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How to Explain Anxiety to Someone Who Doesn't Understand

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What is anxiety?

Anxiety is waking up in the morning feeling like you’ve been hit by a train. It’s struggling to get out of bed, struggling to get ready for work. Anxiety is when you don’t want to get in your car and make the commute to work, because you don’t want to be alone in your car by yourself. Anxiety is expecting the worst to happen, every single second of the day.

Anxiety is when your heart starts to beat out of your chest. It’s the shooting and stabbing pain that starts in your chest and radiates down the whole left side of your body. Anxiety is feeling like your throat is closing up, it’s feeling like you can’t breathe anymore and you must gasp for air. It’s the feeling of not being able to swallow, and that you only have seconds left to get air into your lungs.

It’s feeling like you’re going to die any second, no matter where you are or what you are doing. It’s the uncontrollable, excruciating feeling that you have no control over yourself or your body.

Anxiety is when your whole body becomes numb, tingling and motionless. It’s feeling like your whole body is completely shutting down, while your mind is in an irrational, uncontrollable state.

It’s when you feel an attack coming on and rush to take your medication. It’s sitting there, lying on the floor hyperventilating, waiting for the medicine to kick in when it never does.

It’s when your mind takes control over your whole body, and there is no way to calm yourself down or process anything rational.

Anxiety is when you’re lying on the floor, doing breathing exercises trying to calm yourself and trying to not call the ambulance. It’s the feeling of being alone and helpless.

Anxiety is when you feel tight pressure on your chest, a heavy weight that feels like it can’t be lifted. It’s the inability to function like a “normal” person. It prevents you from going out with friends, going on dates and leaving your apartment.

Anxiety is wondering when the next bad thing is going to happen to you, when the next shoe will drop. It’s waiting for the phone to ring, it’s waiting for the next attack. Anxiety is waiting for the next time you’re going to be alone. It’s waiting for the worst possible thing to happen, especially when you’re all alone.

Anxiety is getting yourself ready to go out and then canceling last minute. It’s making plans and then having your body tell you otherwise. It’s wanting to get out of the apartment, but not being able to actually do it.

Anxiety is bottling everything up inside, too embarrassed and scared to tell anyone your symptoms. It’s having the fear of others judging you. It’s not being able to open up to anyone new, because you don’t want them to think you’re “crazy.” It’s not being able to show your real you to the world. It’s hiding everything because you’re too scared.

Anxiety is lying in bed every night, trying to ignore your chest pains. It’s lying there, feeling helpless while icing your chest in hopes that your pain will go away. It’s feeling like your body is going to shut down any second, while you lie there alone.

Anxiety is not wanting to be alone ever, because you can’t handle the thought of something bad happening and being all by yourself. It’s trying to numb your bad thoughts, trying any way to get the feeling of dread out of your body.

It’s the feeling of constantly being aware of everything around you, how your body and mind react to every little thing that happens. It’s constantly walking on eggshells, hoping your next attack isn’t around the corner.

Anxiety is worrying about every little detail and aspect of your life and wanting to be in control of everything. It’s living in a constant state of fear, dread and worry.

Anxiety is something I live with every day, something that continues to stay present in my life. It’s the constant struggle, the elephant in the room. The black hole that will never go away. It’s completely exhausting, physically and mentally, living every day with such anxiety. It’s changed the person I am and how I live my life.

Living with a mental illness can be just as excruciating as living with a physical illness. My mental illness has transformed into a physical illness. I’m doing all the right things in the hopes of making my anxiety manageable. I have an amazing support system, people who care and understand. I know I am not alone.

I lost my younger brother to suicide three years ago, and he also struggled with anxiety. I never knew and never understood what he went through. Now I know. Now I know what it’s like living with a mental illness, and how serious it can be. Now I have to live with this every single day.

Every day is something new when it comes to my anxiety and how I live with it, but I’m continuing to live my life and get the right support. My goal moving forward is to address mental illness and try to help others. I know I’m not alone, and neither are you.

Follow this journey on The Girl With the Dinosaur Tattoo.


While everyone experiences some level of anxiety, not everyone has an anxiety disorder. For those with anxiety disorders, anxiety can become so severe and persistent, it interferes with their daily life and functioning. Anxiety disorder symptoms include excessive worry, panic attacks and other physical symptoms including shortness of breath, nausea, headaches and tremors. Join our online anxiety support groups and connect with people who get it.

What It's Like To Have High Functioning Anxiety

Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

Originally published: March 18, 2019
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