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16 Problems Only People With Anxiety Understand

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Living with anxiety can mean a number of different things to different people, but no matter what, it effects how you navigate (or even exist in) the world.

To someone without anxiety, these behaviors can seem strange, silly and disproportionate to the situation at hand. In reality, we can’t control them any more than we can control the weather; not without therapy, at any rate, and not in the way we wish we could.

Whether it’s fiddling with your phone in the middle of a movie with friends, needing to always have a plan for social events or being afraid of meeting someone new in case they don’t like you, there are certain problems only people with anxiety understand. That said, we sometimes wish more than anything that others could.

It’s difficult to feel alone and judged by people who don’t “get it,” so that’s why we asked our mental health community to share with us something only those with anxiety understand. If you live with anxiety, then we hope you find comfort in knowing you are never alone in your struggle. There’s always going to be someone else out there, doing the same thing as you. If you don’t live with anxiety, then we hope this helps you understand the experience a little better.

Here’s what our community had to say:

1. Overthinking Everything

“Overthinking literally everything. Everything you said, did, didn’t do, didn’t say, every conversation, weird interaction… just everything. Overthinking things that happened months or years ago. Overthinking every mistake. Things that may not seem like a big deal to someone without anxiety seem like the end of the world to someone with anxiety.” — Alyssa B.

“Overthinking something you need to do but you can’t because anxiety just won’t allow it. Having to overthink what to say to the person at the cash register. Thinking people are talking about you or looking at you (when I think this, I take off my glasses just to ease it).” — Jamie D.

“You constantly think about times in your life that made you feel silly even if no one else remembers them. Like, in elementary school, I once said something so ‘weird’ that it literally pains me to think about how the other kids reacted.” — Ariel J.

2. Getting Distracted Super Easily

“Constant phone checking. I’m not intentionally being rude, I’m just trying to ‘look’ less awkward than what I feel.” — Miranda W.

“Constant fidgeting, checking phone and moving in place because I cannot stay still for more than few moments.” — Andrea V.

3. Planning Everything to the Last Possible Detail…

“Needing to come up with a plan for every single possibility. Because otherwise, there isn’t a plan, and that makes you more anxious.” — Jayla F.

“Having a plan in place to just go to the grocery store. Memorizing the store and the items you use so you can quickly get your checklist taken care of. It can be incredibly hard when the store is rearranged. Then there’s the embarrassment of having to abandon a grocery cart in the store because you feel an anxiety attack coming on and need to get to your car before you melt down.” — Justina H.

“I’m not sure if anyone else does this, but I try to show up to work at least a half hour early to get a ‘feel’ for the place, to see what I’m going to be dealing with for the day. I also try to be at appointments 15 minutes early and have to plan meeting a friend a week in advance at least. Plan, plan, plan. No surprises.” — Tasha T.

“I need to have a plan. I can’t just wing things or see where the day takes us. Even if it’s a very basic plan that isn’t fully adhered to. Not having one, and/or not having a general idea of what’s going on, is very stressful and can trigger panic attacks.” — Katy L.

4. …Then Freaking Out When (Inevitably) the Plans Change

“When plans change. I hate that. My anxiety always reaches the roof and beyond when a plan has been made to either do something or be somewhere at a specific time or location, and then it changes. I panic. I have to start again, planning my route to see where I’m going. Seeing if I have enough time to get there or whatever.” — Nadya C.

5. Avoiding People Like It’s Your Job

“Not being able to leave your own room because you think no one wants you around. Not meeting people’s eyes while you’re working to get through the day without thinking in some shape or form that you did something to upset them. Not being able to check up on friends because you feel like you can’t or don’t belong in their lives, and eventually will replace you anyways. It’s someone always sitting on you, drowning you into submission. Anxiety is hard and everyone has a different story of anxiety, but living with it is like going to war with yourself every day.” — Tarra R.

“The idea that someone might just turn up at your door, so you get home, turn the lights off, pull the curtains and hide in bed because you don’t want to see or talk to anyone. You’re in your own cocoon. You might even hide your car so they don’t think you’re home… very very sad but very very true. It’s horrible.” — Tracey G.

