What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

February 11, 2022   •  Posted in: 

Most people know what it feels like to be nervous or worried. For example, you might have felt nervous before a first date or before a big presentation at work. Or maybe you have experienced worry after hearing a family member was sick.

But for people with anxiety, these feelings become much more severe 一 so much so they severely disrupt the person’s life. In this article, we’ll describe what anxiety feels like for people who suffer from it. Do you recognize any of these feelings in yourself or a loved one?


What Is an Anxiety Disorder?

First, it is essential to understand what an anxiety disorder is 一 and how it differs from general worrying.

Anxiety is a mental illness that causes excessive worrying, fear, and trouble concentrating. Unlike everyday worries, which all of us experience from time to time, the symptoms of anxiety severely disrupt people’s lives. For example, anxiety might cause someone to become unable to work or maintain relationships with family and friends.

There are several different types of anxiety disorders, including:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobias
  • Agoraphobia
  • Medication-induced anxiety disorder
  • Selective mutism (children only)
  • Separation anxiety (children only)

Other disorders, like obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, can also cause anxiety symptoms.

Anxiety disorders are one of the world’s most common mental illnesses. Over 40 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from anxiety. [1] That makes one thing clear: you are not alone if you live with anxiety.


What Anxiety Feels Like

The symptoms of anxiety differ slightly between specific disorders. In general, anxiety symptoms include:

  • Constant and excessive worrying that is disproportionate to whatever the person is worrying about
  • Feeling restless or wound-up
  • Physical symptoms like sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, and feeling hot
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Muscle tension
  • Irritability
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating
  • Trouble falling, or staying, asleep

However, reading through a list of symptoms can be unhelpful when you are trying to recognize signs of anxiety in yourself or a loved one. That’s why, in this article, we will break down precisely what living with anxiety feels like on a day-to-day basis.

Although every person who has an anxiety disorder shares similar symptoms, your journey with anxiety may look very different from someone else’s. Remember that anxiety can feel like the following, but that doesn’t mean that anxiety will always feel this way for you.

1. Anxiety feels like you’re stuck in an endless loop of worries.

Most people know that anxiety makes you worry excessively, but it is hard to describe what that feels like until you have lived with an anxiety disorder yourself.

The worrying that comes with an anxiety disorder can feel like you are stuck in an endless loop 一 as if there was an audio track of your biggest fears playing on repeat in your head. You might finally resolve one worry, only to feel another.

The problem is that most worries that come with anxiety are not rational 一 and, therefore, can’t be “figured out.” So the only way to press “stop” on these types of worries is to learn how to recognize when anxiety, not reality, is speaking. This way, you can learn to challenge your thoughts or simply stop paying attention to them.

2. Anxiety feels like you’re suffocating.

One of the most commonly reported physical symptoms of heightened anxiety is shortness of breath. Anxiety causes you to feel like you can’t breathe for a particular reason. Your body’s anxiety or fear response was evolutionarily developed to help you be on alert and either fight or flee from real, life-threatening dangers.

One of the things that happen during the fear response is that your breathing gets faster and more shallow to get more oxygen into your muscles. Shortness of breath associated with anxiety is, ultimately, harmless 一 but it doesn’t feel that way.

This anxiety symptom can make you feel like you are choking or suffocating, or that you can’t get enough air into your lungs. This feeling can be an uncomfortable and terrifying experience.

3. Anxiety feels like you’re spiraling out of control.

Many people describe living with an anxiety disorder as feeling like they are spiraling out of control.

Often, anxious thoughts lead you further and further down a downward spiral. The first “What if?” that came to mind can quickly lead to more and more “What if?”s 一 and the thoughts get progressively scarier. In its worst moments, living with anxiety feels like you have no control over your thoughts at all.

Of course, this isn’t wholly true. Everyone has control over their thoughts to a certain degree, and learning how to recognize when anxiety is taking over your thoughts is an essential first step in the battle against this disorder.

However, this is easier said than done, and it often takes a long treatment journey to achieve this consistently. In the meantime, anxiety can make you feel like you are spiraling, or like you have no control over your mind.

