How I Explain Anxiety When People Don't Understand It

Even as I’m writing this I can’t seem to explain what I’m writing about. It’s near impossible to explain exactly what anxiety and anxiety attacks feel like. No possible scenario I could come up with would be able to explain to people without an anxiety disorder what it feels like. A big part of this is because everyone experiences different forms of anxiety.

But I do have a way to try and explain it, and I hope it helps people who don’t have anxiety to understand what it feels like:

Imagine you’re crying, but you can’t explain why you’re sad. You’re scared with nothing to be scared of. You have a feeling of excitement, but there’s nothing to feel excited about. You’ve lost all ability to think straight and your vision starts to blur as you stare of into nothingness, noticing nothing around you; or alternately, you’re noticing everything.

Small sounds are suddenly too loud and the lights seem to be getting brighter. You are now out of breath as if you just ran a mile. It feels as if everyone is judging you; as if this is all your fault, and they all know it. You try to reason with yourself that there’s nothing to feel this way about, that you’re OK, but it doesn’t work.

Maybe it lasts for 10 seconds, maybe three days. Maybe throughout this whole thing you’ve been having flashbacks of something that traumatized you. Maybe this all happened just because someone said something or you saw something. Maybe it was just out of nowhere.

Once it’s all over, you catch your breath. You might remember all of it, or just pieces of it. You try to live your life until the next one, which could be mere minutes, or whole days. Maybe you hurt yourself during this or afterwards, so now your body is hurting too. It’s a cycle you can’t seem to escape in the real world. You try to distract yourself with books or television, but it only lasts for as long as you’re reading or watching.

This explanation is not perfect, none are. But I hope it helps someone. It’s also important to remember that this is just my explanation of anxiety. This isn’t necessarily how everyone with anxiety is going to feel because everyone is different.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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