The Mighty Logo

The Dictionary Definition of Anxiety vs. How Anxiety Actually Feels to Me

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Anxiety is a feeling that’s had its hold over me so often these days, I can honestly hold my hands up and say it’s one of the only “feelings” I experience that makes me scared out of my wits.

I have, many times, described it as a feeling of “doom.” Just that single noun, as there is no other assortment of letters I can extract from my mind that has given it as much justice. That being said, it is not a feeling that can be described in just a single word. How do you describe such a powerful surge of emotion in something so static?

When my anxiety decides to knock on my door and barge its way into my comfort zone, from my inner bubble of family and friends I always get the conventional:

  1. What are you thinking about?
  2. Why are you worrying?
  3. Just shrug it off!

Hearing these comments has made me conclude that my anxiety might not actually be what is traditionally known as the term “anxiety” in general. Maybe it’s something else altogether, separate from what others — my family, my friends, my many many therapists — see as anxiety.

And from the ashes of these paranoid indifferent thoughts, I started coming up with the term “the bad energy.” The Bad Energy is in face not anxiety, and cannot be explained in terms of anxiety. It is something else altogether.

Interesting thought, right?

If I look up the word anxiety in the Oxford dictionary I get this:

A feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome: ‘he felt a surge of anxiety.

Let’s take a moment to analyze this.

A feeling of worry.

For me, this doesn’t apply. “Worry” is not the horrible “doom” defying feeling I feel at all, as my anxiety is illogical. I usually carry out my days (if not sunken down by depression) more on the optimistic side of life. It’s not that I’m just worrying and there’s a solution to stop this dreadful feeling. If “stop worrying” was the answer, then trust me; I’d f*cking stop worrying.

Does my “bad energy” come up when I sit there with my bills in front of me? A sickly feeling yes, but not “anxiety.”

Does my “bad energy” arise when I have a job interview, an exam, a test of some sort? A niggly nervousness (see quote) — yes, but not the anxiety I am accustom to.

Now, has my “bad energy” come up when I’ve been shopping at my local store pondering over what kind of milk to put in my basket? It has. Has my “bad energy” come about when I’ve been driving in my car, windows down, singing along to a playlist on a nice sunny day? It has, quite frequently. Has my “bad energy” come about while I’m having lighthearted random conversation over coffee with a close friend? It most certainly has.

To call it a feeling derived from “worrying” is flawed in my case. This is the reason I get so worked up when people ask me what I’m thinking about and/or why I am worrying. I am not. It just is. You don’t blame the presence of a stone for “being” there because the person next to it is worrying about it, or because you thought the stone up in your mind. It’s just there.


Yeah, I get this one. There are a few butterflies flapping about (although, I have described it once upon a time to my therapist as black heavy moths of lead flapping about viciously with little tiny razor blades on their wings), but we come back to the ultimate question again: What are you nervous about? Absolutely nothing.


OK, this is more like it. That might be where the “doom” description came from. Unease, I do feel. If you count feeling uneasy as feeling like you’ve been repeatedly whacked with a sack of bricks.

So here is my shot at attempting to make up my own definition of what this anxiety/bad energy/razor moth doom feels like, for people who can’t seem to grasp the concept:

Imagine you’re skipping along happily on a great sunny day. Let’s make it better than great, maybe it began on an unexpected Monday morning where you got a phone call from your boss and he randomly gives you a day off. You are free in life enjoying yourself, with no where to go, no responsibilities to take care of, indulging in the sweet notes of upbeat music playing in the air and minding your own business when –

Darkness engulfs you. There is empty space all around you, and you cannot see a thing. It is pitch black, empty and cold. You don’t even know if you’re standing upright, or which direction you are facing, because all you can feel is the space of the unknown around you in the blackness. Your instinct is screaming at you to run, but you are stuck there with no sense of direction. Your skin starts to crawl, and you get a creeping feeling that something is about to happen. Something is going to jump out at you. But you can’t see, or feel or hear any sounds. Yet you know something is there, waiting for you in the shadows. Then, ever so slowly — so slow that it’s barely noticeable at first — you feel a faint breeze on the back of your neck. You are hit with a sudden shock of terror when you come to the realization that something sinister, your worst fear, is breathing its hot sticky breath beneath your hairline.

Now take that fear of yours, and materialize it… It can be anything, from a pit full of sharp needles, to the ledge off the tallest building you can imagine. From the darkness, you abruptly see it in front of you — your breath pauses from the shock of it appearing right there in your face. Then you realize you are at that pivotal point of no return, the point where the weight of your body tips over the edge of the ledge, the one where your brain says “no” and your heart stops beating. Keep that fear. Imagine it. That very moment of terror that makes time stop. Freeze it.

Now take that fear, that horrible electrically charged surge of emotion, and turn it dark. Turn it sour, almost to the point it is painful and sharp. More. Even more. Really fight to make it as nasty and as vicious as you can.

Now compress it. Compress that fear, and squeeze all that energy in to the tightest space you can. Feel it increase in weight, feel how heavy it feels in your hands, like a big hot ball. All that dense black energy all tight in one space, ready to explode.

Now put that nasty ball of compressed energy into your heart. Feel your back bend over and your muscles in your body squeeze and tense up with the weight, your heart still stuck in time paused on one beat, aching with the pain. There are no thoughts, no way out of it, your mind can’t even possibly register an explanation to why this is happening – your brain is still frozen in that singular moment with the fear of the shock, remember? Your breath still held on that one last breath.

Now carry that around all day.

And then, you sense someone who is still in that distant parallel universe where the sun is still shining, and the music is still playing, and they look over at you and ask:

“What are you worrying about?”

Maybe I’m not the “crazy” one after all. Maybe I am not the one who is indifferent. And maybe, more people in this world need to look up what anxiety actually means, rather than this globally passive term of “worrying” that people assume it is.

Follow this journey on The Manic Years.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: December 5, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home