What Does It Feel Like To Drown? How Anxiety And Depression Relate To The Question, “What Does It Feel Like To Drown?”

Updated December 07, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn

What's the link between anxiety, depression, and drowning? In all three scenarios, you may feel terrified, helpless, and alone. You might even need professional help. For example, a lifeguard can help you when you're struggling to stay afloat, and a licensed counselor can help you with mental health challenges.

A lifeguard chair sits on the beach, ready for lifeguards to protect people from drowning.

Does Someone You Know Have Depression?

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Feeling Like Your Drowning? How It May Relate to Anxiety and Depression

If you think you might be dealing with anxiety and/or depression, it's important to understand these conditions in more detail. Anxiety is characterized by extreme worry that persists over time. Someone who is diagnosed with anxiety may struggle to control their worry more often than not, and they may constantly anticipate disaster or agonize over things like relationships, money, health, work, etc.

On the other hand, an individual who is continuously sad, uninterested in life, and withdrawn from others may be diagnosed with depression. The condition can be triggered or made worse by factors such as loss of employment, the death of a loved one, a natural disaster, or other traumatic experiences. In many regards, depression is inherently toxic. It draws people into deep, dark holes, making it harder for their loved ones to get through to them and remind them that they're not alone. Unfortunately, people who suffer from depression can't simply get over it, cheer up, or take a walk and feel better.

Despite the seriousness of these conditions, anxiety and depression are both highly treatable. If you think you might be experiencing either one of these issues, or you're wondering, "What does it feel like to drown?" read on.

What is Anxiety? The Evolution of Anxiety

From time to time, everyone experiences anxiety in varying magnitudes and manifestations. When faced with a stressful situation, our brains release a series of chemicals that affect the mind and body. It's a normal part of life in small doses. Unfortunately, people who suffer from an anxiety disorder have far more anxiety than their current circumstances require and may feel like they're drowning in panic.

Once upon a time, this was the body's natural reaction to serious danger. It was a crucial tool that helped us survive as a species and can also be useful today, but in the modern world, most people are no longer faced with concrete threats of death or serious injury. However, many people still experience extreme levels of anxiety, feeling as if they're under serious threat without provocation. Sometimes normal events can even provoke an anxiety attack that feels like drowning in your own body.

A Shift in Culture

In the past, human beings needed to exert large amounts of energy to find food and avoid threats. As we've evolved, however, we've been able to shift our focus toward convenience instead of effort. This means that, on average, people are less active and eat more calories than they need, so they have extra energy--and anxiety--to burn.

While normal levels of anxiety can improve your focus, encourage a call to action, or inspire motivation, constant anxiety can become overwhelming, interfering in your daily life and relationships. While most people experience these sorts of feelings during times of particular stress, those with anxiety disorders experience them at a distressing level and find it difficult to calm down.

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The Link Between Anxiety, Depression, and Drowning

"What's depression like? It's like drowning, except everyone around you is breathing."

As this anonymous quote suggests, anxiety and depression can hold you down, leaving you feeling helpless, cold, and isolated, while those around you go on with their everyday lives. This feeling of disconnectedness and despair pushes you down further, overwhelms your system, and makes it hard to find the motivation or energy to swim back to the surface.

Sometimes, it also feels like we're drowning in the chaos of modern life and are two feet underwater.

In a time of constant connectivity, we're at risk of being overstimulated, which can exacerbate anxiety and depression. Our brains take sensory stimulation from the environment around us, filtering out the relevant aspects and focusing our attention where it matters. Sometimes, brain injury, emotional trauma, or even the strains and stresses of life can reduce the effectiveness of this filtering. This can leave an individual feeling overwhelmed, faced with an intense sensory experience that changes the way they interact with their environment or makes them want to withdraw.

Stimulation is part of what gives life its color, but overstimulation can have detrimental physical and psychological effects. The brain's natural response is to become alert; our muscles tighten into knots, and we may find ourselves constantly on edge. Our bodies weren't meant to feel this pressure all the time, so many people succumb to anxiety and depression as a result.

