Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
Feeling Anxious: A Guide To Your Emotions
Published Dec 23rd, 2020 & updated on Mar 20th, 2021
Feeling anxious? Who here has been personally victimized by anxiety? Everyone? Yaaa us too.
It’s a party in the brain! Just kidding because it’s awful. If anyone ever judges you for having anxiety, show them this article and we’ll set the record straight!
If you have anxiety, you might’ve heard someone tell you, “Oh stop worrying! It’s not that bad.” What this person might not understand is that worry and anxiety aren’t the same thing. Worry is just a symptom or a part of anxiety. If we didn’t worry, we wouldn’t have anxiety, but anxiety is like worry TO THE MAX. Soooo, we don’t recommend experiencing anxiety if you don’t have to!
Anxiety is actually terrifying to experience because unlike worry, it can show up in a bunch of physical ways too, making the experience even more terrifying. It’s like a scary loop that keeps making things worse.
When you’re anxious, all you want to do is fix the problem, but the problem is that you can’t always fix the problem. If we could put the word anxiety into a phrase that everyone understands, it would probably be the feeling that the world is falling apart inside your mind and all around you and there is nothing you can do about it! Scary, huh? Ya, it’s not the best.
A Deeper Look At Feeling Anxious
It’s definition time! Let’s see what the dictionary has to say about anxiety: “characterized by extreme uneasiness of mind or brooding fear about some contingency.”
So, it’s basically the anticipation that something bad is going to happen and you can’t do anything to solve this bad thing from happening. Oof! What a load to carry.
If you think that this sounds kind of similar to worrying, you’d be right. We have an entire article on worrying that you can read to try and better understand that emotion too!
Worrying and anxiety are intertwined; however, worry is a symptom of anxiety and at times, can be a lesser version of it.
Anxiety goes back to the good ole’ prehistoric days when humans and woolly mammoths lived together. We would be on high alert for things that could cause us harm (like a fucking bear or something), and our bodies evolved and kept these mental and physical responses to danger so that we could survive.
The one big bummer about this all is that we now become anxious about things that don’t always cause us immediate danger and harm like a bear would back in the day.
The biggest difference between worrying, stress, and anxiety is that worry and stress are caused by things that you KNOW about. It’s a typical thing to be stressed and worried about, and you know how you can potentially fix it. When you’re stressed or worried, you can still function. It doesn’t really impact how you go about your day.
But with anxiety, OH BOY DOES IT IMPACT YOU! You act differently to avoid what makes you anxious so your work, your day, your life is changed negatively because of your anxiety. Sometimes, you might not even know why you feel anxious. Partyyyyy…
How Feeling Anxious Shows Up Mentally
If you’re reading this article, you probably have a pretty good understanding of what anxiety feels like in your brain. It’s the worst! But we’re going to outline it for you juuust in case you want to send this article to someone so that they can understand what you or someone you know is going through a little bit better.
Someone might look at this symptom and think, “Oh ya I do that sometimes!” But it’s not to the same extent that someone with anxiety is overthinking. They think about the smallest little things and read into every. single. detail of a situation. Did a text have the wrong tone? What did you accidentally say today that could’ve been misconstrued?
Omg, I sent that text to Sam but they didn’t reply. Did I offend them? Are they mad at me? Did I send them something that was meant for another person? No… I didn’t. But I don’t believe that. I must’ve sent them something that wasn’t meant for them and now they’re mad at me. Or did I forget their birthday? Fuuuuck!
2. Always On High Alert
Your mind and your body refuuuuse to relax. This is part of the fight or flight response that is built into us. If you’re experiencing anxiety, you’re looking for every possible thing that could cause harm to you. It feels like your mind is processing what’s going on around you so quickly that it becomes overwhelming at times.
What was that? Was that a rat? Omg no it has to be a person coming to hurt me. What’s in that corner? Who is behind you? What are they saying? What’s coming up next? Be ready. Be ready!
Some people who experience anxiety attacks also do this thing called dissociating. This is when your surroundings, and sometimes your own body, stop feeling real. This can look different for everyone. It can feel like you’re walking through a movie, the world around is pixelated, or it can look like it’s melting away in front of you. It’s not a commonly talked about symptom of anxiety, but it does happen!
Nothing feels real. I’m just floating through life. Are these my hands? They don’t feel like my hands. I feel like I’m not even really in my body right now. What the fuuuck?
4. Feelings Of Dread Or Impending Doom
If you have anxiety, you know EXACTLY what this feels like. It feels like your worst nightmare is right around the corner and can happen to you at any moment. You’re on high alert, you’re scared, it’s terrifying!
The world is ending. I feel so hopeless. There is absolutely nothing that I can do about anything and it’s all gonna fall apart and go to shit.
Having your body and your mind in such a heightened state of awareness is draiiiinnniiinngg! Omg, it’s so exhausting. When you’re that tired and putting your energy towards the equivalent of keeping yourself alive, you’d be irritated too! So, if you snap at someone while you’re in the midst of a panic attack, give yourself a bit of a break. Your mind is working overtime.
