The Complete Guide To How Anxiety Feels
Anxiety is the worst kind of monster; it sneaks up on you, doesn't announce its presence, takes control of your life, and leaves you on its own terms. Its symptoms are wide-ranging, depending on your circumstances and your physiology, however, anxiety can even affect young people. It can even disguise itself as other health problems, like heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) and chronic pain. Worst case scenario, chronic anxiety can even cause diseases, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and chronic inflammation.
Anxiety disorders are common-especially in the West. Whereas Eastern cultures focus on family and community, Western cultures tend to focus on the individual and work. People in the West may become isolated and over-worked, triggering feelings of depression and anxiety. In fact, anxiety affects 40 million people in the U.S. alone, which is roughly 18 percent of the population. If you feel nervous or anxious, you are certainly not alone.
So how do you know what an anxiety disorder feels like? Use the following as the ultimate guide for assessing physical symptoms that may show whether you are feeling anxious. Here's the ultimate guide as to how anxiety feels:
Like you can't breathe
Feeling as though you are drowning or unable to breathe is a classic anxiety feeling, especially in regard to panic attacks. Recently, photographer Katie Joy Crawford created a photo series called "My Anxious Heart," in which she featured a photograph with plastic wrap around her chest and mouth. She captioned it: "They keep telling me to breathe. I can feel my chest moving up and down. Up and down. But why does it feel like I'm suffocating? I hold my hand under my nose, making sure there is air. I still can't breathe."
Sure enough, when you are anxious or are experiencing panic attacks, you tend to suck in air, tensing your neck and chest muscles. You breathe shallowly instead of deeply. This disordered breathing pattern leads to an oxygen deficit. Practicing deep breathing exercises may be able to help.
Like your heart is beating out of your chest
During a panic attack, your heart pounds in your chest and you may experience a racing heartbeat. Not only does anxiety make you overly aware of your heartbeat, but your heart is also working hard to send blood to various body parts that need it. Your heart beats forcefully when your stress response is activated to provide your extremities with enough blood to fight or flee. These anxiety symptoms can result in chest pain. The problem is that in our society, we are rarely confronted with a life-threatening situation like an encounter with a tiger.
In modern society, stress tends to be subtler and more long-term. Our bodies react as if the stress were acute and short-term. Having your stress response (i.e., pounding heart) activated for a long period of time can cause health problems or may even lead to heart attack, especially for those with an underlying medical condition.
Like the world is leaving you behind
Depression often accompanies anxiety symptoms. When you are anxious, you are often paralyzed due to being overwhelmed. When you are depressed, you may lose motivation. The combination of the two mental illnesses can leave you feeling apathetic and tired. Even if you sleep away your days, deep down, you still have dreams and ambition. Because of this, you may become even more depressed and anxious.
Meanwhile, the world goes on. Your friends make big life changes and society still has expectations but with anxiety and depression weighing you down, you may feel as though the world is leaving you behind.
Like you are running in place
How does anxiety feel? It feels as though a million thoughts are racing through your mind all at once. Even though your mind is working hard, you may not be doing anything or going anywhere. It can feel like you've run a marathon but haven't moved an inch because you are running in place. This is particularly frustrating if you are overwhelmed by all that you must do.
Like you are dying
Anxiety can mask itself as other health problems, such as heart irregularities or asthma. In fact, anxiety often occurs with (or even before) other health problems. Health anxiety is a very common form of anxiety.
When your heart palpitates (or skips/adds a beat) during a panic attack and you feel like you can't breathe or have shortness of breath, you may want to check yourself into a hospital. If it is truly anxiety, going to a bustling hospital may make it worse. Instead, a relaxing meditation can do wonders to overcome feelings of dying.
Like your head is in a fog
It feels like your brain is foggy. Brain fog is a result of decreased mental function due to high levels of anxiety. In this state, your memory worsens, decisions become impossible, and academic tests are a joke. These mental impairments are not long-lasting, assuming you gain control over your anxiety.