How to Prevent Anxiety and Depression

Given the number of factors that affect these conditions, there's no way to definitively prevent depression and anxiety. However, there are certain lifestyle choices and safeguards that can decrease your likelihood of experiencing symptoms.

First and foremost, it's important to look at the daily decisions that affect your life. These include where you work and what you do for a living, the people in your life, the foods you eat, where you live, and so much more. All of these things can affect your quality of life. For instance, a well-rounded person who loves his or her career, lives in a nice home, and surrounds himself or herself with supportive friends is more likely to be physically and emotionally healthy than someone who hates his or her job, lives unhappily, and wastes his or her time around negative influences. The way you spend your time greatly affects your health and happiness.

You can also reduce your likelihood of experiencing anxiety and depression by spending time on yourself and taking care of your health and wellbeing. This sounds simple, but many people delay caring for themselves because they think they're too busy or undeserving. Everyone deserves time for self-care. It's a crucial part of maintaining a healthy emotional and mental state.

Self-care should include exercising, eating a nutritious diet, spending time in nature, and even occasionally pampering yourself. We all have responsibilities and things that we need to do, but we should never neglect ourselves.

When we do, we may constantly think, "I feel like I'm drowning" and we become a magnet for anxiety, depression, and other emotional states that can make you feel as if you're drowning and that you're two feet under.

All of the money, success, and accomplishments in the world will mean nothing if you're not healthy enough to enjoy them.

When Anxiety or Panic Becomes More Than A Temporary Feeling

Someone with chronic anxiety lives in a cycle of being alert without being able to calm down. Their nervous system is overactive, so they constantly feeling on edge or worried without reason. They're convinced something is wrong, but they don't know what to do about it.

Does Someone You Know Have Depression?

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These constant feelings of anxiety can lead to the development of avoidance behaviors, as individuals become plagued by irrational fears, experience sudden bouts of heart-dropping panic, or habitually anticipate danger in situations that don't warrant it. It can also cause trouble concentrating, leaving you feeling as if your mind has gone blank. Alternatively, it might prompt unexplained feelings of irritability, as well as somatic symptoms, such as sweating, headaches, upset stomach, dizziness, shortness of breath, and insomnia.

If you've struggled with anxiety or depression, you should know that help is available in the form of talk therapy, and other interventions. Many others have successfully learned to manage their symptoms through treatment. Research shows that online therapy can be a powerful tool in reducing depression symptoms.

You may read the full study here: Depression: Effectiveness of a Multimodal Digital Psychotherapy Platform for Adult Depression: A Naturalistic Feasibility Study

If you decide to give therapy a try, BetterHelp has over 10,000 licensed therapists who specialize in helping you overcome your feelings and symptoms. You can connect with them online, by phone or by video chat, from the comfort of your own home.

Below are a few reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing a range of anxiety and depression symptoms.

Counselor Reviews

"Ari has been great. I like his logical approach to things and he has been able to teach me tangible things I can use everyday to manage my anxiety. He gives me the time to speak about what is bothering me and never passes any judgment. Instead, through his wisdom, he is able to show me different perspectives and approaches them with me very gently. I really appreciate this. I would highly recommend him to anyone who is ready to get the help they need."

"Brenda has been a lifeline to me in a very difficult time. In one month she has helped support me through quitting alcohol, partaking in self care and helping me through the process of a breakup. She asks the questions that your friends won't, a real chance to understand what's happening to you as well as being able to evaluate it healthily. Brenda also gave me very good practical advice on how to manage my anxiety and how to handle those first few days of a breakup which can feel impossible. I've loved that I can message her whenever I get those awful feelings and she usually responds pretty quickly. You can also schedule weekly phone sessions which have also been helpful some weeks when I've really been really struggling."


Anxiety and depression can be debilitating mental conditions that make you feel like you're drowning in sadness and worry. They can take all the enjoyment out of your life, but you don't have to let them. With prevention, self-care, and treatment, you can learn to swim and love life again. Take the first step today.

For more information about therapy, please visit:

If you have any questions about therapy, please contact us at contact@betterhelp.com. For more information about therapy, please visit: 

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