A couple holds hands across a table.

The process is relatively the same for everyone. You meet someone with positive qualities, you develop a friendship, and sometimes those feelings bloom into a romantic journey. Eventually, you and this significant individual label your relationship as “official.”

You care about this person tremendously. You do things to make sure they are happy, and in return, they do things to make sure you are happy. They have become so important to you. And if you are struggling with depression and/or anxiety, it can be difficult to communicate your concerns with them. For that matter, it can be difficult to talk about emotions in general.

Before you know it, friends and family are telling you they have never seen you this overwhelmed, and that something must be wrong. Before you know it, little things make you irritable. Little things make you angry. It is hard to control your emotions. You begin to lash out when least expected. You have given into the pressure from depression and anxiety to withhold genuine wants and needs. You have not articulated your needs to your partner in quite some time. You no longer participate in hobbies and activities you once found enjoyable.

Below you will find three easy recommendations to keep in mind and to practice in order to keep communication of wants and needs free and active in your current relationship.

1. Thoughts are not always facts: It is important to remember fears about what “might” happen in the future are not necessarily facts. If we avoid addressing issues, if we avoid communicating wants and needs, we never create an opportunity to challenge our fears. If we do not have an opportunity to challenge our fears, then we miss out on an opportunity to grow as an individual, and as a couple. I recommend having a discussion with your partner early in the relationship about the importance of free and active communication.

2. Emotions are a direct result of our thoughts: If you experience intensifying depression and anxiety within the relationship, it might be due to the way you’re thinking about the relationship, or the specific conflict or situation at hand. Pay attention to which thoughts increase fears. Thoughts such as “I will not be able to make it on my own,” or “I am nothing without my partner,” are examples of negative thoughts that only increase the pressure to avoid conflict. There have probably been moments in your life where you have done things independently, solved problems on your own and managed dilemmas through the support of family and friends. The definition of “difficult” is not the same as the definition of “impossible.” It is important that you remind yourself of this. By keeping this in mind, you are creating an opportunity for a more effective balance of communication in your relationship.

3. Behaviors are a response to our emotions: The way we think influences how we feel, and the way we feel influences what we do. In theory, the avoidance of conflict (choosing not to address fears or concerns) is a direct result of our emotions (fear, anxiety), which is a direct result of our thinking (“I can’t lose my partner, I can’t handle this”). If we can recognize our negative thoughts, identify the emotions and re-evaluate the truth to those thoughts, we can obtain more desirable emotions, and healthier behavioral responses.

My advice is to start a thought journal. Start to record each occurrence of negative thoughts and the emotions associated with conflict in your relationship. As your awareness increases of your negative thoughts, take the time to challenge them, modify them, remind yourself of moments when you were independently “OK.”

By following these recommendations, you will likely start to feel less overwhelmed, less pressured and be more equipped to address fears and concerns in your relationship, thus creating an increased opportunity to achieve wants and needs through active communication.

Brandon S. Ballantyne is a licensed professional counselor and has been practicing clinical counseling since 2007.


Two and a half years ago, I did something I thought I would never do in a million years. I stepped way out of my comfort zone to share an untold story with my closest family and friends. Though trembling and immediately wishing I could rewind time and “un-press” the enter button that day, I am so very grateful I did. Because in sharing something so uncomfortable and personal, I learned I was not alone.

My struggle with anxiety started at a very, very young age. Before I never knew what these nonstop thoughts reeling through my mind were. It’s something I now know a considerable amount about because I have “lived” it for so long. In learning there were countless others out there just like me, a newfound calm formed in my heart, giving strength and volume to my quiet voice, which has become such an advocate for so many.

To those suffering, as I have and still do daily, I understand what it can feel like to wish someone around you even remotely understood how you were feeling or what you were experiencing in a given moment of pure panic. When the words can’t come to mouth or shame still holds its grip, I want you to know you are not alone. I am here to help you articulate those feelings.

