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What It Feels Like: Anxiety

October 5, 2017

As many of you will be aware, the 10th October is World Mental Health Day. In order to mark the day I have decided to create a blog series to publish in the run up to WMHD with the help of contributors with lived experience. The series will run over 6 days, covering a variety of mental health problems. The aim of the series is to remove some of the 'clinical' feel behind the descriptions of mental health problems and humanise it by describing how it feels to those experiencing a mental health problem. The series will begin with depression, check back to see the next part of the series; Bipolar. 

 

 

Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. You might feel anxious when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or making an important decision. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The feelings can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships (NIMH).

 

 

"Having an anxiety disorder is like that moment where your chair almost tips, or you miss a step going down the stairs, but it never stops. It feels like an overwhelming crushing sensation on your chest, your breathing becomes uncontrollable, which you become increasingly aware of – which only makes it worse. It’s the sweaty palms, the loss of sensation in your limbs, the not knowing whether this is a panic attack or you are really dying this time. It’s trying to stay calm on outside when inside is so turbulent. It’s fighting yourself, wanting to go somewhere but you have a resistance band around your waist making it more difficult until it finally pulls you back completely. It feels like you’ve become a prisoner in your own mind. It feels frustrating when you become anxious over small things that others seem to be doing with ease, it feels even more frustrating when you become anxious about being anxious – it is a vicious cycle you get trapped it. It feels confusing, doing something you enjoy, or once enjoyed and suddenly being hit with an overwhelming feeling of existential dread. Knowing that it will stop, it always stops but at the same time feeling like it will never end. It is paralysing. It feels like the end of the world, someone didn’t reply to a text in 0.01 seconds, they’ve ended up in a serious accident and are lying in hospital. It’s constantly worrying, but more importantly its so much more than simply being worried." - Jodie Goodacre 

 

 

 

"Anxiety feels like a little person clinging to your shoulders and not knowing when it’s going to drag you down. It feels like an overwhelming force of ‘you can’t do this’, even though you try your hardest. The moment you’re walking down the stairs and you feel like you’re about to fall – that overwhelming feeling of sickness is what anxiety feels like. It feels like a never-ending argument of ‘I want to do this, but I can’t, but I want to’. It’s the feeling of wanting to say ‘yes’ and it feeling like the biggest accomplishment ever." - Chloe Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 "Having social anxiety is like having a person inside your head telling you about everything that could go wrong and how many different ways you will mess up doing something. No matter how ridiculous the idea, you are convinced it is going to happen and all logic goes out the window. Social Anxiety is being reminded of all the ways you are bad; you’re annoying, you’re boring, you aren’t fun to be with and everyone hates you; it’s basically like having a bully inside your head 24/7 which won’t stop tormenting you. Not only that, but this bully won’t let you eat either. Your stomach twists and turns like you’re on a roller coaster and even the nicest food in the world makes you want to throw up. As the situation nears, you spend sleepless hours obsessing over the ridiculous things that might happen and listening to the bully in your head. Your head aches from all this, you get little sleep, you can’t eat and just to top it off you sweat uncontrollably. Social anxiety is like a bully taking over your body and not letting you function properly as your heart beats quicker and you seek solace in going to the toilet multiple times. All the while you want to give up and let it win just so you can return to normal. Social Anxiety is worrying about too much at too rapid a speed to even make sense or sound normal to anyone outside your head, and it can feel like your whole body is out of control." - Peter Shaw

 

 

"I describe my anxiety as having far too mum energy inside my body. I'm on edge, I move or speak too quickly and it feels like I can't calm down. Combined with that, the pain and pressure in my chest gets almost unbearable, like it will quite literally burst open, or cave inwards. Health Anxiety manifests for me as an intense rush of heat that spreads over my whole body. Tell me your auntie on the other side of the world has the flu and I will instantly feel the heat, followed by flu-like symptoms. The brain's ability to present physical symptoms is so powerful." - Sophie Hawker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I have had anxiety knowingly for around 7 years. Having anxiety, I was so shy. During school I was known as the "sky kid" because I was terrified that if something went wrong, everyone would judge me. I always overthink things and I was never able to be myself around anyone even my family. Large groups, public speaking and even speaking to another person terrified me. Social events were a no go for me - parties especially made me extremely anxious as, even though I may know most people there, I feel like I will be left out and won't have any fun whatsoever, and I convinced myself that so I ended up not going. However since I started my new job last year, I have gotten so confident and I have made so many friends. Slowly but surely I am getting on top of anxiety and am no longer allowing it to decide what I can and can't do in life." - Chloe Richards

