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What Anxiety Really Feels Like

What does anxiety feel like: Through the eyes of teenagers

My Interpretation of Tanya's Anxiety

Anxiety is defined as an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. But that definition barely captures what anxiety actually feels like.

There are many types of anxiety disorders such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) , Panic Disorder and Specific Phobias. There are all categorised under anxiety disorders as they all share the involvement of extreme fear and/or worry. In an anxiety-related disorder, your fear or worry does not go away and can get worse over time. It can influence your life to the extent that it can interfere with daily activities like school, work and/or relationships

I spoke to 5 teenagers who suffer from different forms of anxiety disorder about “what anxiety feels like” to better understand it. I also collected their input about what they do to make it better for themselves and what others can do to make them less anxious.

What does anxiety feel like?

“It’s like a loop of worst case scenarios playing in my head. I keep talking down to myself and start to believe the things that I’m saying. It’s like falling into a pit and being stuck in this loop with the feeling of never being able to get out. It’s a drastic opposite of my normal, optimistic self.

To feel better, I like to talk to somebody who is logical about it, without being condescending. Painting makes me feel a lot calmer and I end up doing it for hours on end. But, when I wake up the next morning, I feel a lot better because it’s a new day.”

- Tanya, 17 - diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety due to medication

“My head gets really light and I can’t breath. It feels like all my internal organs are switching places and I feel like I don’t belong in my own body. When I look in a mirror, it looks like my face is melting and I don’t feel human. Intrusive thoughts keep entering my mind that are negative and even suicidal.

If I am in isolation, I try and find a bright space or turn on all the lights. I don’t like to be touched and being alone helps. If someone around continuously repeats one phrase like “it’s going to be okay”, it helps by drowning out the intrusive thoughts”

- Avie, 18 - diagnosed with depression and psychosis that involves anxiety attacks and hallucinations

“It’s like the feeling you get in your neck when you need to cry and it feels like you’re suffocating and can’t get out of it. It’s a lot of crying, wanting to scream but also wanting to be invisible.

It helps to remind myself to breathe, because I sometimes forget. I try to be alone and distract myself using music or by taking a walk. It helps if others give me space and don’t ask questions”

- Janvi, 17 - diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder

“It’s more about what’s happening around me than what’s happening in my mind. It’s like the heart and mind have disassociated. It feels like my heart is going so fast and I can’t catch up with it. It’s like I have to run but I can’t move and I feel trapped.

I watch this video that helps me sync my breathing and count the beads on my bracelet. If there are others around, it helps if someone gives me water and gets me out of a crowd.”

- Anaya, 17 - diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder due to medications

“Anxiety is as difficult to describe as it is to cope with. It feels like a dark cloud, saturated with thoughts and jolts of negativity and pessimism. When an anxiety attack takes over, it TAKES OVER. Not just your mind, but your whole body. You feel consumed by your own negativity; a helplessness you can’t hide or fight off. It makes you over-conscious about overthinking and actions that would otherwise appear normal and mundane, turning you inside out in spite of giving you every reason not to show your true self. I don’t know what else to say, it never makes its home in me but rings the bell too often to be pushed away.

I look for outlets such as music and working out at the gym to release pent up frustration and let the multitude of thoughts flow. I have certain friends who know my triggers and some of them have voices that I’ve conditioned

myself to see as relief triggers. They know the motions (circles on my arms/back) and voice that I see as relief triggers and use them whenever they sense that I might be anxious or about to have a panic attack.”

- Tara, 17 - diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder

Although there are common ways in which this anxiety is dealt with, each person copes very differently.