Situational Anxiety (A comprehensive guide)

We will discuss what can be understood by Situational anxiety, differences with generalized anxiety and specific phobias and coping skills.

Situational anxiety

Situational anxiety can be understood as the anxiety manifested during unfamiliar situations or specific events that trigger our physiological response manifesting in having a faster heart rate, sweating, headaches or muscle tension, among others. 

Anxiety is a mental health condition that affects millions around the world, so it is more common than you may think.

However, having anxiety from time to time doesn’t mean you have an anxiety disorder, it becomes a problem when it starts affecting your ability to live your life or when it interferes with your daily activities. 

Situational anxiety kicks in short-term situations, such as when having an oral presentation, getting married, moving houses or a performance.

This type of anxiety experienced during certain specific situations is not classed as a medical disorder and it is often mistaken with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or specific phobias. 

Normal anxiety vs Anxiety disorders

The situations that trigger anxiety and the perceived intensity can vary from one person to the other.

Maybe you have heard people say “anxiety is normal” but how can you be certain what it is considered normal and what isn’t?

Well, it really depends on many factors but we can say that normal anxiety is a sensation we all get when we are facing stressful situations. 

However, there is a biological explanation. Anxiety can actually help us in life-threatening situations.

For example, imagine you went camping with your friends, you are walking around the woods and suddenly you spot a bear.

At that moment your brain starts sending signals to your body to activate your “fight-or-flight” response. 

If you are far away from the bear, your brain will send the order to start running in the opposite direction but, if you already face to face with the bear you will probably respond by protecting yourself or “fighting” the bear with anything you have available.

This is an innate and adaptative response that ensures our survival. 

In contrast, if you are facing a situation that does not pose a real threat to you and the emotional and physical response is as extreme as the situation with the bear then that is when we can actually talk about an anxiety disorder.  

Situational anxiety vs Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by excessive and persistent worry about several situations such as financial situations, health, family, work, etc, removing the “situational” component that situational anxiety has. 

People with GAD find it very hard to control their worry and they usually anticipate disastrous outcomes, which intensifies the anxiety perpetuating the cycle. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, Generalized Anxiety Disorder Symptoms can Vary from one person to another, but there are some common physical symptoms that someone with GAD might experience:

  • Persistent worrying or anxiety about a number of areas that are out of proportion to the impact of the events
  • Overthinking plans and solutions to all possible worst-case outcomes
  • Perceiving situations and events as threatening, even when they aren’t
  • Difficulty handling uncertainty
  • Indecisiveness and fear of making the wrong decision
  • Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
  • Inability to relax, feeling restless, and feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind “goes blank”

Physical signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle tension or muscle aches
  • Trembling, feeling twitchy
  • Nervousness or being easily startled
  • Sweating
  • Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Irritability

When the symptoms persist and manifest regularly over a period of at least 6 months interfering with your day to day activities, then you may have GAD.

It is important not to self-diagnose with GAD, to get a confirmed diagnosis to consult with a mental health professional for a complete assessment. 

Situational anxiety vs Specific Phobias

The main characteristic of this type of anxiety disorder is the excessive and persistent fear of a situation, activity or object that is not harmful but it is perceived as a threat.

Some of them are aware that their phobia is excessive but are unable to control it and the object or situation is either avoided or endured with intense fear. 

For example, someone can have a specific phobia towards dogs meaning just the thought of walking into a park seeing one or just thinking about your neighbor’s dog running around free in the neighborhood can make you think and do anything to avoid it.

Someone with situational anxiety, for example, can be facing a new situation such as a performance at a karaoke bar, since they are only used to singing in the shower.

That specific unfamiliar situation will trigger your anxiety but after being exposed to it, next time it can even be experienced will mild anxiety or no anxiety at all.

For our friend who is afraid of dogs it won’t go away that easy. 

How to cope with Anxiety?

It has been suggested that the way you cope or handle things will change dramatically how much anxiety you are experiencing.

In a study performed by researchers from the University of Cambridge found that women living in poor areas have a higher risk of anxiety than women living in richer areas.

But the results weren’t surprising, however, when they had a much deeper approach, they found that the women living in poor areas that had a particular set of coping resources didn’t manifest anxiety symptoms in comparison to women living in poor areas but without that specific set of coping skills. 

Other researchers have identified also that people who have faced extreme situations such as wars or natural disasters if they had coping resources they remained free of mental disorders while the ones facing the same situations without coping skills developed mental disorders.

