Job and Career

Nervous vs. Stressed

Published: March 30, 2023

The presentation was set to begin in minutes and Susan had just been handed a stack of papers. Across the table from her was the finance committee and members of the board of directors. Susan was scrambling to find a few key numbers she needed to share. She knew she was capable and would conduct an informative presentation. But Susan also knew she couldn’t let the stress or chaos of the moment overwhelm her.  

The situation didn't make Susan feel nervous, but rather, it made her feel stressed. 

Subtle Differences Between Feeling Stressed and Feeling Nervous

When stressed, you typically:

  • Know the stakes are high and you care about the result
  • Feel competent, but are concerned about your heavy workload and not enough time
  • Might overthink the task and play out in your mind what could go wrong
  • Are aware that obstacles outside of your control make the situation more difficult

When nervous, you typically:

  • Are concerned about making a mistake and what others will think or say
  • Feel anxious that you are not mentally or physically capable of doing something
  • May fear you don’t have what it takes
  • Are intimidated by the situation

Nervousness is mostly driven by what’s going on inside of you. For instance, your heart might beat faster and your hands could be sweaty. These internal factors require you to get a hold of your thinking, calm yourself down and face what’s in front of you.

Stress mostly comes from what’s going on around you, like external barriers or hurdles (for instance, Susan’s last minute stack of financial figures from the example above), that you think will be your undoing because of overthinking the things that could go wrong.

Four Tips to Overcome Stress or Nerves

Overcoming stress and nervousness is a process that requires you to actively put specific tactics in to place:

  • Know that preparation is everything. Do your best to over-prepare for the work or task that you need to complete
  • Identify any external factors that could trip you up and then have a plan to deal with them
  • Practice as often as possible delivering your speech, presentation, etc.
  • Think about past experiences when things went well and apply those lessons to your current situation

Ultimately, there’s no perfect formula for getting past the jitters or diffusing the butterflies in your stomach when feeling stressed or nervous over a situation. Find what works for you.

More Resources

Want more tips and resources? Check out our free on-demand webinars and a variety of articles in our Resource Hub.

Also remember that Best Care EAP counselors are available to meet in-person, over the phone or via telehealth. Schedule a confidential appointment by calling (402) 354-8000 or (800) 801-4182.

About the Author

Lisa Dempsey serves on the Best Care Employee Assistance Program Sales and Marketing team as the coordinator of communications/promotions.

She works closely with clients to create promotional materials and helps generate content for the Best Care EAP website.

Dempsey enjoys learning about health topics by interviewing health care professionals. She also likes working collaboratively on ad campaigns and being involved at events within the community.

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Lisa Dempsey