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12 Things to Know When Someone You Love Has Anxiety

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Anxiety is unpredictable, confusing and intrusive. It’s tough. Not just for the people who have it but also for the people who love them. If you are one of those people, you would know too well that the second hand experience of anxiety feels bad enough – you’d do anything to make it better for the one going through it.

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Whether we struggle with anxiety, confidence, body image – whatever – there are things we all need to make the world a little bit safer, a little bit more predictable, a little less scary. We all have our list. If you love someone with anxiety, their list is likely to look a little like this:

1. They’ll talk about their anxiety when they feel ready.

anxiety meme: they'll talk about their anxiety when they feel ready

In the thick of an anxiety attack, nothing will make sense, so it’s best not to ask what’s going on or if they’re OK. No, they don’t feel OK. And yes, it feels like the world is falling apart at the seams.

Ask if they want to go somewhere else – maybe somewhere quieter or more private. Don’t panic or do anything that might give them the idea that they need looking after. Go for a walk with them, or just be there. Soon it will pass and when it does, they’ll be able to talk to you about what has happened, but wait for that. Then just listen and be there.

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2. They’re pretty great to have around. You’ll want them as part of your tribe.

Because of their need to stay safe and to prepare against the next time anxiety rears its head, people who struggle with anxiety will generally have a plan – and they will have worked hard to make sure it works for everyone involved, not just for themselves. They’ll make sure everything has been organized to keep everyone safe, happy, on time and out of trouble. Notice the good things they do – there are plenty. Let them know you love them because of who they are, including who they are with anxiety, not despite it.

3. Remember: anxiety is a normal physical response to a brain being a little overprotective.

There’s a primitive part of all of our brains that’s geared to sense threat. For some people, it fires up a lot sooner and with a lot less reason than it does in others. When it does, it surges the body with cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline to get the body ready to run for its life or fight for it. This is the fight or flight response and it’s in everyone. The “go” button is a bit more sensitive for people with anxiety.

4. There’s a lot to know, so if you try to understand everything you can … well, that makes you kind of awesome.

anxiety meme: there's a lot to know about anxiety

It makes a difference to be able to talk about anxiety without having to explain it. On the days they don’t feel like they have it in them to talk about it, it means a lot that you just “get it.” If you’ve tried to understand everything you can about what it means to have anxiety, then that’s enough. Anxiety is hard to make sense of – people with anxiety will be the first to tell you that – but it will mean everything that you’ve tried.

5. Make sure there’s room to say “no.” And don’t take it personally.

People with anxiety are super aware of everything going on – smells, sounds, people, possibilities. It’s exhausting when your attention is drawn to so many things. Don’t take “no” personally. Just because they might not want to be doing what you’re doing, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be with you. Keep offering – don’t assume everything you offer will be met with “no” – but be understanding and “no big deal” if you aren’t taken up on your offer. They are saying no to a potential anxiety attack. Not to you.

6. Loads of lovin’ never hurt anyone, so be compassionate and there for them.

Talk up the things you love about them. There will be times that people with anxiety will feel like they are their anxiety and that they are a source of difficulty. (Who hasn’t felt like they’re making things harder than they need to be?) Specifically, I’m talking about when plans have to be changed, when you need to book a few rows back from the front row, turn the radio down, take the long way. If this is the worst you have to deal with in a friend, sign me up.

7. Anxiety has nothing to do with courage or character. Nothing at all.

anxiety meme: anxiety has nothing to do with courage or character

Courage is feeling the edge of yourself and moving beyond it. We all have our limits, but people with anxiety are just more aware of theirs. Despite this, they are constantly facing up to the things that push against their edges. That’s courage, and people with anxiety have it in truckloads. They’re strong, intelligent and sensitive – they’ll be as sensitive to you and what you need as they are to their environment. That makes them pretty awesome to be with. They can be funny, kind, brave and spirited. Really, they’re no different than anyone else. As with everyone, the thing that trips them up sometimes (their anxiety) is also the thing that lifts them above the crowd.

8. Anxiety can change shape. It doesn’t always look the same way.

Anxiety can be slippery. Sometimes it looks the way you’d expect anxiety to look. Other times it looks cranky, depressed or frustrated. Remember this and don’t take it personally.