6. The Awful Anticipation Anxiety When You Do Have Plans

“Not wanting to volunteer for things in my child’s class. Saying yes to attending an outing with friends and then canceling at the last minute because I can’t bring myself to go out. Everything is exhausting.” — Jennifer L.

“The fact you may really want to spend time and do something with friends and family, but at the same time your anxiety makes you freeze and you’re terrified to go. Then you’re left with feelings of guilt because you feel you have let them down as well as ‘failed’ yourself.” — Sheri B.

“The internal meltdown leading up to and during holiday parties. Every part of me is tense and I scream inside my head with a big fake smile on my face.” — Nicole S.

7. Worst-Case Scenarios So Vivid, You Could Be a Novelist

“Being so creative with all the various worst-case scenarios in my head. I can come up with a million different reasons something can go wrong and worry about it for hours.” — Sydney T.

8. The Much Dreaded ‘Anxiety About Anxiety’

“Being anxious about being anxious.” — Claire L.

“Being anxious about not being anxious, like when you feel calm for a few seconds and then panic that you’re so calm and should be worried about something.” — Courtney B.

“Feeling the need to constantly explain your nervous behavior and then worrying that your explanations are being perceived as bad excuses.” — Naomi U.

“Looking around for an exit or a place to escape to as soon as you enter a new place in case you have a panic attack.” — Erin H.

9. That Feeling When They Text Back ‘K’

“Thinking friends are mad at or upset with you if they give short answers or don’t respond for a while. The reality is, we all live busy lives and some people take a little longer to respond.” — Kim G.

“I have trouble understanding why people don’t answer their texts or phone calls right away. I get people being busy, but when they take a while to reply, it makes me feel like they’re ignoring me or don’t want me around anymore. It’s torture.” — Shayna K.

10. The Unbearable Reality of Panic Attacks

“Severe panic attacks; depersonalization and derealization; racing thoughts that lead to wanting to die and terrible heart palpitations. When I have a bad panic attack, I can’t think, talk and walk properly. It’s unbelievable, what the mind does to the body. I usually need a few days rest after a panic attack.” — Rebecca D.

“I just wrote about my anxiety attack last night. What’s the problem only someone with anxiety understands? It’s an attack no one can see. No one to come to the rescue… It’s an attack from the inside. Then, in moments of clarity: ‘Oh, this is anxiety.’ There is the question: if it’s not really anxiety but something more severe and it’s the end.” — Esther B.

11. Nighttime Anxiety

“Getting ready for bed. Actually feeling tired. Lying down and closing your eyes and then dissecting everything you did and how ‘stupid’ you must have seemed to other people all day.” — Ashley E.

“Not wanting to go to sleep because once you do, you’ll wake up and it’ll be morning. And in the morning, you have to do a Big Scary Thing (like make a phone call or go to a doctor’s appointment or pick up groceries).” — Lauren D.

“Wanting to sleep, yet being unable to settle enough to sleep. There are nights I keep going until my eyes burn and I still stare at the ceiling for hours.” — Ashley O.

12. Relationship Anxiety

“Thinking there’s a problem in your relationship, or that your relationship is falling apart, even when you know everything is just fine. But you can’t shake that insecurity.” — Sarah H.

13. Test Anxiety

“When there’s a test or an exam, having to bring Band-Aids with you in your pencil case because if you stop writing, you start picking at your cuticles and biting off your nails.” — Karoline B.

“Taking a test you know you’re ready for, but worrying over every little thing. Also, being too anxious to take the test that you don’t study.” — Erika K.

14. When Anxiety Steals Your Appetite

“No appetite. When my anxiety flares up, my appetite goes away even if I was hungry a few minutes ago. Don’t take it personally; we can’t help it.” — Joy L.

15. Experiencing Physical Symptoms

“The dizziness and chest pains. No one talks about it being physical but it can be, and it’s debilitating.” — Alicia E.

“The ‘jitters’ (trembling) is inside my body too, not just outside in my shaky hands.” — Dorothy J.

16. When ‘Simple Tasks’ Just Aren’t Simple

“Simple tasks can be completely overwhelming.” — Sara H.

“Something as simple as going to the supermarket can take me all day to actually psych myself up and go.” — Kristy R.

“Holding something for over an hour because you’re too afraid to go to the bin.” — Mandy-Louise B.

What would you add?

Originally published: June 1, 2018
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