illustration of a woman

“What are you anxious about?” the nurse asks, placing the blood pressure cuff around my arm. I am at a routine physical exam, but there is nothing routine about the way I panic before medical appointments. On the morning of a doctor’s appointment, my heart races the minute I awaken from sleep, my body acutely aware of what the day will bring. I spend the time leading up to the appointment in a state of abject terror. I regularly cancel and reschedule appointments over and over again. Once, an office secretary snapped at me for my long history of cancellations. She must have thought I was just lazy. She must have thought I just didn’t care.

Sure, there are things I dislike about going to the doctor. I despise stepping on the scale with the nurse hovering over me, as I feel absolutely certain I’m being judged. I’m scared of having my blood pressure taken, riddled with the fear of having a high reading, even though I have no reason to suspect such a thing would happen under normal circumstances. Frustratingly, since these appointments are not normal circumstances to the bucket of fear that is my nervous system, my high anxiety does typically send my blood pressure and pulse soaring. Not only does this increase my distress, but it also leads me to explain to the staff that, no, I really don’t have a blood pressure problem; I have severe anxiety.

On this day, in spite of my explanation, the nurse is marveling at my 140 bpm pulse reading. She asks me why I’m anxious in a kind of accusatory tone.Does she think I have something to hide from the doctor? I don’t know, but she has skeptically noted my Xanax prescription.

“It’s not any one thing. I have an anxiety disorder,” I tell her, annoyed. This is in my chart. “Hence, the Xanax.”

She doesn’t look convinced, and this isn’t helping my body’s fight-or-flight response. “Oh,” she says absently, watching as the blood pressure reading rises to meet my pulse.

I wonder why she was skeptical about the Xanax. It seems pretty evident that I need it.

At the end of the appointment, another nurse will check my blood pressure again. It will be normal this time, my body satisfied that the appointment, and thus, the trigger, has ended. It was just anxiety. It is always anxiety.

I think that anxiety has become so synonymous with stress that some people cannot fathom the concept of anxiety existing as a series of disorders all on its own. One would never, for instance, take the temperature of a person with the flu, and then ask why they have a fever. With anxiety, I’m constantly asked why I am anxious, even, as evident by the nurse’s reaction, from within the medical community itself.

So, here’s my answer. I am anxious, because something is wrong with my brain. I am anxious because I have a disorder as real and uncontrollable as the aforementioned flu. I have tried every trick in the self-help book. I’ve tried self-talk, visualization, hot baths and SSRIs. I’ve tried herbal teas and bottle after bottle of magnesium supplements. I write. I listen to Stevie Nicks. I read poetry.

I’m still anxious. I have stood on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as pods of stunning dolphins, my favorite animals, coursed through the clear, blue waves, and yet, I was still anxious. It was still there, lurking just beneath my heart beat, asking me what would happen if I were to suddenly have a brain aneurysm, and pondering the meaning of life.

And, it was there that day, in the ambulance, that horrible, embarrassing day when I was careened down the street en route to the hospital, only to be told that what I perceived to be an early-onset heart attack was really just a panic attack.

“What are you anxious about?”

I guess the real answer I should be giving is that I’m terribly anxious no one will ever understand.

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Thinkstock photo via Tanyush


Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

While social media sites like Facebook can be great tools for connecting with others, sometimes looking at your newsfeed can feel discouraging when it’s full of the “best snapshots” of other people’s lives. When you live with anxiety, this can be especially true on hard days.

Maybe you’ve just had a panic attack or flunked a presentation at school because you couldn’t control your breathing or still your trembling fingers. Maybe you couldn’t get up and go to work at all because anxiety had you in its grips. However anxiety affected you today, sometimes you just want to see something real on Facebook — something that proves you’re not alone in your experiences.

For those of you who look at your newsfeed and think, My life looks nothing like this, or feel the pressure to always look “OK” online, this one’s for you.