Like you are drifting aimlessly
When you feel anxious, one day can morph into another without you really noticing. You may feel as though you are drifting aimlessly through life, without goals or the motivation to achieve them. An online counselor can help you snap out of the haze of days.
Like you are physically shaking
Think about the last time you gave a speech in public. If you are not particularly fond of giving speeches, chances are your hands were a little shaky. When the mind is anxious, the body is anxious. High levels of adrenaline and other stress hormones that coarse through the blood can make you physically shake.
Like you are afraid
When you know how bad anxiety makes you feel or how stress feels in daily life, you may become afraid of anxiety itself. You worry about when the next anxiety attack will hit and if you will be able to respond appropriately. Intense fear and anxiety are a vicious cycle.
Like there is pain deep inside
An adult's anxiety can be a result of early childhood trauma. Working through trauma on your own is difficult, especially if the trauma occurred in childhood. Carrying this trauma around with you prevents you from responding in a healthy way to current life situations in everyday life. An online counselor will partner with you to work through the pain from childhood traumas so that you can respond in a calm manner to all that life has to offer.
Like you are so tense that you might shatter into pieces
Muscle tension and anxiety are closely linked. Remember that when your stress response is activated, your body is preparing to fight or flee. To do this successfully, the muscles must be ready to fire. In the long-term, this muscle preparedness results in residual muscle tension and pain.
Like you just want to be alone
When you feel overwhelmed by environmental stimuli, the last thing you want to do is socialize. For people with social anxiety, anxiety is literally a product of social interaction. People with anxiety tend to isolate because they feel more in control of their environment when they are alone.
Like you are lonely
According to cognitive behavioral therapists, a large part of your anxiety may be due to cognitive distortions or viewing the world from a skewed lens. If you are alone, you may become anxious because you label yourself as a loser and tell yourself that nobody wants to be with you. You will wind up feeling sad and lonely due to your negative self-talk. Telling yourself no one wants to be with you isn't great motivation for trying to connect with others, and so the cycle of distortions stops you from doing what you want to do and promotes the feeling of anxiety.
In addition, it is common to feel lonely as you experience anxiety. You may feel like you are the only one in the world with anxiety, but the reality is much different.
Like you're not good enough
Not only do anxious people often criticize themselves, but people who often criticize themselves have anxiety. It is a reinforcing pattern in which you repeatedly tell yourself that you aren't good enough because of your anxiety and become more anxious because you think
you aren't good enough.
Like you have sensory overload
If you have depression, you feel numb; but when you have anxiety, you feel everything. Anxiety is sensory overload. In fact, people who are highly sensitive to their surroundings are more likely to develop anxiety because they become overwhelmed by environmental stimuli.
Like you are at war with yourself
When you have anxiety, you may be motivated to complete your to-do list, but you are paralyzed by your racing mind. In general, you want to participate in the world, but you don't feel capable of doing so. Feeling like you are at war with yourself is a common anxiety feeling.
Like you are overwhelmed
If you have too much on your to-do list, you can develop feelings of anxiety. Being inundated with tasks and responsibilities can leave you feeling overwhelmed. When you feel like you don't know where to begin, take one task at a time and then cross it off the list. The key is to say no to new commitments whenever possible and leave time for self-care and relaxation techniques.
Like you feel on edge
If you feel anxious for no reason, you may feel on edge. This feeling can cause you to lash out at friends, family, and coworkers because you feel tense and feel stressed. It can be difficult to reign in these feelings on your own, so you may want to seek the help of a professional counselor.
Anxious feelings depend on the person to a degree. Many symptoms of anxiety are universal, but if you have anxiety, you may not experience all these symptoms. Talking with a licensed counselor to sort through your anxiety and find a plan of treatment that will help you manage these feelings and the thoughts that underly them is the first step on the road to recovery.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
How do I completely stop anxiety?