9. People with anxiety know their anxiety doesn’t always make sense. That’s what makes it so difficult.

Explaining there’s nothing to worry about or they should “get over it” won’t mean anything – it just won’t – because they already know this. Be understanding, calm and relaxed and above all else, just be there. Anxiety feels flighty and there’s often nothing that feels better than having someone beside you who’s grounded, available and OK to go through this with you without trying to change you.

10. Don’t try to change them.

You’ll want to give advice. But don’t. Let them know that to you, they’re absolutely fine the way they are and that you don’t need to change them or fix them. If they ask for your advice then of course, go for it. Otherwise, let them know they are enough. More than enough, actually. Just the way they are.

11. Don’t confuse their need to control their environment with their need to control you. Sometimes they look the same. They’re not.

The need to control everything that might go wrong is hard work for anxious people, and it also might make you feel controlled. See it for what it is: the need to feel safe and in control of the possibility of anxiety running the show – not the need to control you. You might get frustrated, and that’s OK; all relationships go through that. Having compassion doesn’t mean you have to go along with everything put in front of you, so talk things out gently (not critically) if you need to.

And finally …

12. Know how important you are to them. 

Anyone who sticks around through the hard stuff is a keeper. People with anxiety know this. Nothing sparks a connection more than really getting someone, being there and bringing the fun into the relationship. Be the one who refuses to let anxiety suck the life out of everything. And know you’re a keeper. Yep. You are. Know they’re grateful – so grateful – for everything you do. And they love you back.

A longer version of this post originally appeared on Hey Sigmund.

RELATED: 31 Secrets of People Who Live With Anxiety

Do you have a story about your experience with mental illness? We want to hear it. Please send it to [email protected] and include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. More info here. Thanks!

12 Things to Know When Someone You Love Has Anxiety




12 Things to Know When Someone You Love Has Anxiety

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A Message to My Friends, From a Nervous Wreck

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View the original here.

Dear Friend,

I wasn’t always this way.

I didn’t always hide away from the general public for months or weeks at a time. Once, I was quite confident. Occasionally, I felt happy. I had a full-time job and could face customers with no concern. I would chat to people over the phone, make an effort to see friends, be interested in daily life. I could cope with negativity. Overcome it, even. I wouldn’t let anything bring me down because I had something inside me that made me keep going out there, into the world, facing it all.

But sometimes, Friend, things happen. Sometimes just one thing. Sometimes many things. The courage to face these things is strong at first, at least stronger than now. But depending on luck, or coincidence, or fate or opportunity, eventually the voice of that courage for some people becomes quieter. Weaker. And sometimes, silenced completely.

It’s not your fault these things happened. And if you hear the tales of what they were, you’ll likely think you know what could have been done or said to resolve it. But your experience in this life is not the same as mine, Friend. No matter what we have in common, we can never share the exact same perception. Please make sure not to confuse your perception with mine. We are different.

Sometimes I need a break from people. It’s usually the people I don’t know completely, but like, and with whom I want to hold some kind of friendship. I’m already tired of feeling anxious and sad and don’t want you to grow tired of me feeling anxious and sad. I’m sure you care and would be happy for me to confide in you, but I’ve confided in friends before and have been burned and heartbroken in return. I can’t bring myself to take that kind of risk again.

I’m afraid I won’t be good company. I’m afraid I’ll burden you with my emotions which I don’t feel would be fair to you. I’ve heard of your struggles too, Friend, and would like to help you, but I can’t. I take all struggles as if they were my own and my load is already far too heavy. Sometimes my whole world is devoid of any good news, and any conversation we could have would be very quiet on my end. All I can really do is listen, because if I speak I might burst into tears. But I don’t feel strong enough to pretend to be holding myself together right now, so I’d just rather not.

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I’m sorry you feel I’ve been avoiding you. You see me comment on social media but I ignore your messages. This is because commenting on social media is usually not personal. It’s a distraction. It’s a way to have adult conversation without the spotlight being on me. I can do it in my pajamas and without doing my face to look prettier than I feel on the inside. I don’t run much risk of having to answer the question, “How are you?”