See the thing is most of us actually know someone “suffering” from anxiety. We may just not realize it yet or ever. Nonetheless, I want to share with you what so many of us feel about this mental illness and completely wish others understood. Today, I serve as a voice to millions, to stand in courage, to shed shame and to remind you that you are amazing, incredible and destined for beautiful purpose. Chances are, these are the things you would want me to share, too.

1. You may or may not be a part of my “comfort zone” at any given moment.

The thing is, it’s probably not you, at all. It’s most likely something in the environment, or simply a situation that is bothering me.

2. I never want to hurt you.

Ever. I am probably the biggest people-pleaser you will ever meet, which, in itself, can be utterly exhausting. Trying to mask my anxiety, in-lieu of a situation or experience on top of not wanting to hurt you or your feelings in any way possible, breaks my heart to the core.

3. Sometimes, I pull away.

Please, respect me. I just need my space from a moment, from a situation or from an experience. I may be gone for just a few minutes in the room next door or you may not see me for a few weeks until I feel comfortable again. Please, please don’t take it personally. I would love to talk or for you to check in. Please, don’t push me out of my comfort zone if I am not ready.

4. Please don’t tell me, “It’s nothing to worry about.”

Because in my mind, it is. It is real. It’s a worry. It’s not “nothing.” When you say things like this, it can be dismissive and beyond hurtful.

5. I tend to be very protective.

You might call it “overprotective,” about the ones I love the most. I may not hand over my 6-month-old baby when you ask for her. It’s not that I don’t want to, but to me, she is safest in my own arms. I promise to try and be super polite about it. Please, don’t push me into something I am not ready to do. I tend to keep my clan very, very close.

6.  Sometimes, I shut down.

This may look different from another person who has anxiety. For me, I may stop talking. My mood may shift. I may try to leave the situation. I may have tears. For some, a full-blown panic-attack may set-in. It’s as simple as asking what you can do to help. I may tell you “nothing,” but I may also talk your ear off or borrow a tissue. I can’t really predict how I will respond.

7. I am great at making excuses.

I tend to back out of things last minute because, most likely, I am worried something will trigger my anxiety and I won’t know what to do. Please don’t stop inviting me to things. As you become more a part of my comfort zone, you will most likely not see me shy away. If you know me well-enough, then I know you will be able to support me when something is making me feel worried.

8. I am super indecisive.

I often can’t decide if something is or is not going to prompt anxious feelings. I may be excited about going on a trip, and at the last-minute, I can’t figure out what to pack, how to get there or where we should stay. Please, bear with me, as my mind is whirling, and I am trying to settle it down. It’s not that I can’t make a choice. It’s simply that I am worried it is going to be the “wrong” one and something bad might happen.

9. I get frustrated when you don’t listen.

If I am trying to explain something to you in regards to why I am worried and you blow me off or tell me I’m “silly,” then I most likely won’t confide in you again. You may lose some of my trust. You may not see me around as much until I feel comfortable once again.

10. I tend to be hyper-aware of my surroundings.

Honestly, I’m super sensitive in general. I may find something in a given area that you would have never even noticed. I may need a moment just to take it all in.

11. I am well aware of my anxiety.

I know I “have it.” I know it is a part of me. I know it can be a hindrance, a speed bump, a shadow. Believe me, I hate it. I completely despise it. Those words don’t do it justice. You don’t need to point it out. You don’t need to highlight it in shame. I know it is a part of me, a part I want to shed. Generally, I am a work-in-progress.

12. I love it when you tell me you are “proud of me.”

For anything, for sharing my story, for trying something new, for stepping out of my comfort zone, for making up my mind, for showing up when I didn’t feel like it. It gives me a great boost of confidence in the right direction and the support I so desperately need.

For a teenager who thought introspective conversations were the most uncomfortable, humiliating form of torture possible, I was highly aware of myself emotionally. I knew for years, prior to my official diagnosis, I was struggling with severe depression. The day when I finally accepted five years of darkness were a good indicator I needed help and visited my college’s counseling program, I fully expected to hear the words “depression” and “low self-esteem” thrown around. I didn’t, however, expect to hear “panic attack” or “anxiety disorder.”