Completely stopping anxiety involves a series of treatment steps, which may or may not include talk therapy, trauma therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, dietary shifts, and the introduction of mindfulness and grounding practices. Used in tandem, these tools can often bring anxiety symptoms to a halt, or at least restrict the number of symptoms you continue to experience.
Not everyone with anxiety disorders will experience a complete stop to their anxiety symptoms. Symptoms can wax and wane, drifting away in times of plenty or times of calm, but rising up again during challenging times during life, such as job loss or relationship tumult. If this happens, it is not to say that anxiety was not properly treated or effectively managed; instead, it means that the coping tools developed during anxiety treatment are no longer equipping you with the relief needed to tackle a large change or upheaval. Returning to therapy for anxiety to overcome challenges can help, as can making lifestyle shifts, finding good health tips, joining support groups, and changing medication dosages.
What are the 4 levels of anxiety?
The 4 levels of anxiety typically used to categorize anxiety symptoms’ severity include mild, moderate, severe, and panic-level anxiety, which may or may not be accompanied by panic attacks. These are not diagnosed conditions or mental illness but are instead used to identify how intense fear and other symptoms of anxiety are in a patient and may be used to identify how intense treatment needs to be at the outset of a treatment regimen.
Is there an end to anxiety?
Anxiety can seem endless, but there can be an end in sight. Despite the innumerable ways anxiety touches your life, it is a highly treatable disorder, and can experience significant relief with consistent treatment and emotional support. PTSD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and Panic Disorder and other anxiety disorders can all be overwhelming. Experiencing ongoing symptoms of anxiety, regular panic attacks, and constantly feeling as though you are not able to function normally can begin to wear on you, and make it seem as though anxiety symptoms will stretch on forever. Happily, with treatment, anxiety can begin to take a backseat.
Treatment can look different for everyone, and there is no “ultimate guide” for when to expect anxiety symptoms begin to fade. For some, treatment means months of talk therapy on its own. For others, treatment can mean the works, from medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to dramatic lifestyle and dietary shifts, all working together to create lasting change in your body and mind. Treatment regimens vary as dramatically as human beings vary and speaking with a licensed mental health care professional is the best way to determine what exactly treatment will look like for you, whether you are experiencing chronic, low-level anxiety, or a constant stream of panic attacks. You can visit a registered charity or health organization to receive information services about anxiety. Support groups can also be a valuable tool to teach you social skills and effective ways to stop worrying for those experiencing anxiety.
What does severe anxiety look like?
The precise symptoms of severe anxiety vary, but any anxiety disorder with symptoms that are considered severe will see a debilitating effect on the person’s life. If someone has severe anxiety— social anxiety, for instance—they may struggle to function in any social situation or may resort to leaving the house only when it is strictly necessary, such as purchasing groceries or attending school. Someone with severe PTSD may experience intense anxiety and bouts of avoidant behavior, and may find that they are having difficulty sleeping, concentrating, or functioning at all in day-to-day life. Still others with Panic Disorder might find that they have panic attacks at what seems like an interminable pace, and may struggle to perform standard, everyday tasks without risking symptoms of panic or all-out panic attacks. Severe anxiety can look different for everyone, but it typically involves symptoms that make standard functioning—holding down a job, completing school assignments, and engaging in relationships—feel impossible. People with severe anxiety will also likely have numerous avoidant behaviors and rituals, to ease some of the more common symptoms of anxiety disorders.
Can you be in a constant state of anxiety?
Although it may not present itself precisely the way you might think, it is possible to be in a constant state of anxiety. Being in a constant state of anxiety does not necessarily mean fixating on a specific source of anxiety, experiencing constant panic attacks, or even a specific symptom. Instead, a constant state of anxiety can look like having difficulty focusing, having difficulty falling or staying asleep, or seeing a constant shift of anxiety symptoms from source to source. Someone with social anxiety, for instance, who is living in a constant state of anxiety might find themselves feeling anxious at the prospect of interacting with coworkers, then apprehensive about being among a large number of people on the train commute home, then uncomfortable while grocery shopping, and later unable to go out for drinks with friends. Although the precise source of anxiety is shifting, the anxiety is constant.
