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When Is Anxiety Normal?

It's normal to feel anxious, nervous, or worried at times. Maybe you’ve felt anxious when you had to talk in front of a group. Or nervous before a tryout or a big test. Maybe you have felt anxious when you weren’t sure your surroundings were safe. Or worried when a loved one was sick.

Most people have felt like this.

Anxious feelings can be uncomfortable — but they serve a purpose. They warn that something that matters to you is at stake. With anxious feelings, you might think, “I need to do well here." Or,  "This counts — get ready." Or, "Be careful.”

Anxiety sets off the body’s fight-or-flight response. This is also called the stress response. It’s a normal release of hormones that helps you gather the focus and energy you need for a challenge or possible threat. The fight-or-flight response causes the physical feelings that can happen with anxiety.

For example, when you’re anxious, you might feel ‘butterflies’ in your stomach. Or you might have sweaty palms or shaky hands. You might notice your mouth is a little dry. Or your face feels a little warm. You might feel your breathing or heartbeat get faster. With anxiety, you might feel one — or a few — of these.

Feelings like these can help you do what you need to do. You can go ahead with the tryout or take the exam — even though you’re nervous. You can check your surroundings to make sure you’re safe. You can focus on what a loved one needs and plan how to help instead of getting caught up in the worry.

When you know that anxiety is normal for the situation, you can let go of focusing all your attention on the anxious thoughts and feelings. Instead, you can turn your attention to what you need to do. You don’t need to do things to make anxiety 'go away.’ You can take a breath and face the challenge. You’ll find that anxiety fades on its own.

When Is Anxiety a Problem?

Some people feel anxiety that is too intense. It seems like more than they can cope with. Worries or fears take up too much of their time and energy. Some people might begin to avoid things that make them anxious. These things can be signs of an anxiety disorder.

If you feel like anxiety is too much, tell a parent, school counselor, or your doctor. There are treatments for anxiety disorders. The sooner you start getting help, the better you will feel.

Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date Reviewed: Mar 14, 2022

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