To say this diagnosis was a bit of a surprise is a massive understatement. I always thought I was fairly tuned into my mental and emotional instabilities. I never considered myself to be an anxious person. Quirky and particular? Sure. Anxious? Definitely not.

I was a changed person that day as I left my counselor’s office. I was suddenly noticing all of these idiosyncrasies I had always considered to be facets of my personality, which were actually symptoms. I found myself haunted by this new awareness of my constant state of worry. I guess you could say I was worried about my worrying.

I suddenly hated to go places alone because I now felt this imaginary weight of everyone’s eyes on me at all times. I couldn’t ignore it like I used to. I retyped every text and email multiple times to eliminate any chance of someone being offended or upset by a possible connotation of a word I used. I recall one night I spent the better portion of an hour berating myself for answering a question with “yes” instead of “of course.”

My first reaction to this shift in my fragile mental ecosystem was to compare myself to others who had this struggle. Shame on me. I know everyone feels things differently, but I just couldn’t believe I had the same illness as they did. It looked so different in them. It was so much more destructive and it stole their ability to function. Mine didn’t look like that. It was just a mean voice that screamed in my ear when I was around other people and made me occasionally hyperventilate when I got upset. So I decided I didn’t deserve to attribute my “quirkiness” to their agony. I wasn’t in enough pain to deserve a place in their community.

The night I finally accepted my anxiety, I was locked in my dorm room, having what I realized to be a panic attack. Taking inventory of how this could have been influencing my life over the years, I began to worry my anxiety was so deeply rooted into my personality I would be a completely different person without it. I convinced myself the parts of me everyone found to be so fun and sweet were really just byproducts of this emotional tumor hidden inside of me. In my mind, removing the anxiety meant losing everyone I loved, which, of course, did nothing to help with the depression.

Admitting to myself I had anxiety was a genuine struggle that could have been simplified if I had understood my mental illnesses did not, and do not, define me as a person. They made no statement as to whether I am strong or weak. My anxiety did not determine my personality. It simply altered how my personality filtered out into the world.

Another concept difficult to come to terms with was the idea that other people’s pain does not make your pain smaller or less important. It just makes it different. This world is full of unique people who process and express things differently. A person whose anxiety presents itself in painful, draining panic attacks that leave them completely dysfunctional has a mental illness. A person whose anxiety is an incessant, consistent level of doubt and discomfort can also have a mental illness. It isn’t a special club where only the sickest of the sick are allowed to get help. Mental illnesses are exactly that, illnesses.

Sometimes I wonder if that day was a blessing or a curse. I can honestly say if I could go back in time and do it differently, I wouldn’t change a single thing. Yes, it caused a bit of emotional upheaval, but it also lead me to a deeper understanding of who I am and it made me wiser. If I had never been told I had anxiety, I wouldn’t have recognized my dysfunctional habits as a problem. I would have spiraled even further. A diagnosis can be scary and jarring, but it isn’t a death sentence. It’s a chance to do better.

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. 

It was October of 2014 when I had my first panic attack. Well, the first panic attack I remember labeling as one. Truly, it was quite embarrassing at the time and really caught me off guard. Two kids from my school were arguing, and I was less than a foot away, literally caught in between their screaming, red faces. I remember my throat closing up and feeling like I needed fresh air, even though I was already outside.

Then, I started sobbing. Everyone abandoned the fight and immediately asked me what was wrong and I couldn’t tell them because I didn’t know. At the time, I didn’t know how to explain what had happened. I was scared, confused and was stuck in my thoughts all day, wondering what had gone wrong.

Zoe Sugg, known as Zoella to the online world, is an online blogger and a world famous YouTube sensation with over 10 million subscribers and counting. Zoe also suffers from severe anxiety. She works to normalize her illness and occasionally even films herself post-panic attack. She does this in order to inform viewers anxiety isn’t a thing to romanticize. It’s real and it’s scary.

As time went on, I found myself greatly identifying with Zoe’s videos and blog posts on her mental illness. After having my first anxiety attack, more of them followed. Getting called on in class caused me to start crying and being alone in my room for too long made me panic for no reason. I panicked over small things. My heart rate was at a constant abnormal speed, and I would get this blank feeling and tunnel vision whenever I felt an attack coming.

