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Exploring the Many Faces of Anxiety: What It Can Feel Like

I'm sure you have heard the word "anxiety" used very often. Especially, in this post-pandemic word, it seems like many more people experience worry. But what actually is anxiety?

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is much more than worry. Worry is often a normal part of life. Anxiety is thought to be a persistent state of worry, in which a person has difficulty stopping the worry. In anxiety, worry becomes so significant that it can hinder many healthy parts of life.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

With GAD, a person may experience excessive worry and have difficulty controlling it. A person can also experience restlessness, like she can't just sit still. He can also feel easily fatigued and tired, even on days when he hasn't been physically active. A person with GAD may experience difficulty concentrating. It might be difficult to remember what he was just reading on the previous page of his book. She can also have difficulty falling or staying asleep. A person experiencing GAD can also become irritable, even with things that the average person wouldn't fight annoying. And a surprising symptoms of anxiety is that a person with GAD might experience a lot of muscle tension throughout the body.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a mental illness where a person experiences unexpected and recurring panic attacks. And the person experiencing the panic attacks develops such a fear toward having future panic attacks, that he might avoid certain situations or places that might trigger another panic attack.

A panic attack can sometimes feel like heart palpitations, shaking, and becoming light headed or dizzy. A person can have difficulty breathing and have very short, rapid breaths. In movies, we see a person experiencing a panic attack breathing really fast into a brown paper bag.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is an anxiety disorder, in which a person experiences a lot of unwanted thoughts (obsessions) that can lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Obsessions and compulsions can be so time consuming for people who experience OCD, that it can hold them back from normal daily activities. For example, a person with OCD can think that if he leaves the house before he washes his hands 10 times correctly, then something bad will happen to his mom. And washing his hands can take him hours, because he might feel like he isn't doing it correctly enough. His intense fear of the possibility of something bad happening to his mom as a result of him not washing his hands correctly 10 times could cause him to miss or be late to work, school, or other important activities

Social Anxiety

A person with social anxiety might have great fear of being in social situations. Normal daily activities might feel like a huge challenge. Asking someone at the grocery store where the milk is might feel entirely too overwhelming. Giving a speech at school might feel too draining and impossible. The fear of social judgement can hold people with social anxiety back from many daily life activities.


Often, I hear this term being use very casually. But a phobia is much more than just a fear or discomfort. A person who experiences a phobia has such an intense fear of something that the brain actually perceives it as a threat to his life. The fear can be irrational and exaggerated. For example, some people have a phobia of the color yellow! (Yes, that a thing! Xanthophobia!) The color yellow, in and of itself, is not dangerous or life threatening. But a person with a phobia to the color yellow will perceive this threat the same why they would if they were about to get attacked by a very wild and dangerous animal.

Anxiety can feel different for everyone experiencing it. These are some common ways that people who experience anxiety disorders describe their symptoms. Recovery from anxiety disorders is possible! Many people find relief from anxiety through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). If you experience symptoms of anxiety, know that YOU ARE SO STRONG! And when you are ready, a qualified mental health professional can help start your healing journey.

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