I’ve been living with anxiety since elementary school. (For a frame of reference, I’m a senior in college now.) I’ve done the therapy, the medications, the painful talks through episodes, the panic attacks – all of it.
And as anyone with anxiety will tell you, anxiety is the absolute worst.
Anxiety makes you doubt yourself, makes you doubt your confidence and self-worth. It can send you on a terrible downward spiral until every bad thing you’ve ever thought about yourself is rushing around in your head.
Partly for my own reassurance that I’m not alone in this and partly to educate others on what it’s like to have anxiety, I turned to my friends via Instagram to help me explain what it’s like to have anxiety. Just a few of these were the responses I got, but the few I received helped me find the best words to truly explain what anxiety feels like.
Anxiety is/feels like…
1. Being told “You don’t look like you have anxiety” or “You’re too pretty to have anxiety!” only making you feel worse.
Phrases like these are THE biggest load of crap. Like please tell me what you think anxiety “looks like.” Anxiety is a MENTAL illness, not something external. Also, just because someone is good looking doesn’t mean they’re exempt from struggling.
Anxiety isn’t always expressed physically – and when it is, you most likely won’t notice it. For example, when I feel anxious, I can’t keep still. I need to play with something, pick at my leggings, crack my fingers, bounce my leg – you get the idea. Little actions that people who aren’t familiar with anxiety or someone’s anxiety giveaways wouldn’t notice.
2. A negative cycle of thoughts that’s REALLY hard to stop.
One anxious trigger can lead into an ongoing flow of negative, self-deprecating thoughts that send you into a spiral that’s really, really hard to get out of. Therapy does help, but getting out of that negative cyclical style of thinking is hard.
3. Getting irritable over little things because your mind is in sensory overload.
I can personally attest to this one…You’re already in sensory overload when anxiety hits, so when someone does something small – like talk too loud or make a repetitive noise – it can make you snap at the person. Please, please don’t take it personally if someone with anxiety snaps at you – chances are they’re already feeling overwhelmed and whatever they’re snapping at you about is their mouth reacting before their brain can stop them.
4. “Like your mind is constantly running/in ‘fight or flight’ mode.”
Actually, your brain kind of is in constant “fight or flight” mode when you have anxiety. According to Anxiety.org, “anxiety and fear produce virtually identical physiologic responses” – meaning you may not actually be in danger, but your brain interprets the psychological response produced by anxiety as fear. Fun, right?
5. “The world crumbling piece by piece around you.”
And there isn’t anything you can do to stop it, because life is just happening to you, not with you.
6. “A million bees swarming inside you.”
Trying to calm the swarm is so hard.
7. “Like nothing you do will ever amount to anything, and you don’t have anything or anyone in your life.”
Yes, this is untrue 99% of the time. But if you don’t have anxiety, you need to understand that anxiety is so. Isolating.
Anxiety can convince you that you’re a burden to everyone if you try to share what you’re going through, that no one is in your corner and no one cares whether you’re okay. You could have a ton of friends and still feel this way. My friend who sent this in is a super talented, smart, and wonderful human being with a lot of friends, and seeing this response from her broke my heart a little because it’s so untrue. (Love you girl <3)
8. “A million racing scenarios in my head where anything I could possibly say or do isn’t right.”
You miss out on so much when anxiety is a part of your life. You’re scared to do things, to speak up when you know you should, because you’re afraid to be judged. Afraid that what you might do is the wrong thing and that’s all you’ll be remembered for.
9. “Nauseous, extremely ill, like the whole world is spinning.”
For some people, anxiety doesn’t just affect them mentally – it messes with their physical health as well.
10. “Drowning in a pool [that’s surrounded by] a crowd of people and nobody noticing you, trying to swim to the surface but being stuck at the bottom.”
11. Constantly feeling inadequate compared to others
You never feel like you’ll measure up to those who “have it together.” There’s this constant feeling that you’re never “good enough” – good enough by your own believed standards of where you should be in life, good enough for anyone else, good enough at your job, etc.
12. Not being able to enter new social situations unless you have someone with you.
Socializing is harder when you have anxiety. Unless you’re with people you feel 100% comfortable around, you find yourself constantly second-guessing everything you say and do, wondering if you’re coming off as “normal.”
Entering any new social situation where you don’t know anyone is really hard to go into alone, so if your anxious friend asks you to come with them to a social event, GO WITH THEM. Don’t let them miss out on what could be a really good time because they’re afraid to go alone, and plus, bonding time.
13. Hating social media, but feeling a need to have it anyways or you’ll miss something/be out of the loop
Social media can be a regular trigger for people with anxiety. Seeing others’ lives on our screens will often leave us wishing to be more “normal,” more like them, for life to be easier. And yet…the FOMO we experience from having social media can be even worse if we don’t know what’s happening and miss something potentially important.