The Difference Between Nervousness and Anxiety Disorders in Teens

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

The teens years are full of transitions, you move from the oversight of teachers and parents to more independent skills. Teens are expected to keep track of assignments, complete homework, participate in chores around the house and sometimes work a part time job. All of this is done with the minimum amount of supervision. During the teen years, you begin to develop you independent living skills.

All of this is enough to make anyone nervous, scared and worried. So how are teens and parents supposed to know the difference between normal jitters and an anxiety disorder?

Difference Between Worrying and Generalized Anxiety Disorder

The following are some comparisons between what would be considered to be "normal" worrying and what may be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder:


You worry, but you are still able to complete your daily activities and cause little distress.

May Signal a Problem:

You worry so excessively that it interferes with your ability to complete daily activities, stops you from finishing your school work, makes it difficult to do your job well or interferes with your social life.


You worry about a specific or realistic event, such as worrying about passing a major test.

May Signal a Problem:

You worry excessively and once you start worrying, you can't seem to stop it. You worry about everything, whether important or unimportant, big or small and always seem to expect the worst to happen.


You worry for a short period of time and are able to control your worrying and are able to move on to another activity.

May Signal a Problem:

You worry constantly and once you start worrying, you can't seem to shake it, even when you have something else to do.

Other signs that your worrying may be a sign of anxiety is that worrying has become extremely stressful, you sometimes worry about worrying and you worry everyday (and have been for at least six months.)

Differences Between Shyness and Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder often goes untreated because both the sufferers and their families see the symptoms as shyness.


You become nervous and get butterflies in your stomach at the thought of giving a presentation in front of the class.

May Signal a Problem:

You become so nervous at the thought of speaking during class or giving a presentation that you become physically ill, have a headache, are dizzy or refuse to go to school on the day of the presentation.


You become nervous when being introduced to new people.

May Signal a Problem:

You become debilitated with the thought of having to speak to someone you don't know, you sit alone at lunch because you are so filled with fear at the idea of speaking to someone.


You are nervous about talking to other kids at school.

May Signal a Problem:
You don't have a social life and spend most of your time alone because of your fear of being rejected.

Social anxiety disorder can cause someone to worry about an event for weeks or months. For example, if your teacher gives an assignment that includes an oral presentation, but isn't due until next month, you may spend the entire month worrying. This might include not being able to sleep, having physical symptoms such as shaking, sweating or racing heartbeat, even when thinking about the upcoming presentation.

Social anxiety disorder seems like shyness but is distinguished from shyness by the intensity and frequency of the fear, the level of avoidance of situations and how much it interferes with your daily activities.

The Difference Between Fears and Phobias

We all have fears, and in many cases, our fears help us. For example, you may be afraid of getting sick and therefore, you may take better care of yourself: eating right and getting enough sleep. But sometimes, fears are irrational and can interfere with our life. These may be the sign of a phobia.

The difference between fears and phobias are in the intensity of the fear and how much it impacts your life as well as whether the fear is rational or irrational. Some questions to ask to determine if you have a fear of something or a phobia are:

Does this fear interfere with your professional or social life? For example, you may have a fear of spiders, but if this fears stops you from visiting friends or pursuing your work, it may be a phobia.

Is your fear irrational? For example, you may be afraid of birds, even a picture of a bird will bring about feelings of fear. You may know this is irrational, that a picture of a bird will not and cannot hurt you, but still, you can't get over the fear.

Do you avoid situations or revolve your life around your fear? For example, do you refuse to work in high buildings because of your fear of elevators? Or maybe you will drive for an hour on back roads in order to avoid a 5 minute trip on the highway.

If your fear is interfering with your life or impacting the way you live, you may want to talk with a medical professional.

There are many different types of treatment available for anxiety disorders and you should not need to live with fears that are holding you back. If you find that your worrying or your fears stop you from completing activities, going to work or doing well in school, you should speak with your parents and your doctor to discuss which treatment might work best for you.


Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Modified 2008, September, Melinda Smith, M.A., and Ellen Jaffe-Gill, M.A.,

"Social Phobia", Reviewed 2010, April 10, NIMH Staff, National Institutes of Mental Health

"Specific Phobias", Revised 2009, July 7, NIMH Staff, National Institutes of Mental Health

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.