How can you reduce physical symptoms of anxiety?
Reducing physical symptoms of anxiety can be achieved through two means: treating those symptoms specifically and treating anxiety generally. To help ease some of the physical symptoms of anxiety, you can engage mindfulness practices, such as meditation and practicing yoga postures, engage in general exercise to release some energy and generate feel-good hormones, or even get a massage, to help relax your body, and smooth some of the sharp edges of physical anxiety symptoms.
Treating anxiety as a whole has a positive effect on physical symptoms of anxiety, as well. Therapy, medication, and lifestyle and dietary changes can all positively change the physical indications of anxiety, and may ease trembling, sweating, a racing heart, difficulty breathing, and even fidgeting, when they are practiced or used consistently.
In either case, consistency is important: anxiety is not going to respond as favorably to different treatment options if those treatment options are not utilized on an ongoing basis. Daily meditation, exercise, and self-massage can all help ongoing physical symptoms of anxiety, while weekly therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, daily medication, and consistent self-care practices can all help manage anxiety symptoms effectively.
Does anxiety medication help with physical symptoms?
In many cases, yes. In some cases, anxiety medication can lead to side effects and additional physical symptoms, but in many others, physical symptoms are aided by the consistent application of anti-anxiety medication, as anxiety medication is designed to treat many of the physical repercussions of living in a constant fight or flight response, including an elevated heart and respiratory rate, and feelings discomfort or a constant need to keep moving.
How do I know if I suffer from anxiety?
Anxiety and stress are often mistaken for one another, so it can seem difficult to determine whether you are suffering from anxiety or dealing with stress when concerned for your own mental health. Suffering from anxiety can be determined by taking an online anxiety test, but it can also be identified by the severity and persistence of anxiety symptoms. To determine whether or not you suffer from anxiety, the best course of action is to seek the counsel of a mental health professional, explain your symptoms and concerns, and wait for a response from the therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Barring a visit to a mental health professional, there are some ways to determine whether or not you are experiencing anxiety symptoms. These include:
- Ongoing physical symptoms. One of the most common physical symptoms of anxiety is a racing heart. If you have a persistent racing heart or experience regular bouts of accelerated heart rate without a physical cause, anxiety could be at play. Sweating, trembling, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, headaches, stomachaches, digestive upset, and muscle tension can all point to anxiety, as well.
- An inability to calm or subvert negative thoughts. Anxiety is generally characterized in part by the presence of racing, uncontrolled, or hyper-focused thoughts. If you find that you focus on potential issues, constantly revert to the worst possible outcomes, or generally have a difficult time taking hold of your negative thoughts and moving them away from intense fear or concern, anxiety could be at play.
- Unwavering focus on the sources of anxiety. There are numerous anxiety disorders recognized by mental health professionals, but the core of each individual anxiety disorder is the focus. Someone who has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for instance, will experience an intense and almost unwavering focus on the sources of their trauma. Someone with Social Anxiety Disorder or social phobia will experience an intense focus on social situations and their corresponding anxiety.
Symptoms of anxiety vary widely from person to person and disorder to disorder, and self-diagnosis is neither possible nor recommended to attempt, but having a solid grasp of your own symptoms can help you seek help from a mental health professional and can aid you in your quest for relief.
How does your body feel when you are stressed?
During times of stress—say, during a period of public speaking—the body is alight with stress hormones. Although these hormones play an important function in overall healthy living and functioning, they can become problematic over the long term. This is because your body on stress hormones is akin to your body existing in a state of survival. A survival state can encourage your body to divert attention and energy away from the brain, in favor of your vital organs, effectively impeding cognitive function. Stress hormones can also cause a spike in blood pressure, respiratory levels, and the rate at which your heart is beating. These symptoms in conjunction with one another can make you sweat, can make muscles clench or tense, and can make it feel as though you are lightheaded or dizzy. When stressed, your body can experience a host of different sensations, many of them deeply uncomfortable and off-putting.
