What does anxiety feel like?
Table of Contents
This current article is about anxiety and how it feels. We will first give a brief introduction about anxiety, and then go on to describe how it feels both mentally and physically. The article then discusses different types of anxiety, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Lastly, direct quotes from people suffering from anxiety are mentioned as well, which will surely elucidate the severity of anxiety and how hopeless and helpless it makes the individual feel, before ending the article with a brief conclusion.
Anxiety is not only feelings of worry, fear, and anxiousness, it is much deeper than that. If a person suffers from anxiety frequently, they may have an anxiety disorder. Of course, the intensity of anxiety and how it feels differs slightly from person to person but the general idea remains the same.
Unpredictable and overpowering, anxiety is an unpleasant phenomenon that affects both the mental state of a person, as well as physical. It is a laborious, but mostly impossible, task to try and discern what anxiety truly feels like. Not just for the person observing someone else going through anxiety or an anxiety attack, but the person experiencing the anxiety themselves is unable to pen down what exactly anxiety feels like.
Does the air feel like there is no oxygen all of a sudden? Or does the world feel floating around you while you remain at one position – weighing heavier than usual, more conspicuous than usual? Does it feel like someone is clenching your heart? Does it feel like your stomach swam to your mouth? And are you are unable to speak despite wanting to – just like those nightmares that occur ever so frequently? And are you trying to rest your brain, but it keeps racing a hundred miles per hour? Or does your chest feel heavy, like a boulder has been placed on it? Does peaceful sleep seem like a luxury? And does even the air conditioner not even suffice to eliminate the burning up sensation?
The list is much longer than this, and it is highly disconcerting. But it is the truth and it is merely partially the reality of what anxiety is. People think having anxiety simply means worrying a lot. Instead, worry is only a small percentage. The reality is a lot bigger than that, and even after we describe in detail what anxiety is, we would only have brushed the surface.
Anxiety has different effects on one’s body and different effects on one’s mind. Meaning; it has different physical and mental – or psychological, symptoms. Feelings pins and needles in one’s body, feeling light heated as if you can faint anytime, and grinding one’s teeth are common bodily or physical effects of anxiety. People with anxiety also feel their stomach uncomfortably churning and twisting. Having breathing issues, such as shortness of breath and consequently breathing fast, is very common as well.
Anxiety may also cause individuals to feel and/or become restless and, as a result, constantly feel the need the move. Hot flushes, which are bouts of sweating, are yet another common symptom. Nausea, where one feels sick but does not vomit and so is unable to find instant relief, is also commonly felt by anxious people. Arguably, one of the most distressing symptoms is having panic attacks as this comes with its own set of symptoms, sub symptoms of sorts. Panic attacks occur mostly in people with panic disorder. Although it usually begins in adulthood, it can also occur in childhood and is characterized by palpitations, trembling, chest pain, and sweating as one feels extreme fear.
Furthermore, anxiety feels differently mentally. Firstly, the individual feels tense and nervous. The person also feels like the world is speeding up or down. Someone walking at the same place they do every day may suddenly begin to feel that everyone is staring at them. Anxiety makes one’s mind so black and white that once they start having anxiety, they feel as if the worrying is never-ending and there is no way out. Sometimes the individual becomes so preoccupied about being anxious that they get an anxiety attack while thinking about constantly thinking about when they will get entrenched in one again.
Adding on, anxious people worry about losing touch with reality, feeling depressed, and having a low mood. Depersonalized – where one feels detached with oneself and their mind and/or body, and derealisation is where dissociation is felt from the world around the person. Both of these phenomena occur in the mind of the anxious. An anxious individual also constantly thinks about having bad experiences that may have happened in the past, or imagined scenarios that could possibly occur. This is called rumination and is fairly common in a person with anxiety disorder.
Besides panic disorder, other forms of anxiety along with how they feel, are described as follows:
1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Affecting 3.1 % of people in the United States of America, Generalized Anxiety Disorder is persistent and excessive worrying is the main symptom of GAD. It is generally difficult to diagnose but is nonetheless just as alarming as any other anxiety disorder. GAD symptoms can be worrying about one’s wealth, one’s money, one’s job, or anything else on the surface of the earth. It is extremely hard for these individuals to control their sensations of worry and tension.