 

 

 

 

 

"Having social anxiety is like you’re screaming out for help but no one can hear you. It’s like in a dream when you’re trying so hard to run but you’re not moving. You can feel so alone even when you’re surrounded by people. Walking out into the street or talking to just one person can feel like you’re on live TV in front of millions of people, ready to embarrass yourself at any moment. The smallest tasks such as talking on the phone or ordering your food in a restaurant, makes you feel like you’re about to perform in front of an audience. You begin to feel hot and flushed and you suddenly forget how to properly speak." - Sophie Edwards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Anxiety is like your drowning with all the pressure forcing down on you but knowing nothing is wrong." - Oli Regan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Anxiety is like being in a room with no windows. You can picture what life looks and feels like on the outside but your mind keeps you trapped. It’s like your tied down to the room and no matter how hard you try to leave, the anxious voice in your head keeps you in exactly the same place within your comfort zone. When you try to escape you’re met with uncontrollable shaking, you’re unable to breathe and the tears just will not stop falling." - Rosie Steele

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"To me, anxiety is being overwhelmed and consumed by obsessive thoughts and fears. It feels like being swept out to sea and having wave after wave swallowing me up. I’m slowly drowning. The more I panic, kick and fight the further I sink below the surface. The more desperate I get, the more I struggle. The only thing that saves me is the hope that I will make it out. I will breath again, the waters will calm and I will be bathed in sunshine once more." - Rob Earl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"It quietly kills you inside. Your stomach is flipping,your heart is beating fast and you feel sick. Why do I feel like this? This feeling of uneasiness and trepidation slowly taking over my body like a cancer. Until my body becomes numb and I can't feel this anymore...I just want it to end. Please. Before,it consumes me and eats me up until there is nothing left but the pain. The pain that materialises into what I perceive as the monster. They tell me to breathe and fight it but they don't know how strong and big the monster is. No one can see the angry beast,tearing away at my soul and compressing my chest of air. I get we all have this monster but they differ in size and in shape for everyone. Just,like we are all different in our own way. So don't tell me I can win, because I can't I can only fight but realise,sometimes it is so strong and I have been fighting for so long. I become tired and weak. Therapy has helped me control it but I know it will never go away." - Lauren Kent 

 

 

 

"Anxiety is like being stuck in that moment where you are riding a bike and you are about to fall . On replay. You know a bruise is the worst case scenario and you can handle the pain but the fear overwhelms you. The fear is there when you wake up and you just wish to go back to bed, hoping it goes away. But it doesn't." - Robert Ngunu 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"When my anxiety takes over it's like my brain is a pinball machine with so many thoughts and feelings bouncing around that I just can't think straight. I freeze or panic!" - Hannah BM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Overwhelmed, your mind going at 100% miles per hour, negative thoughts that your unable to shake, you don’t know what to do, you know what is coming next but you try your hardest not to give into the temptation, that unhelpful coping mechanism that you developed, but it all becomes too much, you want to perform an action to feel something to silence the thoughts just for a little bit, instant regret, followed by a never ending cycle" - Grace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Having anxiety is like being on constant alert. Like a meerkat on its lookout shift. It builds up, often from nothing, just a notion that something isn't quite right, that there's doom and gloom ahead. Even though you couldn't put into words what that doom and gloom might be. So you start looking for it. Looking for trouble. Trying to add logic and justification to the nagging doubts and feelings.Having anxiety has given me a super power - the ability to find a conspiracy theory in everything. I can put Columbo to shame with my detective work. Or so it feels when I start seeking out bad news and catastrophe that I have too much belief in. Problem is, that bad news and catastrophe is as fictional as Columbo. I often find my brain trying to reassure me of that - but it doesn't kick the feeling. That's when it can escalate into panic. The quick and shallow breathing; the palpitations, the light headedness and the pins and needles that rush up my arms. I can't eat, I feel sick, I get cramps, I dash to the loo...But that's when I'm ill. As I write this I am not ill. Today, having a Diet Coke and reading the traffic report won't do me any harm. I am not seeking out danger today. I can cope with the caffeine today. Today, I feel calm and rational. Anxiety is a bitch - she arrives unexpectedly, creates chaos and then zaps my energy before leaving me alone again. For a while. But she does not make me who I am." - Lucy Nichol