We wanted to know what people with anxiety want to post on Facebook, but feel like they can’t, so we asked our mental health community to share one photo they wish they could share about their anxiety. It’s important to remember anxiety looks different for each person who experiences it. While some can hide everything going on behind a smile and perfectly rehearsed act, others may not have the ability to do so all the time. Whatever way your anxiety manifests, you deserve to talk about it.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. This is what anxiety feels like for me. Too much happening, overwhelming, so much that I can’t see straight. Everything is breaking around me until I eventually fall into an attack. I’m afraid of the negative or judgmental comments people may make. You’re always so happy, how could you have anxiety? [and] You always seem fine, are ones I get quite a lot.” — Savvy W.

anxious woman

2. “When I took this photo I was supposed to be at work already. I really wished I was, but anxiety didn’t let me leave my bed. I was laying like this for hours trying to convince myself it’s safe to go, but I physically couldn’t leave. I took the photo because I felt like I had to prove my feelings were real even though no one asked for proof. It’s a suffocating feeling you can’t describe. I never posted it because I’d be afraid people would think I did it for attention. I just wish people would understand what it’s like.” — Lena M.

woman in bed

3. After losing my mom, some days I wake up and stare at her picture on my dresser and dread facing the world.” — Bianca N.

woman sad

4. “I’m a prescription drug addict [and I’m] five years clean, so I can’t take medications for my anxiety. If it weren’t for my mindfulness meditation practice, I’d be a hot mess. I don’t post pictures of me meditating because for some reason our culture still finds it ‘weird.'” — Chris B.

man meditating

5. “The reason I don’t post to Facebook is because people deem me to be ‘too young’ for all these pills. I’m very open about my anxiety disorder and many people find out within a week of knowing me that I [struggle with] anxiety, and yet it is so invisible to them that no one would think this many pills are required for me to be ‘normal.’ What people also don’t realize is that I’m ‘normal’ when I’m at work, but they do not get to see that I spend all my days at home — alone mostly — and have trouble enjoying things that include me leaving the house. Friends are far and few between, but even the ones who have known me for a while are surprised by the amount of medication necessary for me to live the way I’m living currently.” — Sandy B.


6. “This is a photo of me that’s very much accurate to my anxiety. I put on a happy face for friends and family to see but when alone or even deep down, my anxiety is unbearable and can reach panic attacks. It’s the life I live every day and not everyone understands it. This photo, my anxiety (on the right) was caused by wearing clothing and looking at myself in the mirror. Struggling with borderline personality disorder (BPD) (with a strong sense of abandonment), anxiety, OCD and eating disorders — my self esteem isn’t the best and thus, anxiety peaks. I blogged about it (using this photo) and people still don’t get it. I will continue to try and explain as it helps me understand myself. Anxiety comes in all shapes, forms and breakdowns and that’s why I love this little community. You get me.” — Kaleena S.

anxiety woman

7. This is a picture of me right after I had a panic attack. I never share things like this on Facebook as I feel friends might think I’m doing it for attention and [worry] they won’t believe this is an actual illness. Whenever someone challenges the fact I have anxiety, it just makes the anxiety even worse so I never post pictures like this to avoid the chance of this happening. Most of my friends don’t even know I have anxiety as I have a fear of people not taking it seriously.” — Tia D.

woman in bed sad

8. My support dog comforts me during anxious times. Why I don’t post it? It sounds ‘ridiculous’ to people who don’t have it.” —Taylor R.

girl and dog

9. Someone once asked me what it was like dealing with anxiety and depression and if I could explain it. I decided to draw this picture to use as a tool to better explain myself. I said depression and anxiety is like being in the middle of the ocean with no boats in sight, floating with only your nose above the water with a 50 pound dog named anxiety sitting on your chest and a giant hand named depression pulling you under at the same time [when] all you want is to breathe.” — Chris C.

