It can seem almost impossible to explain anxiety to someone who has never experienced it. That must be why people say things like, “you should just calm down” when you’re having an attack of anxiety—because they just simply do not understand how scary and out of control it can feel.
A woman named Chrissy Stockton started a Facebook group for women who struggle with anxiety. She asked the members of the group to explain what their anxiety feels like, and here are 20 of the answers. You might find something that you relate to, or some way of explaining anxiety that you think might be helpful in your communications about it with friends and family.
“I read before the best way to explain anxiety to someone is imagine you have porn up on your browser and someone comes up behind you, and you cannot hit that “x” button fast enough.”
“When I’m anxious I can’t think of anything else but that one thing everything is on auto pilot. Taking a bath eating texting or even reading a book feels like a chore. Simply getting out of bed when you want nothing more than to stay in it is a challenge.”
“When I am anxious I am completely fixated on the one thing. I can’t think rationally or logically, I only feel overwhelmed with emotion. It feels like everything is wrong and that it will always be that way. I can’t see past the cause of my anxiety or see that it will be fine. Anxiety makes it feel like the world is ending when it isn’t.”
“Feeling nauseous and sick. My body is tired and all I want to do is sleep or cry or both. I never know why either. And sometimes even after I cry, I still feel sick and tired.”
“In my own way, in my own thoughts, afraid of judgment, feeling worthless, perseverating on old wounds, existential crises and constant low self-esteem leading to poor choices, more self-criticism and more internal angst….all of this leading to constant worry and negative ideas and jitters.”
“I often describe it to my friends as paralyzing. I can’t force myself to do something, even though I should. I can’t breathe fine, even though nothing is wrong. I can’t get out of bed, even though it’s 2 pm. I can’t help but worry, even though it may be something I can’t control. I can’t lift the weight off my chest, even though there’s no weight there.
“It feels as though I have no control over my anxiety. Somedays I wake up and feel absolutely great and can take on anything the day throws at me, and then within the next 5 minutes, my chest will begin to feel heavy, my breathing will be short as if I just ran 10km full speed, I’ll break out in a sweat, my hands will shake and because of this overwhelming/uncontrollable feeling, I begin to cry and feel so exhausted from this episode that I’m ready to turn right around and crawl back in bed scared that this will happen again. My body can go through this every day multiple times or not at all. Sometimes I know why, and sometimes I don’t and the worst of it, is that it will show up at any given time throughout my day without any notice making it difficult to plan my day ahead of time or to even think about leaving my house at all.”
“Knowing you’re thoughts are irrational and that inside you’re going crazy and not being able to stop.”
“Anxiety is every problem in life coming to the forefront at once, causing heaviness on the soul. Its the past present and future of problems, rising out of you and shedding light of its existence in any form whether it be sleepless nights, not being to focus on your loves and passions, and causing dissolving self-worth over prolonged periods of time.”
“Anxiety feels like 100 different people giving you 100 different opinions about your life that you didn’t ask for.”
“Anxiety is an uninvited houseguest in my head that is invisible to people without anxiety — they don’t understand it, and because they think my life looks great from the outside, it sometimes makes me feel like I am crazy for feeling the way I do. Anxiety is a very isolating thing without the proper support. It is a constant state of worrying worst case, “what if?” scenarios. How it manifests for me physically includes heart palpitations, upset stomach, headaches, insomnia. It’s the waking up at 3 am every night with racing thoughts about situations that may never even come true that are the worst for me.”
“Anxiety for me is when I’m crying and can’t breathe and catch my breath my mind is constantly on repeat and can’t think straight I start making up things about my relationships and now I’ve started to losing sleep.”
“Everything is Worst Case Scenario even if your rational brain knows everything will be fine.”
“It’s an insecurity thing I can’t seem to overcome. Because I know what the rational thought process is I know sometimes I sound nuts. But anxiety is a way to protect myself. Although sometimes it feels like it backfires. There are times when I’m completely 100% correct about a situation. And most the time I don’t want to be. I want to be wrong. I want to know I’ve overthought this and I’ve overanalyzed things but people with anxiety I think are very accurate about reading situations and understanding things and predicting a situation. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about anxiety it’s the right relationships in your life won’t fill you with it. When you are confident in someone, that insecurity of saying the wrong thing or losing them isn’t a factor.”
“A constant battle between me, myself and I. There’s situations I’m in where the logical side of me, the non-anxiety self wouldn’t think twice or be upset but my anxiety monster inside wins and I’m in a constant state of panic or self-doubt. Meanwhile deep down inside I’m trying to tell myself it’s nothing or screaming and clawing from the inside with nowhere to go because I’m just being crippled by this disease…. and at the end I’m exhausted, usually with a headache or migraine, over nothing.”
“It’s like having a weight on your chest and every time you exhale it gets heavier and harder to take in air. At the same time, the room you are in is shrinking around you. You call for help because the room is crowded and surely someone can come take the weight off you so you don’t suffocate but nobody hears you so you’re completely alone.”
“Feeling on edge, with a constant fight/flight response when the anxiety is present. Overthinking situations in some instances, and needed reassurance that your thoughts are valid, even if they may not be rational – which we get, but our mind is trying to convince us otherwise.”
“It’s like constantly being pushed underwater by wave after wave. Coming up for air only gives you relief for a minute, but just as you find relief, you’re pushed under again. Sometimes the waves are small and you can swim past it, but some waves are so big and powerful, you can’t do anything but wait it out, and have patience that it will pass.”
“Anxiety is feeling nervous before an interview or a party days in advance — but it’s also feeling nervous when you have nothing to be nervous about. When you’re sitting in your house and everything is technically fine, when there is technically nothing to worry about, but you still feel uneasy and can’t figure out why.”
“It is like you’re breathing through a coffee stirrer straw. Never really being able to get a full breath, feeling like you’re not getting enough air, a constant state of panic.”