…because I don’t want to lie to you. That would make me feel anxious when I’m already feeling anxious. I don’t believe in lying to people, especially people I care about. So for that reason, I can’t run the risk of being asked this question.

You may see me posting an update about a group I went to, or am going to go to. Maybe I invited someone along, even though I still haven’t answered your messages. This does not mean I’m feeling better and have purposely skipped you. This doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. My doctor told me to do things in the community so I don’t completely shut myself off. This is what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get myself back into the habit of being seen in public for reasons other than running a quick errand. I’m trying to quell the self-talk in my head telling me everyone hates me and thinks I’m weird. Sometimes when I meet new people and they smile at me, I think perhaps I’m not all that strange. “I can do this… I can do this…” I say to myself.

You see, Friend, with a head full of thoughts like mine, there is no invisible ticket machine. In a perfect world I would answer all messages and requests in order, and you’d be able to know when I’m going to call your number. But that’s not how this works. There’s no ticket, no number and if I can’t shut off the feelings inside me, I might never get to you. Or I could respond to you tomorrow. I really have no way of knowing.

To expect I give you attention specifically is just unrealistic, and I’m sorry. The nature of this beast is that I can’t gain complete control whenever I want to, and give people all the attention they want or deserve. You may be lonely too, and I’m sorry. But I’m training myself to take care of myself and my needs, and to give myself all the attention I deserve. That’s what is supposed to help me recover, or at least cope.

Part of the reason I got into this mess is because I put everyone else’s needs before mine. And they took and took and took some more until there was nothing left, because I was so willing to give. I regret being so naïve. I love to see people happy, but I forget I need to be happy first. You might not be one of those people of whom I speak, but that’s unfortunately irrelevant. I can’t handle any of it yet.

Maybe we struck a friendship during a time when socializing wasn’t so daunting. Maybe you think it’s uncharacteristic of me to be silent and that surely you must have caused offense. But Friend, understand this condition is unpredictable and the best thing you can do is just wait.

There’s no forcing a friendship with me. I need time. I’m grieving that part of me that no longer exists and that bright future I thought I was going to have.

As part of my anxious predicament I’m regretting so many things. Things that are long since dead and buried, things that happened yesterday: The way I reacted to something, the person I shouldn’t have trusted but did, the thing I said that surely must’ve made me look like an idiot. The fact that I feel this way in the first place. The fact that I can’t make it stop. The fact that I’m hurting my friends by accident by apparently turning my back on them. The fact that I don’t have the strength to be what my loved ones need. The fact that I can’t talk to you about this in person because it’s too hard. The fact that I can’t have friends because I can’t talk to my friends and therefore none of them can begin to understand why it’s hard for me to keep friends. The fact that I’m so alone I don’t know when I’ll ever be less alone. The fact that there are people depending on me, who deserve better than a version of me who is afraid of so many things I can hardly function.

I’m trying, Friend, and I’m so sorry if you’re hurt by me. If you want to walk away I understand, but please don’t convey to me the disappointment that I’m not what you want me to be, because I’ve got enough disappointment in myself for the both of us. Just send me positive thoughts as much as you can spare in the hopes that maybe, one day, I’ll be on the other side of this. I’ll be so grateful you were so patient and understanding. When that day comes, I’ll be able to call you a “Great Friend.”

Sincerely,

A Nervous Wreck

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12 Things Only People With Anxiety Can Teach You

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The points that follow may not be relevant to every person with anxiety, but neither is the list of symptoms. Humans are complex, fascinating and frustrating, and between the heart and the head, there are countless versions of the human experience.

There are some things that all the books, lectures, courses and research just can’t teach us about anxiety. They’re the things that come from people – the ones we talk to, listen to, connect with, acquaint with, like a little, love a lot or fight with.

Here are the things that I wouldn’t have known – couldn’t have known – were it not for those who have experienced anxiety from the front line.

1. Anxiety is the fuel of contradictions.

Sometimes feelings that are on opposite ends of the feeling spectrum actually do coexist. Sometimes they even feel the same.

The first is craving solitude and craving people all at once. The second is having a fear of being seen and a fear of not being seen at the same time. If you’ve ever known or loved anyone with anxiety and found yourself saying to them, “But I just don’t understand what you want,” don’t worry. Chances are they aren’t quite sure either. And that’s completely OK. Be grateful for the opportunity to practice being comfortable with uncertainty.