anxiety man drawing

10. “This is from last fall. I actually did post this and I captioned it, “This is what nine hours of sleep over five nights looks like.” I was exhausted, I literally couldn’t think straight. Could barely see straight. What I didn’t tell them was how I’d been losing weight rapidly because my stomach had tensed up so much from anxiety.” — Gina B.

woman selfie

11. “After barely surviving a massive heart attack with congestive heart failure, then a open heart surgery that went bad, my anxiety was through the roof. It was so bad I stayed constantly fatigued and nauseous. The constant body aches were unbearable… Dogs are the best thing you can have, if I start feeling bad I just sit down and hold my puppy and everything is better.” — Brent T.

man and dog

12. “I have chronic hives but I mainly get flair ups when I’m anxious, which happens to be most of the time I’m out in public. Normally I wear high shirts to avoid people seeing them. I took this picture and even though the hives aren’t the main focus of this picture it’s all I can see.” — Kalyn L.

girl smiling

13. “This is my representation of anxiety and my longing for childhood whenever I get an attack. I never posted this because I thought no one would understand my drawing and they might ‘unfriend’ me because I fill up their newsfeed with ‘nonsense.’ At least here [there] are people who will understand me entirely!” — Dieuwke L.

anxiety drawing

14. “I’m dead scared of not appearing happy, so I overcompensate by smiling in all my photos, despite having a good or bad day. It’s like hiding behind a mask, [so] no one can truly see what’s really happening.” — Anna Y.

woman selfie

15. I lost it a few weeks ago and it has never been this bad. Usually when I start shaking and my head goes ‘crazy’ I bite my hand hard while taking deep breaths. This time it didn’t work, I kept biting and biting. This was during work… I took this picture just because I never been that bad. I won’t post it because I don’t want questions. I don’t like the robot responses people give because they don’t understand. Sadly the only person who calmed the noise has left so the noise since doubled.” — Eric K.

man biting hand

16. “I took his picture a week after my husband left for Army boot camp… I felt empty and scared to confront the anxiety alone. I don’t post these type of pictures because I feel like people think I’m trying to seek attention when I am just trying to express my feelings.” — Bianca M.

woman selfie

17. “I’m a Navy veteran and I have depression [and] anxiety. I pick my skin too! At times I can sleep a whole day [or] for over 36 hours. I’m trying new ways [to cope] and one is exercising like in my picture.” — Steven G.

man selfie

18. “I took this photo a few minutes after calming down from a panic attack. I rarely take photos of myself, so I don’t even know why I took this one. This is a version of how I sometimes look after having an anxiety attack. I have depression as well and I always feel depressed and guilty after panicking. Especially when often I’m panicking over things I feel I shouldn’t panic over like riding in a car during a storm, the thought of people looking at me in public, going somewhere alone, a change in plans/routine, talking to people I’m not comfortable with, my eating disorder and body image, etc. I wouldn’t post this on Facebook because it makes me anxious for people to see me like this and I fear what people would say or think. I think I’m weak and I usually feel like I have to at least try to hide it from my face when I’m around other people.” — Erin H.

woman anxious selfie

Photos via our community

18 Honest Pictures People With Anxiety Want to Post on Facebook, But Don't

Getting out the front door can be one of the hardest things I do all day, and some days I don’t even manage.

I am scared of leaving the house. It’s my safe, though slightly lonely and boring, place. But don’t underestimate the power of the safe place. The further I am from the house the more unsafe I feel, and the more anxiety I have.

I am OK with going with my husband in the car. The car acts as a mini safe house, and usually we take familiar routes or I’m in charge of the map, and I know exactly where we are, which makes me calmer. But long trips are hard.

Its easier going outside with company I trust. Then I can also manage to go further because they distract/calm me enough for me to not spend all my energy thinking about bad stuff that could happen, (fainting in a bush and not being discovered) or being in a heightened state of awareness (how long till I can get home, how much time) all the time.

But going outside myself, it’s a struggle. That door, that hallway, it’s a bottleneck for all my anxiety. What I won’t do to postpone passing through it.