No one better try and talk to me today. I swear, if anyone needs anything from me, I’m going to snap! I have so many other important things on my mind. I’m going to fall apart if anyone even looks at me.
6. Difficulty Concentrating
Like we said, your body is trying to keep you alive because it feels like it’s about to be attacked by what you’re anxious about. Unfortunately, because your body is focusing on a million other things, it can’t focus on the one thing you need to do.
Why can’t I just get this paragraph written? Ugh! It’s not that hard. Just sit down and write. Ok, here I go… But what about… no! Take a breath and concentrate.
7. Wanting To Escape From Your Situation And Feelings
Ever fantasize about moving literally across the ocean to the other side of the world and setting up a dog sanctuary on the side of a mountain where no one can find you? Ya… us too.
If I just move to Switzerland, I can move to a remote village and adopt a ton of dogs. I’ll be the Swiss dog person that everyone knows and loves. Maybe I’ll open up a tea and bookshop. Make friends with the locals. I won’t tell anyone where I am and they won’t be able to find me and bother me ever again.
How Feeling Anxious Shows Up Physically
We actually have an entiiire article on some physical signs of anxiety that you might not have known about! We’ll link to the article here, but we’ll still tell you what’s what so that you don’t have to jump back and forth between two articles.
This is actually a super common way that your body responds to excessive stress. When you’re anxious, your body releases stress hormones and causes you to release a little extra moisture from your skin.
2. Chills/Hot Flashes
When you’re anxious, your body goes into fight, flight, or freeze mode. While it’s doing this, your blood vessels are contracting to move blood to important parts of the body. This is called vasoconstriction, and it’s what makes you feel really hot. When you’re hot and anxious, you’re probably sweating, so when you start to calm down and the moisture on your body reacts to the cold air around you, you’ll feel a bit chilly.
3. Increased Heart Rate
When you’re anxious, you have adrenaline pumping through your veins, blood is rushing to important parts of the body, and your heart is working overtime. This is allll because of that fight, flight, or freeze response that we humans evolved with. Your body is just on high alert and ready to move you away from danger at any minute by making your heart work a little extra than usual.
4. Muscle Tension
Like with an increased heart rate, your muscles tense up to move you away from danger. But since the danger is our anxiety, what we really need is a massage. Do yourself a favour right now and unclench your jaw, drop your shoulders, and take a biiiig deep breath.
5. Stomach Problems
Sometimes when you’re anxious, your stomach becomes sooo nauseous. Other times, you get the poops! It’s not a good time, but this happens because of a little hormone called cortisol. Your body doesn’t want to rest and digest. It wants to get the fuck away from danger, so it doesn’t allow you to process your food like you normally would.
When you’re anxious, your body takes the blood away from your extremities and pushes it towards your core. When you have a panic attack, you can end up hyper-focusing on feelings. So, this feeling of numbness and tingling can be amplified by your fixation on it.
Some scientists say that sleeplessness and anxiety are bidirectional. This means that they influence each other. So, if you’re anxious, you’re sleepless, and if you’re sleepless, you’re anxious. What a super inconvenient cycle!
Paper bags, anyone? Breathing is an unconscious action, so when we’re anxious, we unknowingly start to take more shallow breaths. This leads to us hyperventilating, which is a bummer and not our favourite thing to do…
5 Ways To Cope With Anxiety
We all need a little bit of extra help when we are anxious. These tips can be helpful when you need a little help to lighten the mental load.
We know that it can be hard to want to pull out a journal and write, but it can actually be really helpful! Journal what you’re feeling and thinking and then try to reframe and counter your negative thoughts. Maybe take time and think logically about your issue. Look at what makes you anxious and think about how you can change it up in your mind.
2. 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Exercise
This exercise is sooo amazing because it engages all five senses and forces you to take your mind away from what’s making you panic at that moment. What you do is mindfully take notice of five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. But remember that there is no pressure here! The point is just to mindfully engage in this practice.
Go in any order with any sense that makes sense for you and your current situation. If you can’t taste anything right now, that’s ok! Maybe skip that so that you aren’t thinking about licking tables when you’re in a Starbucks. Or do. We can’t tell you what to do!
3. Practice Deep Breathing
This sounds really simple, but holy crap is it effective! Taking a deep breath can help you start to calm down slowly but surely. Try taking in a deep breath for 4 counts, then exhale for 4 counts. Keep doing that over and over until you feel calm enough to try another technique to help you out.
4. Positive Distraction
Try to find something positive to redirect your attention like reading a book, watching something funny, taking a shower, looking at satisfying videos, cleaning, cooking, listening to music or a podcast. Literally, anything that brings you joy!
5. Reach Out for Support
We know that therapy can be SUPER expensive, so look for affordable counselling options in your city. Sometime walk-in clinics offer cheaper payment options, and others offer a sliding scale when it comes to payment. Depending on where you live, your state, province, or country can offer subsidized services that are free! There are also several apps that cost the fraction of the price of a full counselling session.
Anxiety is a tricky bitch. As much as we want it to be, it’s not something that can be fixed overnight. It takes a lot of work and it can seem overwhelming at first, but just take it day by day. Every day you fight against your anxiety is a win in our books!