These people worry about the smallest and simplest things – even thinking about how they will go about the day will put them in a state of worry. They are also unaware and/or unable to control this worry because it feels beyond their power. Most people suffering from GAD think that if they stop worrying, bad things will happen. In a way, they think the worry is advantageous to them when in reality it is sufficiently maladaptive. People with GAD try and control the situation they are in order to feel less worried. But the process of getting rid of this tension places them in a bigger puddle of worry, and so the process continues.
A phobia refers to irrational fear and consists of various types, what many people do not know is that phobias are a type of anxiety disorder where things trigger stress, fear, and panic in the person. The first type of phobia is a specific phobia where one certain trigger causes the person to experience the symptoms that come with this type of anxiety. Common symptoms of phobias include a sensation of sheer anxiety which causes the person to ‘freeze’.
The person experiencing this is unable to control these feelings even when they know that the fear is unreasonable and irrational. Other symptoms include hyperventilating, sweating, trembling, goosebumps, nausea, and headache. Some common specific phobias include claustrophobia (The fear of being in a confined space), Arachnophobia (The fear of spiders), and Acrophobia (The fear of heights). Complex phobias is another type of phobia where one situation can result in the triggering of many different phobias at once, for example, agoraphobia (The fear of being in a situation where escape is difficult) can result in claustrophobia and monophobia (The fear of being alone). In some extreme cases, it can cause a person to shut themselves off from the world. Another major phobia experienced by many is a social anxiety disorder or social phobia which can prevent a person from speaking in public or generally adopting shy behavior.
Phobias are usually developed at an early age. Some are due to specific negative experiences while some are inherited by children from their parents or other family members. Generally, phobias are not considered a huge deal as many are manageable and can be avoided in day-to-day life. In cases where phobias cause a problem often, it is advisable to seek help from a psychiatrist or a psychologist. Another treatment can be exposure therapy where patients are gradually exposed to the trigger source in order for them to overcome the fear eventually.
3. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Another common anxiety disorder is Obsessive-compulsive disorder, better known as OCD. Like Phobias, OCD is quite common and generally does not hinder day-to-day life for a patient but some cases can be severe. People with OCD can have unhealthy thoughts and obsessions about specific things for example germs can cause someone with OCD to become extremely paranoid about catching germs or infections. Another form of OCD can be when disorder can cause anxiety and stress.
A variety of compulsive behavior accompanies OCD for example repetition of certain activities i.e. repetitive handwashing for someone having obsessive thoughts about germs. Another example of compulsive behavior can be avoidance, for example avoiding handshakes to prevent the spread of germs or avoiding tasks out of fear of making a mistake. Treatment for OCD includes seeing professionals for help. Like other types of anxiety disorders, exposure therapy also proves beneficial for this type of disorder. Some medications may also help deal with OCD such as anti-depressants.
4. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
This is another anxiety-related disorder that is a result of a traumatic experience including natural disasters, accidents, war, or other life-threatening situations. Even though not every traumatic experience results in PTSD it is quite common and is more likely to occur in women than in men. People with PTSD have disturbing thoughts about said event causing panic and anxiety attacks. These disturbing thoughts may occur in the form of nightmares which can also lead to sleep paralysis.
These thoughts can also put the person on edge resulting in angry outbursts, hopelessness, and even suicidal thoughts. Vivid flashbacks also accompany these symptoms and may cause the patient to ‘relive’ the traumatic event. Any conversation, situation, or person related to the event can cause extreme anxiety. Like both phobias and OCD avoiding the topic or any other trigger is another symptom that is used to diagnose this disorder and like them talking to a professional psychologist or psychiatrist, exposure therapy and anti-depressants are forms of treatment.
According to studies, anxiety is the most common form of mental in the US with over 40 million people who are affected by it which is a staggering amount. Most of these disorders include some form of phobia, OCD, or PTSD.
Anxiety disorders may not always become worse as people get older, although the number of people who suffer from anxiety does. Anxiety grows increasingly frequent as people get older, with middle-aged individuals being the most affected. This might be due to a variety of causes, such as changes in the brain and neurological system as we age, as well as a greater likelihood of experiencing stressful life events that can induce anxiety.
The forms of anxiety that people experience might also differ depending on their age. Phobias are more frequent in youngsters, panic disorder is more common in middle-aged people, and generalized anxiety disorder is more common in older individuals. We’ll go through each of these age groups in detail below.