I must have a drink, pee, lip balm, do I have my phone, is it charged, are the bunnies secure, I have the wrong socks, do I need a hat, what temperature is it, which route should I take, forest or road, how long, what If I meet someone, are the neighbors home to see me…

Sometimes this takes so long that it starts raining, I get hungry, decide to make dinner instead or just plain give up.

When I am finally outside I usually feel much better, and when I get walking, in nice weather with my headphones playing positive upbeat music, I sometimes even forget to be anxious. From time to time.

If I walk the same familiar route, when I know exactly how long it is, and how long it should take, I like walking.

When I get to walk totally alone, where no one can see me, I like walking.

When I feel my muscles working and feel strong, I like walking.

When I get to feel I’m one with the landscape around me, I like walking.

But the anxiety comes back when I start to feel tired, or start to think of exactly how far I have to go to get back home, how much time, how many steps.

When I walk in the forest, the anxiety lightens. I have to concentrate more not to stumble on something, there are animals to see, plants and trees, and I usually walk by my very favorite lake.

Taking a break on the little run down pier and feeling the water, putting my feet in when it’s not too cold, that helps. Its like the forest has a calm, serene aura that puts a dampener on feelings, especially negative ones. And the lake gives me positive energy, enough to get home. This works best alone.

But that door…

Follow this journey on Friday Frida.

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Thinkstock photo via Creatas

People with anxiety are often told to be brave. And strong. They hear slogans like, “Feel the fear and do it anyway,” or “Success lies outside your comfort zone.”

I disagree.

Decades ago, I recovered from severe agoraphobia the fear of being away from the safety of my home. I later went on to have a successful career and log over one million air miles. Today I am a psychotherapist who specializes in treating anxiety disorders

And I am probably one of the least brave people in the world.

I’m the guy who wades into the shallow end of the pool, not the person who jumps off the high diving board. While my friends are going to see scary thrillers at the movies, I’m watching cartoons. And when we visited St. Louis and my wife wanted to ride to the top of the Gateway Arch, I was more than happy to wave at her from the ground.

Which leads me to an important point I want to make for people who struggle with anxiety: bravery isn’t always your friend.

Take my agoraphobia, for example. For several years of my young adult life, I lived in a narrow world circumscribed by a radius of a few blocks. Outside that zone, my fear of having a panic attack and falling apart too often became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once in a great, great while, I would sum up the courage to go outside of my comfort zone; I’d ride in the car to somewhere that was an hour away, or grit my teeth and go to some social event. And then I’d wonder why I was no less phobic the next day.

Finally, I started working with a very creative therapist who had a brilliant idea – don’t go too far outside your comfort zone. Instead, do lots of structured practice, be fully present wherever I am, and see how things go from week to week. I’ll never forget her literally yelling at me the first week of exposure practice, “You aren’t listening to me! You went too far and got anxious again. Don’t do that next time!”

It felt really lame at first. My wife would follow me in her car as I drove down an unfamiliar road, a quarter-mile at a time. Soon I could go a half-mile. Then three-quarters of a mile. Big whoop.

But then one day, it was like a switch had flipped. After comfortably going two miles, I felt like going five. And then, to the nearest big city, 70 miles away. And soon, I was booking plane tickets to visit my parents, who by then, had moved across the country to Arizona — which at first, could have well been the moon. That trip went surprisingly well, and before long I was in a suit, on a jet, flying by myself to the west coast for a job interview. After just a few months of therapy I was free, and have been free ever since.

Nowadays, as a therapist, I see the same thing over and over again. People try to get rid of their fears on their own and can’t. But when we slow down the pace, and they learn to be fully present with small doses of the situations they fear, two amazing things happen. First, they never get too uncomfortable, and second, they eventually lose their fears. No bravery required.

Now, I have nothing against people who feel that learning to be brave, or getting used to strong exposures, is the way to go. It does work for some people. But it also goes sideways sometimes. In my belief, it is probably not the right strategy for a real, live chicken such as myself.

