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butterflies versus anxiety: what are they & how can I tell the difference?

March 25, 2022

Feelings of nervousness and anxiety are normal parts of everyday life. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between common butterflies in the stomach and the less-common feelings of anxiety. It can also be difficult to tell what they mean in blossoming relationships. Are you excited about this person, or is your gut telling you to run away?

While both feelings are normal, they don’t always mean the same thing.


Having the feeling of butterflies in your stomach can also be defined as having feelings of strong nervousness or excitement about something or someone. This can feel like nausea and/or having a fluttering feeling within your stomach. We often associate the start of new and exciting relationships with that butterfly feeling. Because of this, we often get more excited about that person when we feel those butterflies. 

Based off scientific studies, this feeling is due to our “fight or flight” response. When our bodies are preparing us and begin producing more adrenaline, there’s a reduction of blood flow to the stomach. This reduction in blood flow is what causes the fluttering feeling in our stomachs.


Feelings of anxiety, on the other hand, are much more complex. Anxiety can be described as, “feeling nervous, restless or tense. Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom.” Other common symptoms include:

  • Sweating palms
  • Racing heart
  • Feeling weak or tired

Anxiety can be due to a buildup of stressful life events such as a family death, work issues, financial problems or relationships. It can also be the sign of an underlying mental health problem.

We can start to feel anxiety in our relationships for any number of reasons. These can include insecurities about how your partner feels, their level of commitment and long-term compatibility. It doesn’t always mean that there’s something wrong with the relationship. It’s normal to feel anxiety about your relationship until it begins to disrupt your daily life and the overall health of your relationship.

Butterflies versus Anxiety

Butterflies are the direct response of our nervous system. Something is making us feel nervous and that causes a redirection of blood flow from our stomach. In addition, it’s easier to identify what it is that’s making us feel nervous as it’s happening in that moment.

Anxiety can be more difficult to figure out. It requires us to sit with our feelings and with what’s been going on in our lives to figure out what’s making us feel this way. In addition, it can have a much larger impact on our daily lives as it can give us recurring feelings of nervousness and its other symptoms.

It’s important to remember that getting that butterfly feeling and having anxiety are both normal parts of life, but they do come from different places and happen because of different things. If you have continuous feelings of anxiety, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional.


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