13 Stories That Perfectly Embody What Anxiety Feels Like

"Are they laughing at me?"

If you wrestle with anxiety, you’re absolutely not alone. Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million U.S. adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. That’s why we’ve gathered 13 of our most popular stories that give a glimpse into what it’s like to have anxiety, ranging from personal blog posts to expert interviews.

Looking stupid in a social setting: “Are they laughing at me? I hope I don’t mess this up. I hope I don’t say the wrong thing. Was that supposed to be funny? Was I NOT supposed to laugh? Can I leave yet?”

For most people I talk to, when I tell them I have an anxiety disorder, they nod their head and tell me it’ll be okay. When I tell them, “I’m sorry, I’m having a bad anxiety day, can we reschedule?” They smile and tell me there’s nothing to worry about and if I just get out of bed, I’ll see that everything is fine. When I don’t want to go bar hopping because I know that alcohol only increases my anxious tendencies I hear, “You’re fine. It’ll be fun. Let off some steam!” Meanwhile, my heart is pounding so fast that I’m afraid it may be visibly beating out of my chest.

It can be difficult to verbalize what it’s like to experience mental illness, so photographer Katie Crawford decided to show people instead of tell them. In a stunning self-portrait series titled “My Anxious Heart,” Crawford captures how it feels to suffer from generalized anxiety disorder and depression — two conditions she has personally dealt with since she was a child.

“Calm down.” The debilitating problem with anxiety and panic disorders is that you simply can’t calm down. Finding the ability to relax — particularly on command — isn’t easy for most people, and it certainly can be more difficult for someone suffering from anxiety.

How exhausting overthinking is (but you can’t help it). It’s a toxic cycle: Your thoughts become your worries and your worries become your thoughts. But dwelling can have its consequences, according to one study published in the journal PLOS One. Researchers found that ruminating on negative thoughts is one of the biggest predictors of depression and anxiety and the psychological response to events happening is even more paramount than what actually happened.

People with anxiety are feeble. “Many people think that having this disorder means that they’re fearful or weak — and that’s certainly not the case,”says Joseph Bienvenu, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University. He explains that while many anxiety and panic disorders can stem from fear, that characteristic of the condition isn’t the only component — and it definitely shouldn’t be used to define the person.

Artist Beth Evans created these comics to help people better understand what anxiety feels like, especially when putting it into words can sometimes be difficult. The illustrations are a welcome portrayal, given that anxiety is often subject to judgment and stigma.

Sometimes a picture is all it takes to convey what words can’t. That’s evident in 29-year-old artist Anya Anti’s creative photo, which is a powerful take on how an anxiety disorder physically feels in her body. Anti, who has experienced anxiety and depression herself, decided to portray the condition in her work as a way to express how she was feeling.

When someone you love has high-functioning anxiety, it isn’t always obvious. And success in life ― whether recognition at work or, say, being particularly sparkly at a party ― doesn’t mean he or she isn’t dealing with something internally. While those living with the condition are dealing with debilitating side effects, they hide it well ― even from their loved ones or significant others. People who struggle with the disorder often experience excessive worry and panic, headaches and more. As with any mental health condition, the more people know about it, the better.

We can always count on Chrissy Teigen to keep it real on most topics ― and anxiety is no exception. The star opened up to Marie Claire, where she candidly discussed being diagnosed with anxiety disorder ― a mental health condition that affects 18 percent of American adults. Teigen explained how the condition often makes her feel unsteady and worried. “Every step I take feels a little shaky,” she said. “It’s such a weird feeling that you wouldn’t know unless you have really bad anxiety ... You feel like everyone is looking at you.”

Social anxiety isn’t a choice. “I wish people knew how badly I wish I could be like everybody else, and how hard it is to be affected by something that can bring me to my knees every single day.”—Kaitlyn Michaud via Facebook

Anxiety is physical. Your chest tightens, your head feels cloudy and you are acutely aware of the effort behind every breath. When you feel as though you have a small child made of frenetic negative energy trying to beat her way out of your body, it becomes impossible to ignore.

A Florida mom and reporter’s raw Facebook post is offering a glimpse into the pain of anxiety disorders. Kristen Hewitt, who works part-time as a television reporter, has two daughters, ages 5 and 8. Hewitt explained that her anxiety made her feel like she couldn’t leave her kids to go on vacation with her husband because the plane might crash, caused her to cry for hours, and led her to hide in her room so that her children wouldn’t see her so upset.

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