2. They’re wise about who they choose to be part of their tribe.

Anxiety comes from a heightened threat sensor, and the threat of psychological harm (humiliation, rejection, shame) can feel just as real as the threat of physical harm. Because interacting with people can be so anxiety-inducing, people with anxiety are choosey about who they let close. They’re not rude about putting up the wall to those who don’t quite make the cut – not at all – but they’re decisive. If you’re one of the ones for whom the fortress is lowered, feel blessed, because you are. There’s something about you that feels safe and lovely to be around.

3. They’re awesome to have in your tribe, too.

People with anxiety are some of the most emotionally intelligent people I’ve met – they’re funny, kind, thoughtful and strong. They’re also very sensitive to what’s around them – it’s part of having a heightened threat sensor – and that sensitivity also extends to you and anyone else they’re around. They’ll think about what’s OK to say and what’s not OK to say, what needs to be done and what you might want.

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Anxiety has a way of persuading people to try for as much control as possible over the “unknowns” in order to avoid potential chaos. This means they’ll be the ones who make sure everyone knows exactly where to meet, what time to leave to get there on time, what to take and the best way to get there. They’ll be the ones with the spare jumper, the spare coins and the spare phone charger. Just don’t forget to let you know how much you love them for it.

4. Thoughts have more pull than knowledge. Yep. They can run the mothership.

Thoughts stoked by anxiety can be frightening, frustrating and suffocating. Above all else, they’re powerful. They’re more powerful than a lifetime of knowledge and the collective knowledge of a group, so don’t even bother trying to reason – it’s pointless. “Knowing” there’s nothing to worry about isn’t enough. Once fearful thoughts are in full swing, they’ll run the show. They’ll drive behavior and bring feelings (fear, panic, anxiety) to life. All the knowledge in the world about what’s valid, real or likely won’t make any difference to those thoughts that are swelling. It’s the power of the mind against the mind.

5. Sometimes it feels like it’s all about the head and the stomach.

Anxiety can have a way of putting flashing lights around the head and stomach, as though they’re running the show – which, in that space of high anxiety, they kind of are. When anxiety is “on,” it can feel like the head and stomach are the only parts of the body capable of feeling, responding and being.

6. “Everyday,” as in “everyday things,” means something different.

“Everyday” doesn’t always mean “no big deal.” With anxiety on board, everything can feel like the biggest deal. What everyday means is “every day,” as in the things you do every day – today, tomorrow and the next day. As in, “Yes, I know I should be OK with it because I do it every day, but I’m not.” Anxiety doesn’t tend to keep a journal.

7. Thoughts that begin as little thoughts can change the entire day.

Did I lock the door? What if I forget his name? What if there’s an accident? What if we’re late? What if the restaurant runs out of tables under the heater? … It doesn’t matter how much effort is put into preparation; once there’s a worry, it can white-knuckle for grip. The thoughts are often rational, plausible and possible, but anxiety makes them overwhelming.

8. “There’s nothing to worry about” is the best thing to hear. Wait. No. It’s not.

You’d think it would be comforting to hear that there’s nothing to worry about, but it can actually be isolating.

Think of it like this: Imagine being at the side of a wide road you need to cross. Everyone is telling you it’s fine to cross and they’re all doing it, but you see trucks, cars, buses and bikes barreling from the left and the right. Nobody else can see them. You know the road is OK to cross, but you can’t – you just can’t. That traffic! So, not only do you feel panicked but you also feel like you’re in it on your own. It can feel like nobody else really understands, which they might not – otherwise they wouldn’t be telling you there’s nothing to worry about.

The truth is, when it comes to anxiety, it can be difficult for people who have never experienced it to understand – but that’s OK. You don’t need to fully understand something to be a comforting presence through the unfolding of it.

9. Anxiety and courage exist together. 

When it comes to courage, anxious people have it in truckloads. Just getting through the day can call on enormous reservoirs of courage that the rest of us might only need to draw on now and then. Anxiety and courage always exist together. They have to. You can’t get through day after day with anxiety blocking the path, without having courage to help push a way through.

