What it feels like to have anxiety

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Author: Sophie Phoon

If you’ve never experienced anxiety before, it can be difficult to understand exactly how it feels. Although everyone’s experience is a little different, here are some basic signs to look out for.

Stress that is disproportionate to the situation, an inability to set aside your worry, a sense of dread or restlessness – these are the common symptoms of anxiety disorder. Other symptoms can include fatigue, sweating, racing thoughts, increased heart rate, irritability, insomnia, trouble concentrating, nausea, or trembling.

We all get anxious from time to time. In fact, anxiety is a natural thing that helps us to know when we’re in danger so that we can respond with ‘fight or flight’. It helped us to survive thousands of years ago, and still helps us today to detect threats. Usually, we will feel anxious in response to a stressful situation, like meeting the in-laws or going to a work interview. And once the stressful situation or ‘stressor’ has passed or we’ve learned to cope with the situation, the anxiety will also disappear.

But when we talk about someone suffering from anxiety, we mean that they are experiencing anxiety on a much greater level. This kind of anxiety can cause high levels of distress over little things, and sometimes over nothing at all.

For example, most of us would be a bit anxious about giving a presentation at work or school. That’s quite common. But once the presentation is done, those feelings of anxiety will go away.

For someone suffering from anxiety, that probably isn’t the case. They might feel anxious for days or weeks beforehand, they might lose sleep or feel nauseous or even vomit. Once the presentation is finished (if they get through it), they’ll keep thinking about it – agonising over every little detail and repeatedly asking for reassurance: “Was it as bad as I think?” or even “Does everyone hate me now?”

This is just one example of anxiety, but there are many different types that manifest in all sorts of situations. Some people suffer from social anxiety, which makes them feel anxious about social interactions and fear being embarrassed or rejected by others. Some people suffer from medical anxiety, which makes them fear getting sick and constantly imagine that there is something medically wrong with their bodies.

A quick search on Twitter will turn up hundreds of tweets with the popular hashtag #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike. This hashtag was started by Sarah Fader, founder of mental health non-profit Stigma Fighters, and has become popular on social media as a way for people to share their personal experiences of anxiety.

Here are a few examples that really capture what living with anxiety is like.


Click here to see more tweets in this thread.

If you are experiencing anxiety and you need to talk to somebody, please contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Sophie is a freelance writer with a passion for real-life stories and mental health. She has worked with various organisations and publications including Australian parenting magazine, Offspring. In her spare time, she cooks for her family and friends, and writes about it on her food blog, Ever Peckish


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