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Anxiety vs. Being Nervous: Why Language Matters in Mental Health

Addressing mental health has become a less taboo subject in recent years. In general, this is good as it lessens a major fear people face when seeking treatment, the fear of what other people will think.

Also, as of late, some common mental health terms have entered mainstream vocabulary.

Again, this has a positive side. People are becoming more familiar with terms like anxiety, depression, and mindfulness. This contributes to overall awareness and familiarity with mental wellness.

The less positive consequence is that the true meaning of these terms is taken less seriously.

Take the term “anxiety” for example. Anxiety has become an increasingly common phrase over the last few years. You’ll hear teenagers use it regarding an exam, and younger millennials casually refer to “their anxiety.”

It has become interchangeable with being nervous. However, there is a difference between anxiety and nerves.


As general awareness of the importance of mental health grows, so does the need for increased education. A person using the term “anxiety” to describe feeling nervous about an important test, is describing feeling nerves.

When someone is truly struggling with anxiety, they’re not just feeling nervous occasionally, or experiencing something that passes. It’s normal to experience nerves from time to time.

When a person struggling with generalized anxiety disorder hears the term used to describe a common experience, they may feel their own experience is common. They might assume it is something they should be able to manage on their own.

Using terms incorrectly also creates more confusion about what the actual experience feels like. For example, if someone has a cough and fever, they know it is time to call their doctor.

If someone was very clear about the symptoms of depression, they would be able to recognize it and seek appropriate resources and support.


People often toss around the phrase “I’m going to die” or other suicidal references in a very casual manner. However, if someone who has struggled with thoughts of self-harm hears that, it could have a negative impact on their mental stability. Suicide is a leading cause of death for all ages.


Education is the most important step you can take when it comes to increasing awareness. The more you can learn about mental health, the easier it will become to use these terms correctly and achieve better awareness of your own mental health.


The Center for Intimacy, Connection and Change is committed to providing the highest quality services to help you establish the wellness you deserve.

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