 

 

"Imagine that feeling people describe as ‘having butterflies in your stomach.’ Anxiety can create a similar feeling, although there are 1 million more butterflies in that small space, with nowhere to go. Added to which, these butterflies are annoyed because a brick has been placed on top of them. The brick has not killed them though; it has only spurred them on. So now you have butterflies trying tirelessly to escape, and you have a heavy weight in your stomach. This is physically painful. At times, it has seen me double over in pain to try and get some kind of relief. Sometimes this feeling can ease, but at the worst of times it can last for weeks, or even months, with only a couple of hours relief each day. This feeling basically creates the constant thought that something awful is about to happen. And when I say awful, I mean awful. It’s not just thoughts of missing the bus, or worrying as you forgot to take the bins out. It can be intense feelings that you/someone close to you is about to die, or that your house is about to be burgled by an armed robber. Is there any reason why you feel this? Is there evidence that this is going to happen? No. This can make it even more frustrating, and even harder for people to understand. No matter the fact that logic tells you that you are ok, the feelings don’t stop. Any unexpected noise or movement, no matter how small, can increase your heart rate twofold. You are always on edge – ready, just in case those irrational and out of control thoughts become reality. - Becky Reed

 

 

 

"To endure a panic attack is to know true terror. It’s worse than being scared of something, because often you know to avoid what frightens you. But what if you don’t see a trigger before it’s too late? Everybody will have experienced the physical manifestations – sweaty palms, clammy skin or shallow breathing – that come with feeling nervous. But a dawning realisation that you’ve lost control, and sounds that seemed close are suddenly far away, makes those symptoms seem almost desirable. It’s disorientating, but not dizzying. It’s a craving to be in any place except that one, especially if you’re outside. It’s slowing down, only to accelerate again a thousand times faster. Anxiety never really goes away. I can manage it, and have learned ways to do so effectively, but it finds a way to test you again. And that’s hard.” – Andrew Simpson

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I walk into the shopping centre, really happy to be having a day out and some time doing ‘me’ stuff. Ten minutes later I am walking up the stairs in the shopping centre, when I freeze and grab the hand rail. I am aware I suddenly don’t feel well. The ground feels uneven, like it is slipping away from me. I feel dizzy, and somehow sideways. People come past me but I am disconnected, rooted to the spot. I am aware I need to move, I don’t feel safe halfway up these stairs. Slowly I move to towards the top of the stairs. It is a snail’s pace. I clutch the handrail, all the time feeling that I am going to pass out and slip. At the top I catch my breath, I move to a quiet spot against the wall. The wall too feels uneven and unstable. I concentrate on my breathing and on grounding myself. I run through grounding exercises in my head. I try to distract my mind. ‘You will be okay’ I affirm. The thing about panic attacks, anxiety, any mental illness, is for me the sheer exhausting nature of it. The effort it takes to ground oneself, to breathe, to keep the mind calm. The other thing that is overwhelming is that sometimes the attacks can take you unawares – you move from happiness into panic quickly, and the fear then can so catch you, hold you. I want people to understand. When I grab the handrail, when I stand there quietly against the wall, I want you to understand. That mental illness is tough, that it is scary, that it is tiring, and that it can be lonely. And I want to break the stigma. At least 1 in 10 people experience occasional panic attacks (*www.nhs.uk). That’s a colleague sat near you, a family member, a friend on a night out, 2 of the people on this bus – and plenty of the people walking round a shopping centre." - Helen Phoenix 

 

 

 

 

