What Anxiety Feels Like
What does anxiety feel like?
I spent years feeling judged and misunderstood for my anxiety. I felt like it was my fault, and felt like others thought it was too. I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t control how I was feeling, couldn’t predict my anxiety, and couldn’t prevent a panic attack coming on.
I internalized everything and retreated from others because I felt like they wouldn’t understand. I sure as hell couldn’t explain it.
I look at the whole “mental health stigma” along with the misunderstanding in my personal life this way:
If we can’t understand why we’re having anxiety, how can we expect others to?
Most people don’t say things like, “can’t you just take a deep breath & calm down?” because they’re trying to be insensitive – it’s just that, they don’t understand it. Those closest to us want to try and understand it, and at the very least, they want to help.
I’ve become a huge advocate of opening up. Although it can be extremely anxiety provoking in its own, and you may not be able to make sense of every detail, sometimes just letting someone know you’re struggling with anxiety can bring comfort; knowing you have the support of someone you love and knowing you don’t have to hide can be a tremendous point of relief.
If you’re having trouble explaining what you’re going through, here’s a few ways I’ve found to explain what anxiety feels like:
There are the physical aspects of anxiety… it can make your heart feel like it’s going to jump out of your chest. It can make you feel like you’re having a never-ending hot flash, make your palms sweat, even make you feel dizzy. Sometimes you feel like you’re going to throw up or pass out.
And sometimes, anxiety comes with a lack of physical symptoms but a war going on inside your head.
Often times, someone will look completely “fine” on the outside but be battling a one-way conversation with the devil on their left shoulder and feel silenced to their rational thoughts.
Anxiety feels like your mind is a snow globe, and you’re trapped inside that snow globe that someone won’t stop shaking. Your thoughts race like the snowflakes flying around and no matter how hard you try to let those snowflakes sink to the bottom and calm down, your thoughts keep flying around.
It feels like you’re trapped in a hail storm and your brain keeps conjuring worries and fears of what could go wrong.
Anxiety feels like something is going to go wrong at any minute.
Ever been rick-rolled? If you haven’t, you’re lucky. It opens up one window (or in my unfortunate experience, multiple tabs) playing Rick Astley’s, “Never Gonna Give You Up” but you don’t know where the music is coming from and can’t find the window to shut it up. Anxiety feels like clicking a link, expecting one thing, then being bombarded with music [thoughts] you didn’t expect. They overwhelm you and no matter how bad you want to get rid of them (or Rick Astley), it just puts your brain into overdrive second by second.
Anxiety feels like you hit the point of Control+Alt+Delete because you have way too many programs open that are taking up too much memory and your computer is about to shut down; you have so many irrational thoughts going on that are taking up so much headspace that your brain, like your computer, gets overheated. And just like you don’t have so many programs open because you’re trying to make your computer shutdown, you don’t have the mental clarity to realize that these thoughts flooding your head are irrational – you’re just trying to think of what you need to get done.
Anxiety is your brain going into fight or flight mode because it perceives a threat. It’s trying to protect you from harm, so it pumps your body with adrenaline, preparing you to either physically fight or flight – but when you don’t do either, your body is left filled with these hormones that make your heart race and put your mind in overdrive.
Anxiety feels like something different to everyone – sometimes it can feel really unexpected and it almost always feels very defeating – but it doesn’t have to rule your life.
Find a therapist who can help you sort through the noise, learn what situations provoke your anxiety, and manage it. Open up to those around you and let them know what you’re going through. Most importantly, be kind to yourself and give yourself a little (or a lot of) extra love when you need it.