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36 Creative Ways People Describe Their Anxiety to Those Who Don't Understand

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Everyone knows what it’s like to feel nervous. It’s what rattles you before a big test, and what makes your heart beat a little faster before a first date. But for people who live with anxiety, it’s frustrating when your experience is likened to the everyday nervousness everyone feels.

Mighty contributor B.L. Acker knows this well. She wrote:

Whenever I start to explain the part of my mental illness diagnosis that includes severe anxiety, I always receive confused looks. They are usually followed by judgmental comments about how “everyone has problems and stress in their lives,” telling me that I need to “learn to cope and work through it all.”

To help people understand what her anxiety was like, Acker did something creative — she made an anxiety chart, similar to a pain level chart, and now uses it to explain how anxious she feels to loved ones.

Inspired by this, we wanted to see other creative ways people explain their anxiety to others who may not understand.

Here’s what our mental health community shared with us

1. “[Anxiety is] a gremlin who undermines you and sits there talking crap constantly.” — Alex G.

2. “I named her Sierra. The girl in my head I can keep caged up sometimes. But she screams, so loudly and so horribly, that it breaks her cage. Then she brings out the club and mercilessly beats me up with everything I have ever done in my life, all while screaming at me that I’m a failure, and I deserve nothing good in my life. All I can do is curl up in the fetal position while she violently strikes me with the weight of my mistakes.” — Sarah G.

3. “It’s like having super powers but having no control over them. It’s the strength of the Hulk, but it comes out as anger. It’s Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, but you can’t choose when you get to wear it. It’s wanting to be as brave as Batman, but being too afraid to leave the bat cave. It’s knowing you are a superhero, but you are stuck in a body/mind that won’t let you. It’s wanting to save the world, but you can’t even save yourself.” — Bex A.

4. “When I’m on the edge of a panic attack, it feels like my brain is breaking. Like it’s being split into two hemispheres.” — Kerrie W.

5. “You know those special effects in movies when the character is moving in slow motion, but their surroundings are racing past them? That’s what it’s like.” — Alyssa K.

6. “It almost feels like your mind is stuck on vibrate and you can’t calm it down.” — Roxy R.

7. “It’s the feeling of worry you get when you can’t sleep because you have an important exam the next morning. Except it’s there for many other reasons at many different times.” — Anahita H.

8. “It’s like a thousand tabs are open at the same time and you have to watch them carefully, each one of them at the same time. But then everything closes down with no warning, and it’s like a fatal error, and nothing seems to work anymore.” — Emu S.

9. “Panic attacks give you a pulse of adrenaline like you got rear-ended going 70 down the highway. All sense of fear and survival are heightened, but in actuality, you’re just in line at a cafe for a muffin.” — Chandra G.

10. “It feels like you’re wading in water, and on your bad days you’re drowning and can’t catch your breath.” — Kristen B.

11. “It’s having your body reacting to a real emergency while your brain is wondering what the emergency is — because there is not one. But your body continues and you cannot turn off the alarm.” — Cathy W.

12. “It’s the panic-y feeling you get when you’re underwater in a dream and you think you’re drowning, when you can actually breath just fine.” — Mikelle M.

13. “If you went skydiving for the first time and you pulled the ripcord and your chute didn’t open — my panic attacks feel like how you would feel in that second.” — Kitty C.

14. “Imagine being stressed about a test. Your heart is racing, your breathing quickens… And now imagine having that feeling constantly — 24/7 for no reason and every reason at the same time.” — Michelle W.

15. “It’s that bad feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when something bad is going to happen. Except it’s all the time, and you never find out what the bad thing that’s going to happen is.” — Hali B.

16. “That constant feeling when you miss a step walking down stairs or you almost fall back in your chair.” — Tim G.

17. “It’s like water sloshing in your stomach, you can feel it crashing around, hitting all sides, changing in intensity, getting worse and worse.” — Kaitlyn R.

18. “I call it my shoulder devil because it’s always whispering horrible things in my head and I can’t stop it.” — Alyson S.

19. “My anxiety is so bad at times that this is all I can do. Just sit and let it happen. I get so tired, I have no more fight.” — Kelly H.

via Giphy

20. “It’s like the walls are closing in and you have no means of escape.” — Heather S.

21. Submitted by Lucy Hackett

Via RDJude Reactions

22. “It’s like having a hamster on a hamster wheel or a carousel on steroids inside of your head.” — Madison A.

23. “Everything is screaming, even the silence.” — Chelsea G. 

24. “It’s like having your brain on overload. It’s on fire and you can’t put the fire out.” — Bethan L.

25. “This is what my brain looks like during an anxiety attack. I can’t formulate sentences or full ideas. I’m in a full panic.” — Kacey K

26. “I feel like my insides are going to explode.” — Tami G. 

27. “You know that three seconds of fear you get when you slip, trip, etc.? It’s like that. All day, every day.” — Stephanie Q.

28. “You know that feeling of laughing so hard with your friend, you just look at them, and you start again and can’t stop. That on the opposite end of the spectrum. I cry and have no control over it. And I don’t know why I’m crying. Other than that, it would be feeling overwhelmed over little things.” — Coral M.

29. “You know that feeling you get when you’re faced with your greatest fear? It’s like that … but for the littlest things like getting a haircut or something as simple as riding in a car.” — Reba E.

30. “Like trying to find air while you’re underwater. Impossible.” — Emma G.

31. “It’s living with a feeling of doom constantly, or that you’ve forgotten something and can’t remember what.” — Christiana T. 

32. Submitted by Maree M.

33. “When you’re driving and see a cop car come out of nowhere and you get that rush of fear that you’ve done something wrong, when you haven’t and they are not there for you at all. But the feeling never leaves, even after the cop car has gone.” — Courtney D.

34. “You know that feeling of falling when you’re asleep? That moment of sheer panic when you jerk awake right before you realize you don’t have to be scared? It’s that. All the time.” — Meghan D.

35. “Like constant chatter jumping from subject to subject and going down a rabbit hole in my head.” — Jordan T.

36. “You know when you’re watching a scary movie and the music changes so you know there’s going to be a jump scare any moment and you don’t know when? It’s like that except the jump scare never comes.” — Nikki G.

How would you describe your anxiety to someone who doesn’t understand?

Originally published: April 10, 2018
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