What are those coping resources you may be wondering? Well, let’s dive right into them. 

Coping strategies for anxiety

Olivia Remes, one of the researches from the University of Cambridge says you can develop these coping resources on your own which in term will give you that sense of control and empowerment over your anxiety.

  1. Feel like you are in control of your life, take risks. Now bear with me, this can sound confusing and it can be way more simple saying it than doing it. Olivia suggests that people who feel that they are more in control of their lives have better mental health as opposed to the ones that feel their lacking control. 

The main idea here is to engage in experiences that give you better control.

For instance, you may find hard sometimes doing something because you feel you are “not ready enough” and end up procrastinating or postponing until you feel ready, but in the end, nothing gets done. 

The way to overcome indecision is to do it badly the first time, which will help you to speed up your decision making and will take you straight into the action, otherwise, you can spend ages deciding how you should go about doing something makes you afraid to even begin.

Your “perfection” standards may be too high which can stress you, even more, delaying your task or considering abandoning altogether. 

If you throw yourself into doing something without thinking if it will end up being good or bad will actually make it easier to start and in the end, even if you are doing it badly or the wrong way you may even look back and realize that “it wasn’t that bad”. 

  1.  Forgive yourself. If you have anxiety you may be asking yourself more often than not, “what am I doing wrong?” or you might just feel bad with yourself all day long. Start being kind with yourself, stop pointing out what you are doing wrong and instead focus on the good things you might get surprised at how many positive things you can think about yourself when you are not focusing on the bad. 

The bottom line is, forgive yourself for things that are long gone and in the past.

If you didn’t have the courage to approach and talk to someone you really like, forgive yourself!

If you couldn’t go on that trip to the Bahamas because you are too afraid of planes, forgive yourself, let it go and you will notice the change. 

  1. Find a purpose and meaning in your life. If you do something having someone else in mind can help you go through the toughest times. It is not necessary for you to go volunteering in Africa to feel you have a purpose in life, but if you do something that makes you feel “needed” or “useful” this will help motivate you to do more things. You can just start by doing something to help someone else.

For example, if you take your grandma out for dinner on Fridays or just help your mom go grocery shopping and carrying out her bags or even helping a friend go through a tough time.

Find your purpose and you will feel like you can conquer everything and next time you do something for someone else you might even do it without even thinking. 

Why is this blog about situational anxiety important?

We have discussed the difference between normal anxiety and what it means to have an anxiety disorder.

We have established that having anxiety in your life is normal until it takes full control of your life.

Also, we have talked about the difference between situational anxiety, GAD and specific phobias.

Additionally, we have learned 3 coping strategies to put to practice, The first step is always the hardest but once you have set one foot the other one will come along.

Gradually start implementing these strategies and you will feel how your life starts to change. 

Please feel free to comment on the content of this blog or let us know how these coping strategies are working for you in the comments section below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about situational anxiety

What are the 6 types of anxiety disorders?

The 6 types of anxiety disorders are Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-compulsive disorder, Panic Disorder, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Social Anxiety Disorder and Specific Phobias.

Can anxiety actually kill you?

Anxiety won’t kill you but you may experience some symptoms that will make you feel you are dying, as it is the case with a panic attack where you can fell you are dying from a heart attack. 

How do you calm down anxiety?

There are many strategies to help you calm down.

The best one is controlling your breathing, this will relax your muscles and will give you back your clarity to think about what to do next.

What is the drug of choice for anxiety?

Antidepressants are the drug of choice for the treatment of anxiety.

They are classed as Serotonin-reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs which act in your brain by balancing the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which eventually improves your mood and makes you feel with more energy.

Is anxiety a mental illness?

Yes, anxiety is considered a mental illness.

However, not everyone that experiences anxiety has a mental illness.

This varies in intensity and how it can interfere with your day to day activities. 

Recommended reading

  1. Emotional Recovery from Situational Anxiety: How You Can Feel Safe Again
  2. Conversation Skills For The Shy: How To Easily Talk To Anyone
  3. The Joy Of Imperfection: A Stress-Free Guide To Silencing Your Inner Critic, Conquering Perfectionism, and Becoming The Best Version Of Yourself!
  4. Mindfulness in 1-2-3: The Easy Way to Start a Life of Authentic Happiness Today
  5. The Procrastination Cure: 21 Proven Tactics For Conquering Your Inner Procrastinator, Mastering Your Time, And Boosting Your Productivity!


Mayo Clinic

Doctor 4U

Calm Clinic