Last updated date: 10-Mar-2024

Originally Written in English

What does Anxiety feel like?


    Anxiety is both a psychological and physiological state that is characterized by cognitive, somatic, emotional, and behavioral components. The word “anxiety” comes from the Latin word “anxius” which means concerns and worries. It is something that is felt by each and every person at least once in their lifetime. However, there is a slight difference between normal anxious thoughts or feelings and serious psychiatric concern over anxiety. 

    Anxiety is the biological human response we experience when we are in threatening situations, feeling nervous, worried, or scared. Usually, anxiety is associated with thoughts about what could happen next.


    Medical definition of anxiety

    In order to be diagnosed with medical anxiety, as a mental health condition, it must affect or interfere with the individuals’ ability to perform typical everyday life activities or interact with the world around them. Some people might experience high functioning anxiety, meaning that they manage to handle the symptoms relatively well, but it still causes considerable distress.

    According to the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD10) anxiety disorder refers to “a category of psychiatric disorders which are characterized by anxious feelings or fear often accompanied by physical symptoms associated with anxiety”.


    How to know if you have anxiety?

    A lot of people nowadays claim they have anxiety every time they find themselves in situations where they feel anxious is a natural response and take minor panic or justifiable fears as causes of anxiety – this does not always mean they have a diagnosis.

    In order to obtain a diagnosis, it is not enough to do take-at home anxiety tests or online tests that match your feeling with anxiety attack symptoms – you must consult a specialized anxiety therapist, that can perform medically recognized anxiety testing and can recommend specific therapy for anxiety or anxiety medication where appropriate.


    Anxiety types – what is anxiety?


    Symptoms of anxiety disorders overlap between each other and with those of diagnosed anxiety but are experienced recurrently over a period of time. Medically, anxiety as a symptom can refer to the fact that an individual is experiencing anxious feelings pointing to a diagnosis of one of the six anxiety types:

    • Generalised anxiety disorders  

    In IDC10 Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is described as chronic anxiety. It is defined as a long-term condition and individuals diagnosed with it generally experience its symptoms daily, or very frequently. It is important to remember that many people worry in certain situations, but that does not automatically mean they have a generalized anxiety disorder.

    • Panic disorders

    Panic disorders are a subcategory of anxiety described by unexpected and repeated panic attacks caused by intense fear and joined by physical symptoms. It is important to remember that everyone can feel panic or fear in certain situations because it’s a natural response, but that does not automatically mean they have panic disorder.

    • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

    OCD is characterized by recurring obsessions (unwanted thoughts) and compulsions (repetitive behaviors). Examples include hand washing or constant checking over things. It is important to remember that many people can be considered perfectionists, but that does not automatically mean they have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

    • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

    PTSD is a subcategory of anxiety that develops as a result of an event or series of events in which the individual felt in extreme danger or underwent psychological harm. Examples of instances that could cause PTSD are natural disasters, accidents, military service but causes can be extended to any type of event that was experienced as severe trauma by the individual, including mental abuse.

    • Social anxiety

    Also known as social phobia, this is a type of anxiety that manifests by an overwhelming feeling of exaggerated self-consciousness when or before experiencing social situations. They can be specific to certain situations, like public speaking or eating in front of someone else, or extended to the point where the individual experiences them regardless of social context. While most people are nervous in social situations, that does not mean they have symptoms of anxiety. A social anxiety test can be performed by specialists before diagnosis.

    • Separation Anxiety Disorder

    Separation anxiety disorder is one of the most common forms of anxiety in children. Generally, SAD manifests by unreasonable fear and worrying about being away from certain people. Children's anxiety is diagnosed as SAD if symptoms are occurring for longer than 4 weeks. Babies' separation anxiety has similar manifestations to SAD in children and teenagers but addresses the age group of 6 months to 3 years.

    • Post-partum anxiety 

    Postpartum anxiety is directly related to postpartum depression. Postpartum depression manifests itself in new mothers who experience a series of acute, long-term kinds of depression after giving birth. Postpartum anxiety can appear after birth in individuals that have not experienced or have been diagnosed with anxiety before.


