What Does Anxiety Feel Like

What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety from time to time when doing things like public speaking, a job interview, or starting a new job or school. Anxiety is the body’s emotional response to stress and can manifest as fear or nervousness about the future. While it is normal to experience anxiety occasionally, prolonged or recurring feelings of anxiety can indicate the presence of an anxiety disorder. 

An anxiety disorder causes you to feel anxiety almost constantly and can impair your daily life. Depending on the severity, it may even cause you to avoid anxiety-inducing situations altogether. There are different types of anxiety disorders, including: 

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder
  • Illness Anxiety Disorder (Hypochondria)

The way anxiety feels can vary slightly depending on the individual, specific type of anxiety disorder, and the severity of the disorder. Some people experience milder symptoms such as butterflies in their stomach, while others can experience panic attacks. Since anxiety can feel different from one person to another, you will need to learn how to recognize how anxiety feels to you. 

Cartoon man looking nervous with butterflies in his stomach

Anxiety can feel like: 

  • Nervousness 
  • Muscle tension or twitching
  • Unable to sit still
  • Racing heartbeat
  • You can’t breath
  • Obsessive and/or intrusive thoughts
  • Not being able to sleep at night
  • Sweating when it’s not hot
  • Trembling when it’s not cold
  • You’re in danger
  • Your stomach hurts
  • You want to avoid certain situations

As mentioned before, some individuals with an anxiety disorder can experience panic attacks. Although panic attacks are similar to anxiety, they have a few key distinctions. For starters, a panic attack comes on suddenly. Therefore if you went from being calm to feeling extremely distressed in a matter of minutes, you may be having a panic attack. Additionally, panic attacks are classified as exhibiting at least four of the following: 

Woman sitting a her desk and holding her chest
  • Choking sensation 
  • Feeling hot or cold
  • Chest pain
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Sweating
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea or stomach problems
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Feeling a loss of control
  • Fear of dying

Since these symptoms can also be experienced by those with health conditions such as heart disease, thyroid problems, and breathing disorders, some people may not realize that their symptoms are actually caused by anxiety. Therefore, if you have experienced symptoms of a panic attack that cannot be attributed to another medical condition, you may be affected by an anxiety disorder. 

Anxiety disorders are also commonly diagnosed in coordination with depression or bipolar disorder. This means that you may alternate between periods of anxiety and depression. This can feel like being extremely worried and uneasy for a certain amount of time, followed by feeling extremely hopeless or disconnected until the cycle repeats. Whether you are experiencing mild or severe symptoms, or depressive symptoms,  if the feeling of anxiety is changing how you live your life, you should speak with your doctor or a local therapist. 

Ultimately, there are a variety of ways that anxiety can feel because anxiety disorders can affect individuals differently. While the symptoms listed above represent some of the most common things that people feel with anxiety, it is not a comprehensive list. Therefore, if you think you may have an anxiety disorder, it is recommended to speak with a licensed mental health provider for more information. 

Dr. Miller is trained in Adult, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She is also trained in Anesthesia and Pain Management. Because of her broad experience, Dr. Miller is uniquely qualified to treat psychological trauma, depression and anxiety that can occur as a result of injury or disability.  For more information, schedule a consultation at NJ Family Psychiatry & Therapy.            

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