousness include:

  • Taking a test
  • Being in front of a crowd, such as when making a presentation
  • Being in a job interview
  • Undergoing a medical procedure, such as a blood test
  • Talking to a specific person
  • Trying something new for the first time

Can Nervousness Be a Symptom of Anything Else?

In addition to anxiety disorders, nervousness can be a symptom of other conditions, such as hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and adrenal gland disorders.

How to Treat Nervousness

While situational nervousness is normal, it can be unpleasant and distracting. Some strategies to try to relieve or prevent nervousness include:

  • Relaxation and mindfulness exercises: Techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing (sometimes referred to as belly breathing or deep breathing), guided imagery, meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation can help calm you.
  • Lifestyle: Eating nutritious foods, being physically active, and getting adequate sleep can help reduce overall stress that may contribute to nervousness, and help you be better equipped to handle it when it comes up.
  • Know your triggers: Be aware of what tends to make you nervous so that you can look for ways to address them or prevent them from happening.
  • Seek support: Talk to your friends and family members, or even a therapist, about what is making you nervous.
  • Prepare: Be prepared ahead of time for a situation you know will make you nervous. For example, give yourself lots of time to study for a test, rehearse presentations, be informed, or plan out what you are going to do. It may also help you to prepare a back-up plan so you are ready for any surprises.
  • Give yourself a pep talk: Try psyching yourself up, conjuring some positive energy, or doing some self-affirmations—anything that gives you a needed confidence boost.
  • Remember that nervousness is normal: Remind yourself that it's natural to be nervous and that everyone feels nervous sometimes.

Research is being conducted on innovative ways to help ease nervousness.

Studies have shown that animals can have a calming effect on people. Therapy dogs are sometimes brought into hospitals or long-term care facilities. One study found that spending 10 minutes of supervised playtime with a guinea pig in a classroom setting helped children with autism spectrum disorder feel calmer and be more engaged with their peers.

A 2022 study found that the use of virtual reality can help ease nervousness and reports of pain during medical procedures, such as colonoscopies.

If the nervousness is part of an anxiety disorder, treating the anxiety disorder itself can ease the nervousness. Typically, anxiety disorders are treated with psychotherapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), medications (such as antidepressants or antianxiety medicines), or a combination of both.

Risk Factors Associated With Nervousness

Nervousness is a normal reaction that everyone experiences to some degree. However, there are some general risk factors for anxiety disorders, including:

  • A family history of anxiety or other mental health disorders
  • Exposure to negative and stressful life/environmental events, including trauma
  • Shyness, distress, or nervousness in new situations in childhood

Are There Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Nervousness?

Nervousness itself is not a condition to be diagnosed.

If the nervousness is suspected to be part of an anxiety disorder, your healthcare provider may:

  • Ask about your symptoms
  • Take your medical and family histories
  • Do a physical exam and run lab tests to rule out a physical reason for your symptoms
  • Take a psychiatric and substance use history
  • Perform a mental status examination
  • Refer you to a mental health professional, if necessary

When to See a Healthcare Provider 

If your nervousness is persistent, intense, and/or interfering with your ability to do everyday activities, talk to your healthcare provider to explore the possibility of an anxiety disorder or another health condition.

It's also worth seeing your healthcare provider if you find yourself feeling nervous even when you're not in a specific situation that would cause nervousness, and/or if you are experiencing other symptoms in addition to nervousness.


Nervousness is a feeling of fear, worry, or apprehension that is usually tied to a specific situation, and resolves when the situation is over.

Nervousness is a natural reaction related to the fight-or-flight response. While unpleasant, nervousness is not typically a problem in and of itself. Nervousness may be a symptom of a condition, such as an anxiety disorder.

Practicing relaxation techniques, planning ahead of the situation, and "psyching yourself up" are some ways to combat nervousness. If the nervousness is part of an anxiety disorder, treating the anxiety disorder (typically with psychotherapy and/or medication) can help ease the nervousness.

A Word From Verywell

Everybody feels nervous at times. Nervousness is normal when we find ourselves in certain situations, like taking an exam. If you feel you are experiencing nervousness that is outside the range of what is typical, talk to your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is nervousness the same as anxiety?

    Nervousness is a temporary feeling of worry or fear in response to a specific situation. In contrast, while nervousness may be a symptom, anxiety disorders are persistent and can interfere with everyday functioning.

  • Is nervousness bad?

    Nervousness is normal and can even be beneficial. The stress hormones (such as adrenaline) that are produced when you are nervous can help you focus.

  • Can nervousness be a symptom?

    Nervousness is one possible symptom of anxiety disorders. A person with an anxiety disorder does not just experience typical nervousness, though. Anxiety disorders interfere with a person's functioning in everyday life.

    Nervousness may also be a symptom of other conditions, such as hyperthyroidism.

14 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Heather Jones
Heather M. Jones is a freelance writer with a strong focus on health, parenting, disability, and feminism.