4. Anxiety feels like you’re never safe.

Anxiety convinces you that you aren’t safe and that danger is just around the corner. This is especially true if feelings of anxiety are caused by post-traumatic stress disorder, leading to flashbacks and nightmares of the traumatic event. As a result, many people with anxiety describe the experience as constantly living on the edge.

You might even know, logically, that you are not in any danger, but anxiety will still try to convince you that you are. For example, people who live with agoraphobia fear open spaces and crowds. Their disorder keeps them from feeling safe outside of their homes.

Even if you don’t have agoraphobia, you might have an impending sense that something terrible is about to happen. It might feel like you’re constantly watching your back or trying to prepare yourself for a disaster.

5. Anxiety makes you feel like everyone hates you.

Anxiety, specifically social phobia or social anxiety disorder, can convince you that the people you’re around hate you or are upset with you, even when they are not.

This is just another example of the lies that anxiety tells you. Anxiety tries to convince sufferers that everything in their life is a threat. Social anxiety, in particular, leads people to feel an intense fear of humiliating themselves in front of or upsetting others.

Have you ever walked away from a social situation regretting something you said or did? On the other hand, if you made a social faux pas, you might have needed to call the other person to apologize for your behavior.

However, if you live with social anxiety disorder, you might feel this way after every social interaction you have. Social anxiety may start to convince you that everyone around you hates you and has turned against you. Of course, this isn’t true 一 but that doesn’t make it feel any less real.

6. Anxiety feels like having an out-of-body experience.

A commonly reported symptom of anxiety is derealization, or the sense that you’re not entirely “there.” It might feel almost like an out-of-body experience or like you are watching your life through a frosted window. Some people say that it feels like an imposter has taken over their body, and the “real” version of them can do nothing else but to watch this imposter control their lives.

Derealization is more common than you might think, and severe anxiety and stress are their top causes. This symptom can be terrifying, but therapy can teach you skills to help you get yourself grounded again.

7. Anxiety feels like being constantly exhausted.

Many people associate fatigue with depression 一 being so sad that you just want to sleep all day. However, fatigue is also a prevalent symptom of anxiety. Your experience with anxiety might be that you’re always exhausted. Part of the reason for this tiredness may be that your anxiety keeps you up at night. But anxiety can cause fatigue even if you are getting enough sleep.

The fact is, it is exhausting to live with anxiety every minute of every day. It is exhausting to deal with constant worrying and fears over everyday, ordinary situations. Although anxiety commonly keeps people up at night, others may sleep too much to avoid their anxious feelings.

8. Anxiety feels like trying to live with loud music blasting through noise-canceling headphones.

“Trouble focusing” is one of the listed symptoms of anxiety, and you might imagine someone who’s easily distracted or has trouble focusing on one task at a time. But, in reality, the problems with concentration that come with anxiety can be much more severe.

Some people with anxiety have likened it to focus on a conversation while having noise-canceling headphones on. Loud music 一 your anxiety 一 is blasting through the headphones, and it is all you can hear. You might be at work or out with your friends, but all you can think about are your worries and fears.

When it is severe, this trouble concentrating can start disrupting the lives of people with anxiety. For example, they might be disciplined at work or start alienating their loved ones.

9. Anxiety feels like wanting to throw up.

Other common physical symptoms of anxiety include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and other gastrointestinal issues. If you live with anxiety, you’ve probably felt at some point when you were worried about something, like you wanted to throw up. This happens when neurotransmitters released during an anxiety attack get into your digestive tract.

Some people with anxiety might not recognize that they have anxiety 一 but seek treatment for stomach problems. After running some tests, a medical professional might conclude that anxiety rather than a physical illness causes their issues.

If you’re experiencing frequent stomach pain or nausea, you should always get these symptoms checked out by a healthcare provider first. If they tell you it is related to your anxiety, it is still important to pay attention. Stress and anxiety can lead to and worsen serious gastrointestinal issues, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

10. Anxiety feels like there’s a knife in your chest.

Chest pain is a widespread symptom for people with an anxiety disorder. It is prevalent during a panic attack. The pain is so intense that many people confuse the chest pain that comes with a panic attack with a heart attack.