10. Stimulation or isolation? Sometimes I’ll take isolation.

Anxiety can force isolation. Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – people with anxiety would rather sit outside in the cold on their own than inside with their favorite people, the noise and the lights. It has nothing to do with the quality of what’s inside and everything to do with the quantity.

11. Sometimes “I’m sick” and “I’m fine” means “I’m panicking. Don’t ask.”

Anxiety hates attention. When anxiety is triggered, the normal human response if you’re the concerned other is, “Are you OK?” or “What’s wrong?” If you have to ask, then no, chances are they’re not OK. Don’t worry – just be a strong, confident, loving presence. You’ll probably be told, “I’m fine” or “I’m sick.” It’s not a brush-off, it’s a protection. Don’t keep pushing it – just give a gentle “I’m here” squeeze of their arm or hand and move on.

12. Just because someone’s tired doesn’t mean sleep comes easily.

Anxiety is tiring, but sleep doesn’t necessarily come easily. Tiredness makes anxiety worse and anxiety makes tiredness worse – you would think it would be a union made in heaven, but no. It can look at little like this: “I have to get to sleep, otherwise I’m going to be out of my mind with tiredness in the morning, so I just have to go to sleep. But what if I can’t get to sleep? But I have to go to sleep. But what if I can’t?? Anxious yet?

As with any part of the human experience, there are so many things about anxiety that can only be understood by having it. If you love someone with anxiety, it’s important to pay attention. There will be wisdom and knowledge that only they can give you. Be open, and be grateful.

A longer version of this post originally appeared on Hey Sigmund.

RELATED: 31 Secrets of People Who Live With Anxiety

Do you have a story about your experience with mental illness? We’d like to read it. Please send it to [email protected] and include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. More info here. Thanks!

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The One Word My Partner Never Says About My Anxiety

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I remember it well. I’m outside my sister’s house, doubled over in pain and worry, and I feel like my chest is tighter than it’s ever been.

“It’s OK,” I was told, as the tears came, too. “It’s just your anxiety.”

This was four years ago, and of those four years, I’ve spent two of them blissfully with my boyfriend Sam. Sam is one of those people with a sunny disposition – up with his first alarm, loves running, loves his job, laughs constantly. We are the reason people say “opposites attract” – while I’m by no means a pessimist, being sarcastic and cynical is part of my humor. I love a good debate over something meaty, like politics. I get annoyed at the dishwasher as if it were a person out to spite me. Despite this “cultural difference,” Sam never belittles my anxiety and panic disorder. He sees my little achievements even when I don’t, and coaxes a smile out of me in the darkest of times.

And he never, ever tells me it’s “just” my anxiety.

“Just” is an interesting word. For some, it can mean that something is surmountable – you can get over it. How many times have we told ourselves, it was just a dream? It’s just an interview? For me, “just” is reductive in all the wrong ways. It tells me my illness is something that I should be ridding myself of, and quickly. Why can’t you just go one day without panicking? Why can’t we just be a normal couple? “Just” makes me feel weak when I should be trying to feel strong.

“Just” makes me feel like we’re compromising. Shall we just go home? Shall we just go to the cinema first, instead of the restaurant? It feels like I’ve failed when I haven’t.

A few weeks ago, I woke up in the night having an anxiety attack. This isn’t completely abnormal – it happens perhaps once every month or so – but this one simply wouldn’t shift. I tried everything, but the blighter wouldn’t go, and eventually Sam woke up.

“Is it your anxiety?” he said as he turned over to me.

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I nodded. No “just,” no nothing.

“Would you like a glass of water?”

I nodded.

He came back with some water and cuddled up next to me, asking if there was anything he could do. When I said I just needed to ride it out, he stayed awake, mumbling away about the flat and our pets until I could breathe normally again. It felt like hours, but it can’t have pushed more than 30 minutes. And then we both went back to sleep.

Living with a mental illness, I’m sometimes given an illusion of “normality” – for a week, for a month – before it crushes me with an attack or a relapse. Truth is, I’m not looking to be normal anymore. I’m looking to be happy. When the guilt sinks in and I feel as if my life, my personality and my whole existence have been engulfed by anxiety, Sam reminds me that they haven’t. It can be tough, undoubtedly. But right now, we’re happy just – no – exactly the way we are. 