As for children, they experience anxiety in a different manner when compared to the adult. Anxiety can cause worry about the future, fear of being apart from loved ones, and fear of certain people, places, or things in children. Anxiety affects older children more than younger youngsters. Anxiety disorders affect about 1% of children aged 3 to 5 and 6% of children aged 6 to 11 years old.
In young children, some anxiety is natural and healthy. When children are separated from their parents or caretakers, they often feel separation anxiety, as well as stranger anxiety when they meet individuals they don’t know. An anxiety disorder may be present if a child’s anxiety develops severe enough to interfere with school, play, and family life. The following are signs that a kid may have an anxiety disorder:
· Separation anxiety is defined as a dread of being separated from one’s parents or caretakers to the point of refusing to be separated at all. Separation anxiety is typical between the ages of 18 months and three years, but it might be an indication of a problem if it lasts longer.
· Worrying and worrying about the future or that something awful will happen to the extent of being concerned with these thoughts is referred to as generalized anxiety.
· Panic attacks are episodes of extreme panic accompanied by symptoms such as dizziness, a racing heart, and trouble breathing. The youngster may also be afraid of panic episodes in the future.
· Phobias: Refusing to engage with certain things or locations, such as animals or the doctor’s office, despite receiving reassurance and assistance.
· Anxiety in social situations: Fearful of being in public settings, such as school, and refusing to go there
· Selective mutism is defined as the inability to communicate in some situations, as well as shyness, separation from others, and temper outbursts.
It’s vital to keep in mind that youngsters may struggle to communicate their worries verbally. Instead of talking about their fears, people may appear angry, experience bodily aches, or have difficulty sleeping.
Anxiety disorders have no known causes, although some risk factors or experiences might increase the probability of a kid developing anxiety, such as:
· A tense household situation
· Experiencing a loved one’s death or loss
· Problems in school, such as learning difficulties or bullying
Psychologist Golda Ginsburg illustrates the sleeping problems of anxiety by mentioning how the disorder takes away sleep so much so that people cry over it. This is enough to delineate the severity of merely one symptom of anxiety. He goes on to say that people, students in particular, even vomit. Director of Columbia University’s Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders Anne Marie Albano describes panic disorder as a pounding heart rate as if you just avoided a car collision, except in a normal setting such as an office or a party.
Anxiety, straight from the mouth of chronically anxious individuals, is not trusting yourself and your own decisions and asking your close friends to decide everything for you even if it is a small thing like ordering a drink.
A common instance of an anxiety disorder as Albano also described (that I myself have been through), is completely changing your career degree just because you are too afraid to be in front of a lot of people, for example, a lawyer.
Another individual describes their anxiety, which I am sure many others would relate to as well, as their brain continuously buzzing and never being quiet, “like an engine” in their head.
“It’s like a bottomless pit in my stomach that aches and knots itself up over and over” is another person’s description that summarizes the horror of anxiety almost too perfectly.
Someone on Twitter has described anxiety in these bone-chilling words “my brain is a TV and someone else had the remote”. Yet another quote from someone with anxiety is that anxiety feels like “when your chair tips back and you almost fall but catch yourself – that sensation – for no reason and for hours”. Constantly having a nervous breakdown on the inside and trying to hide it, while hoping no one will notice is anxiety in simplest terms. Do these accounts not send shivers down your spine?
Having one type of anxiety disorder makes one susceptible to other disorders as well. For example; having GAD increases the likelihood of someone having depression. The worst is that anyone can have anxiety. Not just introverts or people who are shy. But even extroverts and people who are outgoing and social can be anxious, and with the same symptoms and intensity too. The point of mentioning this was to make it clear to those guardians or peers that do not understand why their confident child with so many friends feels awfully lonely and utterly doubtful about themselves at times. Anxiety can, and does, happen to anyone. And so, making remarks, such as “but you have a perfect life, why are you upset?” is plain ignorance because anxiety is far more complicated than that.
Does anxiety vary with individuals?
Yes. Each individual will experience anxiety in a different way. This is because every individual has different worries in life and different triggering factors. Nonetheless, the signs and symptoms are predominantly the same.
Does Anxiety only affect you mentally?
No. Although anxiety is the most prevalent ‘mental’ health problem it may be highly unpleasant because it produces both physical and psychological symptoms. Long-term anxiety raises the risk of physical ailments as well as mental illnesses like depression. Anxiety, on the other hand, can react effectively to therapy.