    High functioning anxiety – a secret on how to deal with anxiety

    High functioning anxiety is an umbrella term used by people diagnosed with anxiety, but it is not a form of anxiety or a mental health diagnosis. These individuals have not necessarily learned how to control anxiety, but they feel like they can cope reasonably well with their symptoms. A broad explanation of how high functioning anxiety works is that instead of allowing the thoughts to trigger the "freeze" response, it activates the "fight" response, almost like it is helping the individual move forward.

    It is more and more common for people diagnosed with forms of anxiety to appear successful and put together, regardless of how anxious they are feeling inside.


    Anxiety symptoms - What does anxiety feel like?

    Anxiety symptoms

    The body reacts in very specific ways when experiencing anxiety, but the symptoms can differ between individuals. Anxiety symptoms in women are not significantly different from those experienced by men, however – women are twice more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety.

    Because the body enters a high-alert state, also known as “anxiety high” when feeling anxious, common symptoms experienced by the mind include feeling tense and being unable to relax, worrying, being under the impression that things are slowing down or speeding up, rumination (over-thinking), the impression that if you stop worrying, something bad will happen and a constant sensation that those around you can see what you are feeling. In some types of anxiety, individuals might experience depersonalization, manifested by dissociating from themselves, or derealisation, manifested by dissociating from the environment around them.

    • Physical symptoms of anxiety 

    Anxiety manifests extremely differently in everyone and sometimes these symptoms can be disregarded if they are associated with the state of being nervous. In adults, generalized anxiety disorders can trigger physical symptoms that include difficulty breathing, stomach aches and feeling sick, muscle tension, excessive sweating or a dry mouth, dizziness, and headaches or sleep problems (insomnia).

    The severity of these symptoms depends on the type and severity of anxiety the person is experiencing. Treatment is based on the gravity of the symptoms. While self-care can help reduce the effect anxiety has on the body, cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most efficient therapies recommended.

    • Anxiety rash

    Anxiety rashes are caused by a disproportionate release of chemicals in the body and generally appear in correlation with stress or anxiety. They can be treated with antihistamines but must not be confused with allergies – because to completely cure them, patients must learn coping mechanisms to reduce their anxiety and stress levels, rather than relying on allergy medication. Treatments could include cognitive behavioral therapy, medication or exposure response prevention.

    • Anxiety tics

    Tics are sudden, uncontrollable muscle movements or sounds. They can be a sign of Tourette's syndrome, but they can also be associated with anxiety and stress. Examples of tics include blinking, jerking, finger-clicking, or repeating phrases and sounds. Medical advice should be sought if the tics occur regularly and cause an emotional impact on the person or interfere with their life.

    • Anxiety tightness in the chest

    Many people wonder how can anxiety cause chest pain. Chest pain from anxiety can feel different from individual to individual but is generally described as burning, chest tensions, sharp pain in the chest area, feeling unusual twitches in your chest, or stabbing pressure.

    Chest tightness from anxiety can be alarming, especially for individuals that do not have a relevant medical history, causing people to think they are experiencing a heart attack. Therefore, it is recommended to seek emergency medical attention when you are experiencing these symptoms.

    • Heart palpitations

    Heart palpitations can be experienced alongside anxiety, manifested by a feeling of heart-pounding, heart racing, or irregular heart beating (sensation of heart skipping a beat). Because anxiety triggers the “fight or flight” response in the human body, the autonomic nervous system (ANS) increases the heart rate, causing individuals to experience palpitations.


    Depression vs Anxiety

    By definition, depression is a single illness, while anxiety encompasses a group of mental health conditions that branch out into different manifestations (e.g., PTSD, OCD, etc)

    Depression and anxiety symptoms can overlap, in the case of a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), including fatigue, being fidgety, and trouble sleeping. Symptoms unique to depression when compared to anxiety are weight changes, guilt, feeling worthless or experiencing low self-esteem, and in advanced cases, suicidal thoughts.