There are several reasons why anxiety causes so much chest pain. First, anxiety can cause the small vessels in your heart to contract. When you are anxious, hyperventilation can also cause spasms in your chest muscles or arteries. Finally, anxiety can cause your esophagus to spasm, leading to chest pain that isn’t related to your heart.

Some people with anxiety feel a dull ache in their chest constantly. Others feel a sharp, shooting pain when having an anxiety attack.

If you’re experiencing chest pain, it’s essential to get checked out by a medical doctor right away. Without seeing a doctor, there’s no way to tell if your chest pain is due to anxiety or heart problems. However, it may be interesting to note that up to 25% of people who go to the emergency room with chest pain have severe anxiety or panic disorder. [2]

11. Anxiety feels like tossing and turning at night.

Anxiety and sleep have a complex relationship. One of the consequences of living with an anxiety disorder is insomnia or the inability to sleep.

Ruminating over the past or worrying about the future can easily keep you up at night, even if you don’t have an anxiety disorder. If you do have anxiety, then this can become even worse. Many people with anxiety find themselves tossing and turning all night, not able to put their worries aside for long enough to be able to fall asleep.

What you might not have known is this relationship between sleep and anxiety can go in the opposite direction, too. Being sleep-deprived can make your anxiety symptoms worse, and make you more vulnerable to getting an anxiety disorder if you don’t have one.

Like most things with anxiety, getting enough sleep can become a vicious cycle. The less you sleep, the worse you feel 一 and the worse you feel, the less you’re able to sleep.

12. Anxiety feels like there is duct tape over your mouth.

Some people, especially children, with anxiety may experience selective mutism. This anxiety disorder causes kids to become unable to speak in certain social situations.

Even if you don’t have selective mutism, anxiety might still make you feel like someone is holding a hand over your mouth, preventing you from speaking. This might be because you’re afraid of saying the “wrong” thing, but it could also be because anxiety has taken you out of your body or activated your body’s “freeze” response.

Whatever the reason, anxiety can make you feel like there’s a piece of duct tape over your mouth 一 like you can’t express yourself in the way that you genuinely want to.

13. Anxiety feels like you’re dying.

Especially during intense anxiety or panic attacks, many people feel, quite literally, like they’re dying. They may mistake the chest pain that anxiety causes for a heart attack or might feel like they can’t breathe, and they will suffocate to death. Others might feel like the emotional distress of anxiety is so intense that they start to experience suicidal thoughts.

No matter the reason, the vital thing to know is that anxiety can be so painful that it can make you feel like you’re dying. Many people even visit the emergency room thinking they have a medical crisis, only to be informed they have anxiety.

14. Anxiety makes you feel like you’re alone.

Finally, living with anxiety can be a very lonely experience. We’ve already learned that there are millions of people all across the world who suffer from anxiety. But when you live with an anxiety disorder, even when you know the statistics, it can still feel like you’re all alone in the world 一 and that nobody else could ever understand what you are going through.

Many people with anxiety feel ashamed to tell their loved ones due to fear of being judged or stigmatized. This can lead them to hide their symptoms or carry their diagnosis as a secret to feel guilty and embarrassed about.

The truth is that anxiety is a mental health condition. Anyone can get it, and you’re not alone in this journey.


Anxiety Treatment is available at The Center • A Place of HOPE

Life with anxiety can be frightening, exhausting, and painful.

The good news is that there is hope. The Center • A Place of HOPE offers high-quality treatment for all types of anxiety disorders. Our team can help you start making progress toward recovery 一 and remind you that you’re not alone in this journey.

Our unique Whole Person Care approach to anxiety treatment addresses the physical, emotional, intellectual, relational, and spiritual elements of your life. By managing every area of your life, and not just your anxiety, you can start to heal as a whole person.

Are you ready to start learning how to manage your anxiety symptoms and thrive in your life? Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you.

[1] https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders
[2] https://www.news-medical.net/health/Reducing-Chest-Pain-Caused-by-Anxiety.aspx

Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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