It’s like one of those “expectations versus reality” memes.
The expectation of what an anxious person looks like: shaking, freaking out at all times, hyperventilating, socially awkward, stammering over their words.
The reality: Maybe that. But also maybe the complete opposite.
Some symptoms of anxiety disorders are more obvious than others, but there’s a lot about living with anxiety you can’t see. To get a glimpse into this world of invisible symptoms, we asked people in our mental health community to share parts of living with anxiety others can’t see.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. “The things I experience are so hard for me to explain. It’s a mixture of a bunch of feelings — dread, stress, nervousness and sickness. And because I can’t explain it, it feels like people don’t believe me.” — Julie W.
2. “The teeth grinding behind the happy smiles in social situations.” — Tommie M.
3. “The freaking non-stop churning of what-ifs and shouldas and how-am-I-gonnas spinning in my head.” — Dannella N
4. “How hard it is to focus on something or slow down my thoughts. How tiring it truly is.” — Stacy L.
5. “The crushing feeling as needles pierce your heart and you suddenly can’t breathe.” — Bri C.
6. “What people don’t see is the energy it takes to try to keep calm while your heart is racing. You have nausea, blurred vision and every ounce of your being is telling you to remove yourself from this moment. You start shaking and nervously twitching. All the while people may get upset because you suddenly stopped talking or carrying the conversation or suddenly have to leave a location. They don’t realize the battles occurring on the inside at that exact moment.” — Amy O.
7. “The body aches.” — Jocelyn B.
8. “My mind isn’t just anxious when I’m talking about it. Many times I’m trying to beat it on my own because I don’t want to burden you with helping (even though you always say it’s not a burden).” — Alissa V.
9. “The itching under my skin, like there’s something trying to get out. Or the fears of everyday things/situations.” — Scarlett E.
10. “Something people can’t see is the exhaustion that comes with having anxiety or being anxious in general. On the flip side they can’t see how accomplishing it can feel to overcome something that makes your anxiety flare.” — Austyne W.
11. “Whenever I have a few good days, I am constantly waiting for something to go wrong.” — Rebecca W.
12. “The intense physical discomfort, the pain in my chest and stomach. The way my entire body tenses up and the fast breathing that can take a very long time to go away.” — Erin D.
13. “The sudden rush of panic. It feels like I’m drowning in my own emotions.” — Tia M.
14. “The constant noise in my head. I might look fine from the outside, but my mind is often racing, worrying about what someone thinks of something I said or did last week or something I’m expecting to happen next week, even though it isn’t actually a big deal.” — Keira H.
15. “Having to always send a text or email instead of calling or talking to someone in person, and feeling the pressure of people telling you constantly to either be sociable and get off your phone.” — Hazel K.
16. “They can’t see how I am fighting to keep it together on the inside even when I am smiling on the outside.” — Cheryl M
17. “They can’t see the tension inside of me when there’s more than one conversation going on in the room.” — Barbara B.
18. “Even the smallest chore is like looking at the top of everest and I have to get there but I’m wearing concrete boots.” — Con A.
19. “People can’t see the 6,000 thoughts, fears and ‘what ifs’ running through my mind at any given time.” — Kim F.
20. “They can’t see that the sorority girl actually does struggle with social anxiety disorder.” — Jessica T.
21. “Constantly assessing the environment and people for danger or threats.” — Tomo W.
22. “How hard I’m trying to keep it together.” — Gessie P.
23. “It takes a lot of fear and inner pep talks to be comfortable in social situations.” — Nicole D.
24. “The constant running commentary in my head!” — Laura K.
25. “The absolute fear it takes to do anything — and my mini celebration when I do it anyways.” — Aliçia R.
26. “I experience excruciating stomach pain. It’s not just butterflies. It’s knives and bombs and fire all going at my insides at the same time.” — Madelyn H.
27. “Constantly asking myself why I’m not like the rest of my family/friends/strangers – the ‘normal’ people? That nagging, negative voice telling me I’m a fraud, not good enough, not worth listening to.” — Emma C.
28. “They can’t see anxiety exists simultaneously with other great strengths and abilities.” — Beth M.
Editor’s note: Everyone experiences anxiety differently. These quotes are based on individuals’ experiences.