"To me, anxiety is overthinking everything. Every word that leaves your mouth. Every thought that pops into your head. Every action you carry out. Every message you send and every reply you don’t receive. It’s waking up every morning with an impending sense of doom looming over you, like something bad could happen at any moment but you can’t quite put your finger on what it could be. It’s jumping to the conclusion that your dad has died in a horrific accident when he hasn’t replied to your text when really, he was just outside cutting the grass. It’s panicking when you meet someone new for the first time because you’re 100% guaranteed to embarrass yourself when really the person you meet is probably feeling the exact same way. It’s learning to live with constant pains in your chest, constant nausea and shakes because you’re always on edge, waiting for the next bad thing to happen. It’s not being able to rationalise things, it’s assuming you know what people think of you, assuming the worst possible thing has happened. Having anxiety clouds every rational thought you could have. It’s like dropping a million bath bombs into water – irrational thoughts fizz and bob rapidly around your brain, only calming down until the next one gets dropped and off they go again. Living with anxiety is exhausting and there never seems to be an end to it. – Laura Cloughley

 

 

 

 

 

"My anxiety is a sneaky little monster, it hides in the shadows and slyly spreads it's tendrils throughout my body and mind. It slowly opens a tap to surreptitiously flood my body with unwanted adrenaline until I feel so tense that I'm looking for the thing I need to fight or flee from. My breath gets short, stomach pain like I have been stabbed and my appetite leaves. Sometimes an extra twist of the knife in my gut will leave me shaking and sweating like I have run 10k, even if I'm sitting at a desk. Blissfully though my mind clears of the perpetual brain fog of depression that otherwise clouds my waking hours and I can focus on seeking something that may be the cause of this anxiety. My thoughts race, tumbling and jumping to find the cause. They latch on to something and obsess over it, frantically looking to find some way to control, some way to influence the universe, some way to avoid the catastrophe I know is coming. I fail. I despair. And yet the worst doesn't happen. I'm left relieved, shattered and ashamed that the monster caught me out yet again." - Dan Osmond

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Anxiety grips your heart and squeezes your lungs as the feeling of impending doom fills your head. The worst case scenario is the first place your mind jumps to and surges of adrenaline knock the breath from you. That feeling you get when you fall in a dream and jolt awake; that is the reality of anxiety. It can creep up on you going about your day and completely change the way you feel both mentally and physically." - @WellnessnWander

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Am I going to die today? Will my dog die today? What about Donald Trump? Is he starting WW3 today? Anxiety is like having 1000 questions zipping round your brain. Constantly. My brain indulges in playing nightmare scenarios over and over. Some indulgence… It leads me to alter how I live my life, just to be ‘safe’. Getting on the tube is like getting a rollercoaster. I wait in anticipation to get on the ride, sit on a seat (if I’m lucky enough to get one). My eyes then dart about scanning for nearby threats. My hands are sweaty, heart pounding and my jaw clenching. I sit all tensed up until my stop and leave as fast as I can. “Just stop worrying, relax” they say. But how can I when my teeth might be falling out right now or even next week or next year? Or I might have said something that annoyed someone in the office earlier? Sometimes a wave of anxiety washes over me, bringing nausea and a sense of dread. I wait until the wave goes back out to sea, then worry about when it’s coming back again." - Victoria Nederend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Anxiety is overwhelming, it's like everything is whirling round your head and you have no control of the worry about what might happen and you need to get out. It's the fear of the unknown and the overthinking of everything you could have possibly done wrong or will do wrong and every mistake repeated constantly in your head. It’s all of the what ifs. Anxiety is feeling sick in your stomach and it making you feel poorly with worry and other physical symptoms when things get overwhelming. Then the exhaustion and the guilt and embarrassment afterwards. It can make you doubt and question yourself." - Rosie 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Anxiety to me is feeling so full of emotion that you can’t control it. I have to let it out in some way that usually comes out badly and makes me feel guilty afterwards (and then depression kicks in and convinces me I’m a bad person). The anxiety attacks can vary between 10 minutes and several hours. If I have a long anxiety attack lasting a few hours, I won’t have slept so I’ll be exhausted, I probably won’t have eaten because I feel sick, and that’ll throw me off for a few days before I feel back to normal again. Sometimes, if it’s in a public place, I feel really embarrassed and want to go to a safe place, which is usually straight home!" - Maeve 