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The Mighty wants to read more stories about your experiences dating with a mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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I Drew How Anxiety Affects Me

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Whenever the phone rang, I’d stare at it with dread and trepidation. I’d let it ring off the hook until the person calling left a message on the voicemail. Then I’d stare at the voicemail notification for hours before I could finally muster up the courage to listen to it.

Whenever someone asked me out for a social gathering, I’d say yes immediately without thinking. And then I’d promptly regret it as a surge of nervousness and dread filled my mind.

My mind would go into overtime thinking of ways to get out of the promise I made to attend. I’d also think of all the things people would talk about during the gathering and how I’d fit into their conversations. Most of the time, I’d imagine myself feeling lost and that the participants of the gathering would deem that I didn’t belong.

Whenever I do any kind of creative work, whether it’s a drawing or a piece of writing, I’d tell myself that I’m just not good enough and that no one would ever appreciate the work I did. I’d look at other artists’ work and berate my own, since I believed my work looked sub-par compared to theirs.

I’m often filled with dread and worry as others peruse my work. I’ll imagine they’re thinking the most negative things because, after all, it isn’t that great of a piece. This happens to me every single time I draw or write. Most of the time, my mind is filled with thoughts, coming at me a hundred miles a minute.

Earlier this year, I finally found out why I felt the way I did. My husband, who had noticed my behavior over the years, suggested that I get tested for attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I ended up being diagnosed not only with ADHD but also with anxiety and depression. I was somewhat surprised with the diagnosis, but the feeling of relief was even greater. For once in my life, I knew why I felt the way I did.

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I told my therapist I felt like my anxiety was a huge and almost Atlas-like burden I had to carry around. When I got home, I sat in my studio and illustrated what I had told him. When I finished a few hours later, I cried. And it was then that I felt a surge of relief. My thoughts flowed out through the ink and onto the paper, and I felt better.

I now look at my drawing, which I titled “The Daily Struggle,” and feel a sense of peace. I’ve been drawing a lot more since I drew it. And every time I do, I feel just a little bit better. I showed it to my friends, and those who suffer from anxiety said the piece helped them.

When I read the articles on The Mighty about anxiety and mental health, I feel better just knowing there are people out there who understand. So in that spirit, I wanted to share this drawing to show others who might need some encouragement. There are others who understand. You aren’t alone.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one unexpected source of comfort when it comes to your (or a loved one’s) disability and/or disease? Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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What Anxiety Feels Like, as Told by a Comic

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Beth Evans is an illustrator best known for the entertaining puns and offbeat humor in her online comics. The 24-year-old also lives with anxiety, so she created a comic series portraying how she experiences panic and self-doubt.

beth evans' comic about a panic attack
Photo via Beth Evans’ Tumblr page

Evans created the comics both as a way to work through her own anxiety and to show others how it feels to live with it. The drawings feature her trying to cope with anxiety and self-doubt, the frustrating “creatures” who knock out her self-confidence and keep her from her dreams and ambitions.

[Anxiety is] a bit of a chameleon,” Evans told The Daily Dot, where she’s currently an Artist in Residence. “Sometimes it’s huge and overbearing, and sometimes it’s this annoying little creature that follows me around.”

beth evans comic about self-doubt
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Photo via Beth Evans’ Tumblr page
Beth Evans comic about anxiety
Photo via Beth Evans’ Tumblr page
Beth Evans comic about anxiety and self-doubt
Photo via Beth Evans’ Tumblr page
beth evans comic about anxiety
Photo via Beth Evans’ Tumblr page

Evans originally posted the comics to Tumblr, where they garnered a huge response from thousands of readers who identify with them.

“I hope people who have anxiety can find something to relate to in my comics,” she told The Mighty. “For those who don’t have anxiety, I hope it provides a little look into what it’s like and that there is an understanding there.”

Beth Evans comic about anxiety
Photo via Beth Evans’ Tumblr page

To see more of Evans’ work, visit her Tumblr page and check out her Artist in Residence page on The Daily Dot.

Photos courtesy of Beth Evans.

h/t Bustle

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