What does anxiety feel like? (It's different to just being a worrier)

We’re talking about mental health more and more, which is great, but it’s also causing a lot of people to be quite flippant with the term ‘anxiety’

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is extremely different from our everyday concerns; everybody gets anxious, and everybody has worries – both are extremely regular and part of being human. It’s totally normal to be fretting about an event or occasion or plane trip or hospital appointment, but what about when those little worries are actually an enormous part of your life, and even start controlling it?

GAD is more common than you might think, with 3 million people in the UK estimated to suffer from an anxiety disorder.

Tossing around casual mentions of anxiety when you’re not a sufferer yourself is not only a bit cruel, but also hugely downplays the actual suffering that anxiety causes.

Counselor Peter Klein confirms this (and he specialises in treating anxiety, so would know), explaining that people with GAD ‘often have a persistent sense of inner restlessness that can make it impossible to feel a sense of calm. If someone with GAD sits down to rest they will often start worrying or be self critical for not being “on the move”. Their anxiety is further fuelled by a constant overestimation of many of life’s challenges, which makes many benign events appear like catastrophes waiting to happen.’

So, yeah, it’s a bit more than just getting nervous before you start a new job.

Amelia Eve-Warden tells Metro.co.uk that the feeling of anxiety for her is ‘as if something bad is going to happen to you in whatever circumstance, place or situation’. Not fun.

‘I could be sat in a meeting in my office with my loving teammates and feel like I’m internally dying,’ she says. ‘As soon as this implants in your brain, the panic hits, and you struggle to breathe, start to sweat and feel that you will either faint or be sick.

‘You feel as if you’re being put into a tight box and can’t get out.

‘It’s an endless feeling of ‘am I about to die?’ and it’s normally due to the enhanced emotion of panic that can escalate at any time, for no reason.’

This sounds really overwhelming – and it is. People with GAD find that it consumes most of their waking moments, and as Peter explains, anxiety ‘inflicts a lot of pain and damage in many people’s lives’.

Peter says: ‘Often sufferers miss out on relationships and job opportunities while having great difficulties maintaining any kind of existing relationship and generally finding joy in life.’

As much as anxiety is usually categorised under a problem with mental health, just like depression, it can also be physical.

Sufferer Robyn Henderson tells us: ‘When I’m anxious my stomach is in knots, I get rabbit-in-a-headlight eyes where I stare into space, and I go on an autopilot until I’m out of that wave. This often leads to feeling sick, being unable to eat, and sometimes panic attacks. Sometimes – especially the day after I’ve had alcohol – I’ll have these symptoms without any real situation or scenario to pinpoint the feeling on.’

Anxiety and worry are often differentiated by associating worry with something a lot more tangible (a meeting, a date, a trip, an event etc) whereas anxiety is far more of an overwhelming sense that something bad is about to happen at any moment.

Just like we’ve learned to not be flippant with our use of references to having OCD, it’s time to settle down and be realistic about using the term ‘anxiety’.

Those who have it are going through a real struggle, and your flippancy about choosing an outfit isn’t helping them be helped.

If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health, you can find a qualified local counsellor in your area with Counselling Directory. Mental health charityMind also offer counselling services, and you can call The Samaritans on 116 123 (UK and ROI). The NHS even have a little quiz you can take. If you can, visit your GP for further advice. To talk about mental health in a private, judgment-free zone, join our Mentally Yours Facebook group.

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