Search “anxiety” on the internet and you’ll read about all kinds of symptoms and possible causes of the mental health crisis sweeping the nation. The internet can be extremely helpful if you’re new to learning about the ins and outs of anxiety. But right here, right now, I want to talk about what anxiety actually feels like, without fancy medical jargon or technical terms. Panic attacks, ER visits, and locking myself in the house was bad enough, but there’s more to it. Before I battled the beast of anxiety myself, I heard from others that it felt an awful like “feeling like I can’t breathe” or “constantly wondering what’s going to happen”. While I can now relate to both, I want to share what anxiety actually feels like from personal experience.
WHAT ANXIETY ACTUALLY FEELS LIKE
Anxiety makes you feel like it’s impossible to explain. Explaining all the ways anxiety affects your life and how it makes you feel can be just as draining as the anxiety itself. Especially at first, you don’t know what the heck is going on, let alone feel capable or have the energy to explain it all to someone else.
Real talk: Don’t feel like you have to explain yourself in the first place. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. If the person asking is sensitive enough, they’ll respect that you don’t have a clear answer and won’t pry. If they pry, tell them to buzz off or say you have to “take a quick phone call”.
Anxiety makes you feel like a burden. Anxiety has a ripple effect- it doesn’t just impact the individual personally dealing with it, it also impacts the lives connected to that person. Anxiety doesn’t just make your life messy, it makes a mess of other relationships and responsibilities around you. With life being as hard and wild as it is on its own, it’s tough to share about your mental health when you already know how much some else is juggling. You feel your anxiety, even your presence, add more weight on their shoulders and more to the plates being juggled.
Real talk: The people that love you won’t consider you a burden, they’ll want to love you as you are.
Anxiety makes you feel like you’re a drama queen. Even though “anxiety” seems to be a buzzword these days, 95% of the time, people navigating through the thick of anxiety are not doing it for attention. Screw attention. Believe me- they’d rather have inner peace than have an extra set of eyes on them. Heck, the added attention is probably causing more anxiety.
Real talk: You’re not dramatic…you are being REAL. Anxiety is real. Your feelings are real. This isn’t an attention-seeking game. This is something you are battling. You’re not making this up- it’s not all in your head.
Anxiety makes you feel like you’re needy or extra. Having anxiety might mean you need things to be a little bit different (okay..maybe a lot bit different) than someone without anxiety. Whether it’s avoiding emotional triggers or sticking to a specific gut-healing diet (this helps with anxiety!), or even if the car windows have to be rolled up because of the traffic stimulus… it all might come across as extra.
Real talk: You are not needy or extra- you’re just extra aware of your needs. The reality is that you have to be aware of your needs this season. And that’s okay! Because at the end of the day, YOU need to be one of your top priorities.
Anxiety makes you feel weak. Having anxiety creates a tendency to doubt yourself. You’re constantly questioning why it’s happening or when it will happen again. Anxiety makes you second-guess everything about your life and harbor a sense of weakness and a lack of strength. It doesn’t help that society teaches a (false) correlation between anxiety and inward weakness.
Real talk: You are the opposite of weak- you’re a warrior! You just have to learn the battle skills to heal your way to victory.
Anxiety makes you feel like you’re a bad mom. If you’re riddled with anxiety, it’s tough to feel like you’re capable of anything, let alone caring for a human being. It doesn’t help that society worships the all-doing and all-being mother (she doesn’t have time for anxiety!).
Real talk: You can still be a good mom and deal with anxiety. Period.
Anxiety makes you feel like you’re a bad Christian. The word on the church-street says that if you have anxiety, you aren’t praying hard enough or attending enough services. You just need to pray harder. If you think like that, I’ll pray for you.
Real talk: You can still be a Christian and deal with anxiety. Another period. Cast your cares on the Lord AND focus some attention on your well being, not on the modern-day Pharisees.
Anxiety makes you feel like nobody understands. Shame and isolation prevent us from connecting with others and getting support (read more about shame here). This prohibits healing. When you have anxiety, it’s easy to feel like nobody understands; like you’re alone on this terrifying, deserted island.
Real talk: Someone DOES understand. Even if your stories aren’t the same, you can still find someone that relates to having anxiety. All it takes is ONE person to make you feel understood. Finding that person may require you to step out of your comfort zone and open up; but you’ll find them, and when you do, it’ll be a bittersweet “me too, friend, me too”.
Anxiety makes you feel like you have to apologize. Having anxiety makes you feel like you have to explain yourself and try to put into words why you are the way you are. It feels embarrassing and unstable to be this way. You feel like you have to apologize for taking up too much space in the world.
Real talk: You should never feel the need to apologize for being yourself and sharing your struggle. The world needs more of you being unapologetically yourself.
Anxiety makes you feel like your body and mind are playing tricks on you…like you’re crazy. Spontaneous anxiety attacks, hyper-awareness, inability to sleep or feel settled, even compulsive needs to check your pulse. Anxiety can make it difficult to trust your body or yourself because you feel like a stack of blocks waiting to crumble to the ground. The whole anxiety-roller coaster is terrifying, especially at first. Anxiety can hit out of nowhere- for no rhyme or reason. Until you figure out what is triggering your anxiety, or who is causing you distress, you’ll feel nuts. Like you’re a second away from a breaking point.
Real talk: You are NOT crazy- your body and mind are trying to communicate to you. Our bodies speak to us if we are willing to listen. Anxiety and panic attacks, anxiousness, breakdowns… they’re red flags that something’s up that requires our attention. They can’t use words so they’re acting up to tell you something is going on. Whether it’s stress, emotional trauma, trapped emotions, gut issues, etc.
Anxiety makes you feel trapped in a vicious cycle. It all keeps happening like a train you just can’t stop. Anxiety can feel like you’re fighting a losing battle. Like you’re pushing a heavy boulder up a steep hill and then tripping and falling back into the valley. Every day feels like a rinse and repeat of the one before- wake up, hang on, survive, and repeat. When is it going to end?
Real talk: While anxiety particularly contributed to PTSD like mine, it is cyclical in nature. This might be the case until you find what you need to break the cycle and chase your healing. Don’t stop fighting- you’re going to reach the victory.
Anxiety makes you feel it’ll be like this forever. When you’re in the middle of the storm, it feels like an eternity until there’s a break in the waves. Whether you’ve dealt with anxiety your whole life, or if everything blew up in your face suddenly, it’s hard to believe it’ll pass. You’re just trying to keep your head above water but the waves keep coming.
Real talk: There is HOPE. It doesn’t have to last forever! This is not to say that some aren’t people who are predisposed or deal with serious physical issues that trigger their anxiety- I don’t want to discredit any of it (I am not a medical or mental health professional). As we continue this journey together, I hope you find both encouragement and breadcrumbs leading to revelation and healing in your own process of reclaiming yourself and your life.
Can you relate to any of these?
If so, three quick things: (1) I’m sorry you know the shame and weight of feeling this way. (2) You are heard and seen. (3) You are welcome here and I believe you can get through this.