Can anxiety make you feel like your skin is crawling?
Anxiety can make you feel as though your skin is crawling. This is because anxiety can cause intense feelings of discomfort, particularly when the source of anxiety is present and symptoms are present. Intense feelings of discomfort can create a sensation of “crawling skin,” or can even make it feel as though you want to crawl out of your skin or be free of the confines of your body. This sensation is typically ascribed to the flood of hormones that flood your body in times of stress or a period of anxiety, as stress hormones can make it feel as though your body is simultaneously filled with energy, and unable to function correctly or appropriately.
Can stress cause tingling in head?
There are many physical symptoms of stress, and a tingling or lightheaded sensation is among them. Tingling in the limbs is usually associated with a loss of blood flow but tingling in the head is typically ascribed to a lack of adequate oxygen and blood, as might occur when the body is in a “fight or flight” response. Because being in fight or flight mode leads to a loss of circulation and oxygen, tingling can occur in all areas of the body. Why does this happen? When in a state of fight or flight, the body enters what can be called “survival mode.” During survival mode, blood and oxygen are diverted to areas of the body that are vital for survival, and movements are largely split-second, strong, and instinctual. Mental faculties are not considered quite as vital in such a situation, and essential aspects of the body are cared for first.
How long does anxiety take to heal?
There is no single, recognized time frame in which to heal anxiety. Anxiety is a mental disorder, and mental abilities, healing, and types of anxiety disorders are extremely personal and highly variegated. For some, relief from general anxiety symptoms can come after a few weeks of treatment. For others, the journey is lifelong, as you determine how best to manage anxiety symptoms, identify what triggers feelings of anxiety, and how your body and brain most effectively handle the many different types of management tools.
Focusing on the end date of anxiety healing can prove counterproductive, which is why most therapy sessions and treatment regimens do not provide a distinct end date. Anxiety will usually heal more quickly when the person undergoing treatment adheres to all recommended treatment plans and practices, including therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, and dietary shifts. Failing to do so could make symptoms last longer. The timeline expected for anxiety symptoms to ebb can be somewhat controlled by the individual undergoing treatment, and involves many other factors, including the roots and causes of anxiety, all of which can inform the timeline expected to recover from anxiety symptoms. People experience anxiety differently, and as a consequence, they experience recovery from anxiety symptoms differently, and along different timelines.
What anxiety does to your body?
Anxiety can do a great deal to your body, including forcing your body into sympathetic nervous system dominance. With constant exposure to this state, your body can begin to undergo numerous changes, many of them deleterious to your overall health. Anxiety can cause changes to heart and respiratory health, which can include changes to blood pressure levels over time. Anxiety can also lead to changes in muscle use and the way your muscles are at rest, as anxiety has been linked to increased muscle tension, muscle spasms, and other muscular issues, which can negatively impact muscle building efforts. Anxiety can cause issues with sleep, which can negatively impact virtually every other bodily system, and can cause issues with cognitive function, memory, and other mental faculties.
What is paresthesia anxiety?
The term “paresthesia” refers to a sensation of tingling or prickling in the scalp and head. This particular sensation has been associated with anxiety, as anxiety can have a negative impact on nerve function in this area. Paresthesia anxiety is not a particular type of anxiety, like Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but instead refers to one of the physical sensations and symptoms that has come to be associated with anxiety disorders.
Can anxiety make your eyes feel weird?
Stress and anxiety can both lead to vision changes, some of them temporary, and some of them chronic. When the body undergoes a stress response, it releases a flood of hormones. In stress, an acute condition, this can create a sensation of pressure on the eyes, which can make eyes feel strange and uncomfortable. In an anxiety disorder such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which is a chronic condition, the body will still release chemicals that can create a “pressurized” sensation on the eyes, and over time, with consistent pressured responses, the eyes of people with anxiety can developed chronic blurriness, discomfort, or general strain, and it may feel as though focusing on objects is a job or a chore in and of itself.