With time, I realized those were all things I had been normalizing about myself. They were things that had been happening to me for so long, I thought they happened to everyone. When I realized they weren’t, it was like putting glasses on for the first time when you have poor vision. You realize how you were seeing wasn’t how everyone else was seeing.

After reading one of Zoe’s most popular blog posts on her anxiety, I realized it was time for me to stop ignoring things and to start helping myself. I met with my doctor, who confirmed an imbalance in my serotonin levels was causing me to have anxiety and depression. It was all like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I wasn’t imagining things. It wasn’t all in my head. There were steps I could take to start to be happy again.

I was so nervous, at first, to go to my doctor at all because I was afraid there would be nothing wrong with me or my doctor would say my feelings were unimportant or invalid. I felt like people were comparing their mental illnesses to mine, as if how out of balance your serotonin levels are is a competition and somehow I was losing.

Zoe helped me realize everyone experiences anxiety and depression differently and the way you experience it will never make your mental illness invalid. They don’t teach you what mental illness looks like in high school. They don’t teach you what a panic attack is or how to stop a friend from dying by suicide when his depression gets the best of him.

If it wasn’t for Zoe and the positive and open platform she created, I’m not sure I ever would have realized this about myself or taken the necessary steps toward saving myself. Too often, people have negative opinions about internet celebrities, claiming they find their way to fame through fake personalities and dumb videos. Zoe eliminates that stigma and uses her platform to speak out and help people who may need her words, like I did.

I saw that an Internet sensation had problems a lot like mine. She gave me the confidence to realize if she could talk about her anxiety, so could I. Zoella helped me recognize my mental illness and someday, I hope to thank her for helping me before I knew how to help myself. But, until the day I can thank her, all I can do is try and help others by sharing my story and telling you that your mental illness is valid. You are not weak for taking steps to save yourself.

A woman shares on her video blog about her anxiety.
“I have learned that I might be a bit braver than I thought.” Zoe Sugg

Photos via YouTube.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255


This is it. The secret is coming out.

It needs to come out so people finally know the truth about my social anxiety.

Here it is.

I love people.

I love people!

People are great. They are interesting, intriguing, and fun to watch. I love watching people interact with each other. I love to study their body language and social cues. I love people, and that is my biggest secret.

It hasn’t been a secret because I made it one. It has been a secret because people have automatically assumed since I have social anxiety I must not like people.

But that’s not it.

Most people don’t get it.

It’s not that I don’t like people. People aren’t what freak me out.

It’s the socialization, the interactions.

It’s the impending encounters at the grocery store, at the post office, and at the video store.

When I say “freak out,” I’m describing a whole body experience.

On the inside, my stomach is upset and I feel like throwing up. My breathing is shallow and rapid, and it feels like my heart is going to bust from my chest.

On the outside, my hands shake uncontrollably. I get itchy hives on my neck and chest that turn bright red. I sweat profusely all over my body.

In my head, I go to the worst case scenario of whatever social situation I’m in. I think about all the mistakes I could make while speaking. I fear tripping and falling on my face in front of people. I’m deathly afraid of being made fun of and stared at.

The mental, physical, and emotional symptoms I experience because of my social anxiety fuel me to avoid social encounters mostly because I am afraid people will notice my visible symptoms.

My symptoms aren’t brought on because I dislike people (I love people!). It’s interacting closely with them that makes me sick.

It’s unfair to assume I dislike people just because I have social anxiety. That’s like saying someone hates the color blue because they mostly wear pink.

I’m not antisocial.

I guess in a sense I am. But I’m fine with social settings. I’m fine sitting at the library as long as nobody talks to me. I’m out of the house in a social setting… I just don’t always socialize. But I’m not “antisocial” in a way that means I’m rude or dislike people.

It’s been a secret for so long because it’s what I’ve allowed people to assume. But that assumption isn’t true, or fair, and I won’t allow it anymore.

So the secret is out.

I have social anxiety, and I love people.

Image via Thinkstock.

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