    In a lot of cases, depression and anxiety can be present at the same time – studies show that around 50% of individuals diagnosed with GAD also experience depression. Because symptoms of depression and anxiety overlap, it sometimes is more difficult to completely rule out one or the other, some medical professionals even classify “mixed anxiety and depressive disorder” (MADD) as a distinctive diagnosis. Diagnosis can be done after a series of depression and anxiety tests.

    Depression with anxiety treatment also overlaps, being divided into two main categories: depression-anxiety medicine and psychological therapy.


    Anxiety attack vs Panic attack

    Anxiety attacks are not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), however, panic attacks are recognized in the manual and can be classed as expected (triggered by external factors, including phobias) or unexpected (unknown trigger cause). Recurrent panic attacks can be telling anxiety signs.

    It is not easy to draw the line between panic vs anxiety attacks. Panic attacks and anxiety attacks have a series of common anxiety physical symptoms, which include increased heart rate, trouble breathing, sweating to dry mouth, shaking, dizziness and headaches. Emotional symptoms are what marks the difference: for an anxiety attack, the individual would experience worry, distress, and restlessness, while in panic attacks, the fear of dying, derealisation (detachment from reality), or depersonalization (detachment from yourself) are present. The emotional manifestations are what make it harder to know how to help an anxiety attack or what helps anxiety attacks pass from person to person.

    Because people can experience these very differently, it can be hard to have set answers to questions like “what does an anxiety attack feel like?” or “how long do anxiety attacks last?”, but generally they are described as a surge of unexplainable, irrational fear that can last between 5 and 20 minutes on average.

    There is no guaranteed way how to stop an anxiety attack, but several things can work, or aid in diminishing the symptoms. Long term, it is always best to seek medical advice and professional therapy or counseling to help an anxiety attack. At the moment, a couple of techniques that can work start with being aware and realizing you are experiencing an anxiety attack. Making use of a breathing anxiety exercise, muscle relaxation methods, closing your eyes, or focusing on a certain object can all aid as temporary cures for anxiety attacks.


    When can you experience anxiety?


    Due to the nature of anxiety disorders, individuals can experience symptoms in relation to a wide range of situations and circumstances and can be triggered by several external factors. Some examples include

    • Anxiety in relationships: refers to anxiety stemmed in relationships, typically intimate. It is not a recognized condition, but statistically, 1 in 5 people are faced with it. individuals diagnosed with anxiety must be wary of what some call “anxiety relationships” – when people purposefully enter relationships to distract themselves from their symptoms, instead of working with a therapist with anxiety experience to learn healthy coping mechanisms.
    • Anxiety with driving: refers to driving anxiety, when individuals feel uneasy when faced with a situation where they are required to drive or simply be in cars. Especially when being behind the wheel, you must be cautious if symptoms of an anxiety attack are imminent pull over safely, and learn how to stop an anxiety attack. Causes can include being involved in accidents or certain phobias (agoraphobia) and fears (bridges and tunnels).
    • Anxiety at work: you must differentiate between anxiety versus stress. What is the cause of anxiety related to work can be attributed to constant worrying about performance, the fear of not being good enough, also known as imposter syndrome, or being scared of criticism?


    3 questions about anxiety

    • Is anxiety a disability?

    Under the Equality Act 2010, mental health conditions are considered disabilities, under the condition that they have a more than small long-term (12 months) effect on performing daily life (“normal day-to-day activity”) activities. Anxiety disorders can qualify as a disability in some parts of the world, allowing you to get monetary aid through disability for anxiety help if you match the requirements.

    • Is anxiety a mental illness?

    Anxiety can be diagnosed as a type of mental health condition – often referred to as a mental illness in the medical world. After receiving a formal diagnosis, anxiety medication can be prescribed as well as natural anxiety supplements, or therapy to help anxiety symptoms go down.

    • Is anxiety genetic?