There is some precedent for my approach. For example, Nik Wallenda, the guy who walks on a tightrope across places like the Grand Canyon, will practice over and over on a tightrope that is just a few feet of the ground, learning his skills in a safe and comfortable environment.

So are you one of those people who feels like “aren’t brave enough” to change your life? Perhaps you just need to take smaller steps. Be OK with who you are, and try my prescription for a good life: feel the fear and don’t do it anyway.

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Thinkstock image via IPGGutenbergUKLtd

My anxiety is a snowstorm. Like snowflakes, my thoughts are all unique. Snow will stick together and start to take shape. Likewise one bad scenario can attract more negative thoughts. Just a small ball of tension in my mind sets the mood. Next, overthinking steps to get the storm brewing.

The snowfall that represents my worry comes down unexpectedly at high speed like a snowstorm. During the worst ones, it’s safest to stay in the comfort of my home. What lies outside is frightening and uncertain.

Some days I’m hit by the storm that is my anxiety, but I am still much stronger than the challenges I face. I am made up of many thoughts, some more beautiful than others. The positive ones are snowflakes from a light snowfall you’d see falling on Christmas morning. The negative ones I wish would melt the second they hit the ground.

I do my best to escape them. On certain days I am home free, others I get caught out in the downfall. The one thing I am sure of is those unfortunate moments do not define me. The event of a snowstorm does not make the snowflakes involved less beautiful.

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Thinkstock photo via kudou.

This piece was written by Holly Riordan, a Thought Catalog contributor.

My anxiety doesn’t always make sense.

Sure, the idea of giving a presentation in front of a crowd or making a phone call that could impact my career sends my fingers shaking. But those aren’t the only things that set off my anxiety.

Little things do it, too. Things I’ve done a million times before. Talking to a cashier. Answering a question in class. Driving down the highway. Answering an email from a co-worker.

Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night and have no idea what’s bothering me. I just feel fear. Fear for my life. Fear for my future. Fear for the world.

For me, everything causes anxiety. And nothing causes anxiety.

That’s why I hate how concerned my loved ones look when I break down in front of them. I hate how they look at me with a question mark in their eyes, wondering what they can do to “fix” the problem, to “fix” me.

My boyfriend, my parents, my close friends — they all calm me down. My anxiety levels tend to be lower when I’m surrounded by people I love. But that doesn’t mean I’m always perfectly fine as long as they’re in the same room as me. Their love isn’t a cure.

I can still experience anxiety around them. I can still feel alone when they have their arms wrapped around me. I can still feel like my world is falling apart, even when they say and do all of the right things.

I can’t help it. It just happens.

I try my hardest to enjoy the moment, to make the most of my present, but my anxiety makes that close to impossible. I’m either worrying about an appointment or a party I have to go to a month from now or I’m thinking about something silly I did a decade ago.

Either that or I’m paying attention to small things that are currently happening around me. Wondering if anyone noticed the stain on my shirt or if they think I’m a snob for being too quiet or if that joke I made 10 minutes earlier made me look stupid.

My brain is never quiet. It’s the loudest thing in the room.

The reason anxiety sucks so much is because it’s hard to explain. I can tell you the symptoms of it. I can explain that it makes my breathing heavy, my mouth dry, my hands sweaty and shaky — but I can’t always tell you why I’m anxious.

Half of the time, I have no idea.

I’m mainly worried about making mistakes, about looking silly. But why? Deep down, I don’t really care what other people think — or maybe I do. My anxiety makes sure I do.

It makes sure that I’m always awkward, embarrassed, concerned, confused, off. It makes my life a living hell.

So please, don’t judge me over my anxiety. Don’t hate me for my anxiety. But it’s OK if you don’t understand my anxiety, because honestly, I don’t even understand it myself.

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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Thinkstock photo via Pimonova.

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