 

 

 

 

 

"Battling with anxiety and self-harm at the same time is like living in your own worst nightmare. Your mind is constantly working overtime, conjuring up ways to criticise everything you do, everything you say, and everything you think. If only it was as easy as to just flick a switch whenever you have had enough. Combined with self-harm, it's absolute hell. Self-harm is a form of release for most. You feel helpless, lost, completely stuck in a rut. How do you get out? Where do you turn? You can't focus anymore, and you just want the internal pain to stop, but it won't. So, you feel like you have to take matters into your own hand. You can't control anything else in your life, but you can control how you treat yourself, and that's what you feel is the only option." - Jade Millard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"No matter if it is a good day, or a bad one, there is always a force tethered to me, ready and waiting to crush my chest and cause pure dread within my bones. It wants to cause me panic and fail, and this will happen often, most times I can overcome the anxiety. But on other days, there is no hope for me. I will not be able to physically move, like my whole body is locked in one position, I am well aware that I can temporarily lose my eyesight and after this, I am drained for days to come. The only way I can think to describe it is as if you are carrying a boulder on your back wherever you go, and I have carried this boulder for over a decade, over time, it wears you out far beyond the point of exhaustion and can cause so much damage." - Leanne Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"It’s like the last bit in the crystal maze. It starts off completely calm. And then just like that, it changes. Suddenly all of your thoughts are swirling around and as you reach out for the logical thoughts, you grab at whatever is flying past. The more you try to get the good thoughts, the more bad thoughts you catch. You get more frantic. Your brain is being drowned with thoughts and you can’t focus on any before they fly away out of reach. Everything outside the dome is being drowned out by the fans inside so you aren’t aware when you start to hyperventilate. You don’t notice the pins and needles in your hands until they stop working. Then you can’t grab at any thoughts because it’s all moving too fast, in a blur. Then eventually everything begins to clear. The world outside the dome comes back into focus and you are aware of how heavy your body feels. It is exhausting. And you can’t stop it." - WhatIsNormal 

 

 

 

"If I look back at all the times my anxiety has taken over my life, it’s hard to fathom. It started back when I was a kid. I often didn’t want to go to school and developed a stomach ache. It went undiagnosed for years. At age 19, I finally sought treatment, and now at age 44, I’ve struggled for years. I’ve missed important events, lost jobs, and friends because of my anxiety. I take medications that ought to be helping. Perhaps they are, I don’t know anymore. It’s entirely possible I would be worse off without them.I remember back in my early 20’s, I was just getting used to driving on the highway. I avoided it for as long as I could. I had landmarks that I looked for every trip I took. If I didn’t see those landmarks, I immediately had an anxiety attack. Having an episode like that while driving is no picnic. I get anxious about appointments weeks before they’re scheduled. By the time the date arrives, I’ve worked myself into such a frenzy that I can’t stop sobbing. Thankfully, I have a supportive husband that can help me work through what I’m feeling. Although, even his support doesn’t make the anxiety go away. You know that feeling when someone sneaks up behind you and startles you? For a brief moment, your heart races and your blood suddenly feels hot as it courses through your veins. Add onto that, you begin sobbing, and you’re unable to breathe because you can’t control the racing thoughts or what you’re feeling. Imagine feeling that for 30 minutes to an hour at a time. Quite simply, anxiety is completely exhausting. When you finally crawl out of the fire, you’re feeling too weak to do much of anything. Most of the time, my coping mechanism is avoidance. I stay away from situations that could cause me anxiety.So, you can imagine how frustrating it is to have an attack out of the blue. There may be a cause, there may not be, it’s hard to say. I really never know what to expect. Ironically, thinking of writing this article caused me anxiety. My hands are shaking even now as I type. It doesn’t take much to set me off, and that feels just like a living hell." - Rebecca Lombardo 

 

 

Hopefully reading the personal experiences from these wonderful people has helped to provide a more human understanding of what anxiety is, what it means to those who experience it and how it feels to them.

 

Sending positive vibes, 

Jodie x

 

 

 

 

 

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