    If anxiety appears after the age of 20 years old, it can be linked to significant life events or environmental factors. If there are no known causes detected, the earlier children's anxiety has an offset, the more likely it is to be genetic.


    Anxiety treatment - Medications for anxiety

    Anxiety treatment - Medications for anxiety

    Anxiety manifests differently in every single individual diagnosed with it, therefore there is no best medication for anxiety solution that fits everyone. Because anxiety medication can affect the functions of the brain, it needs to be monitored and prescribed by professionals, usually after several anxieties and depression tests. There are no anxiety medication over the counter (buying without a prescription) options, but individuals can opt for anxiety remedies natural pathways, if medications for anxiety are not prescribed. Medication is specifically prescribed, depending on the situation: suffering from active panic attacks vs anxiety as a generalized condition.

    • Beta-blockers anxiety

    Also called beta-adrenergic blocking agents, these anxiety and depression medications. An example is anxiety propranolol – prescribed for heart problems, it can be used for chest pain anxiety symptoms associated with heart irregularities or high blood pressure.

    • Benadryl for anxiety

    It is one of the most common anxiety over-the-counter medication, due to its fast-acting effect in mild anxiety. However, like all other so-called “best anxiety medications” options, it must be taken only under professional instructions, as it can lead to dependence.

    • Vitamin A for anxiety

    Some research shows a correlation between individuals experiencing a lack of vitamin A and those predisposed to develop anxiety issues. Supposedly classed in the natural medicines for anxiety class, Vitamin A can be useful in minimizing the unsettling feeling caused by anxiety.

    • Ketamine for anxiety

    Despite being known as a street drug; research has been done to determine if ketamine can be an alternative in depression and anxiety treatment. This is still a novel therapy, and more studies must be done.


    How to calm anxiety?

    None of the below suggestions can be considered a method of treatment for anxiety, but rather a method of coping with it and diminishing the symptoms. They can be suggested as a do-on-your-own supplement for anxiety relief and used in combination with natural anxiety relief.

    • Anxiety drawing – art therapy can be used to allow the mind to focus on something else other than the anxiety symptoms you are experiencing. You could try drawing, painting, or coloring.
    • Tea for anxiety – calming tea can be beneficial, especially for those that say “I wake up with anxiety” constantly. Some anxiety herbs flavor suggestions include mint, chamomile, lavender, and rose teas. Having soothing tea can also help those struggling with anxiety sleep deprivation.
    • Meditation for anxiety – practicing meditation can be a mindful method of coping with anxiety and can become a useful tool for those experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, or to start the day for those that wake up with anxiety symptoms. You can look up “meditation therapy near me” for guided meditation sessions.
    • Crystals for anxiety – people believe that certain crystals and gemstones have healing properties. For anxiety relief, some recommendations are rose quartz and moonstone.
    • Breathing exercise for anxiety – an example of a breathing technique you can use is called the “box breathing”: exhale while counting to 4, hold your lungs empty while counting to 4, inhale while counting to for, hold the air in your lungs while counting to 4 and repeat
    • Piercings for anxiety – some sources suggest that a Daith piercing, done on the innermost fold of the ear can help ease anxiety symptoms, especially migraines.
    • Natural medication for anxiety: supplements anxiety options - some studies claim that consuming ashwagandha supplements for anxiety or making use of CBD for anxiety products can help relieve stress
    • Affirmations for anxiety – alongside meditation, some individuals might prefer reading anxiety quotes, scriptures on anxiety, or quotes about depression and anxiety to find motivation and relief. An example includes “I am safe and under no threats from the world” – which can be used as mind medicine for social anxiety.


    So what is an anxiety disorder in short?

    Anxiety is a natural human emotion. It is uncontrollable and elicited by situations in life with unknown outcomes, generally referring to the future. The signs and symptoms of anxiety can differ in different people. For a professional diagnosis, you should talk with your doctor – they'll need to know your medical history, current condition, and any symptoms you may have experienced. You can research specialists by looking up “anxiety doctors near me” or “anxiety therapists near me” and start from there.