What Anxiety Looks Like

By To Write Love on Her ArmsApril 22, 2021

You may walk into a room full of people. They’re small talking, laughing, and enjoying the company. You, on the other hand, unbeknownst to them, are overthinking, perhaps even starting to panic. Did I turn off the stove at home? Do I shake this person’s hand with a firm grip or a light hold? Was my tone too quiet or too eager? All of these thoughts can be swirling around, demanding your attention, and you are at their mercy while also attempting to remain present with those around you. And that’s just the beginning.

What is Anxiety?

The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as, “An emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”

Common traits can vary from person to person but may include overthinking, people-pleasing, nervous habits or an inability to sit still, procrastination, racing mind, and avoidance of eye contact. These are some of the potential negative effects of anxiety. Alternatively, characteristics that are seen as more positive, can include punctuality, helpfulness, passion, loyalty, and proactivity.

Those around you may see you as successful and put together, but you may feel the exact opposite. You may desperately need a day off from responsibilities but have too much anxiety to request it. Additionally, if you do take time off, your anxiety may guilt you—possibly even shame you—for doing so.

Our friend Angie Gibbons recently shared her story of living with anxiety, where she elaborates on how anxiety has displayed itself in her day-to-day life.

“If you had asked me in my 20s what anxiety looked like, I probably would have guessed that it showed up as panic or chest pain, something obvious. I didn’t have a vocabulary for it, so I was unaware that I was living with it most days at varying levels.

Anxiety was the lens through which I saw the world.

In a sense, anxiety was my way of processing life. When it blossomed into panic, it was like my body was finally saying it had had enough. The anxiety had outstripped my ability to cope, and years of it had accumulated into this beast that suddenly attacked seemingly out of nowhere.”

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that around 19% of adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder. Many individuals have found it difficult to separate the notion that elements of their anxiety aren’t necessarily parts of their personality. You may not be a people pleaser, but rather your anxiety pushes that feeling forward, creating more intensity around it.

Challenges Of Living With Anxiety

Individuals who identify with anxiety have the potential to misuse alcohol and other substances in unhealthy ways as a coping mechanism. If untreated, anxiety can lead to heart, gastrointestinal, and respiratory issues. There’s often a feeling of isolation that comes along with it as well. Those living with anxiety, prior to treatment, have stated that they felt the need to bottle what they were feeling inside.

You may find yourself only participating in activities that fit within your comfort zone, but might not know why that is. Oftentimes, those with anxiety choose activities that calm their minds and slow their heart rate as opposed to engaging in things that they’re genuinely interested in. Again, all of this can occur with limited to no awareness from those around you due to the nature of this challenge living just beneath the surface.

Getting Help

If you have not received a medical diagnosis by a trained professional but identify with some of the characteristics mentioned above, speak with a doctor first and foremost. If you have received a diagnosis, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or social anxiety disorder, a common and effective treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a psychological treatment geared towards shifting patterns in thinking and behavior.

CBT is based on the following core principles:

  1. Psychological problems are based, in part, on unhelpful ways of thinking.
  2. Psychological problems are based, in part, on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.
  3. People suffering from psychological problems can learn better ways of coping with them, in order to relieve their symptoms and become more effective in their lives.

Medication is also available and has been found to support those with anxiety in achieving a higher quality of life.

Regardless of what your recovery and support system entails, know that anxiety is treatable. You are not alone. We encourage you to share your experiences with someone you feel comfortable around and can trust.

You can also choose to connect with a helpline to talk with a person anonymously. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a free helpline you can use—1-800-950-NAMI (6264)—to access resources and support. Crisis Text Line Counselors can also be reached 24/7 by texting TWLOHA to 741741; their services are free and confidential.

For longer-term care, we recommend seeking out a local counselor. You can use our FIND HELP Tool to search by zip code for affordable, local options.

And remember, your anxiety does not define you. There are healthy ways to cope and find relief from the discomfort and uneasiness you may be experiencing. This isn’t something you have to accept or endure forever—there is help available, there is hope for better days, and you deserve both.

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Comments (2)

  1. Marie-Anna Boudreau

    I must watch the movie “To write love on her arm” and WOW!!!! What a wake up cell I should Have bad in my teen years.I am the oldest child in a family of six and the first to be molested by my father for
    5 years (11-16 yrs old).
    I have suffered from anxiety,depression and suicidal attempt twice.I finalky got help in my 30’s and was hospitalisés in psychiatrie dard for 3 months and followed by a rescue centre for 1 year.They save my life.I’m still on anti-depressent and I’m 67 yrs old.It is so encouraging to see help centre and refuge for people struggling with mental issues.
    Thank you for reading my story and thank you for your foundation to help people in need of your help. I live in New Brunswick Canada and de noechave help Line,support group and blog to help us.

    Reply  |  
  2. Svetlana Martis

    What about hereditary factors?

    Reply  |  
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