We feel anxiety emotionally and we feel anxiety physically.
Anxiety symptoms can be both emotional and physical.
What anxiety feels like emotionally?
Anxiety is a fearful feeling that seems to get a hold of you and not let go.
It can drive you to act in a demanding or irrational way as you attempt to get relief from the fear. Or it can narrow your world as you reduce your exposure to situations that stimulate the fear.
The emotional side of anxiety can be felt as:
- a sense of impending doom,
- panic, or
- being trapped, controlled, or overwhelmed.
Where your anxiety falls on this list of emotion descriptions may be determined by how intense the anxiety is at any given time. (For example, panic is more intense than worry.)
What anxiety feels like physically?
The physical side of anxiety can also be felt at different intensities, from an uneasy jittery physical feeling that accompanies worry, to full bore panic that feels like you are dying.
In fact, panic sends many people to emergency rooms because it can mimic the symptoms of a heart attack.
When anxiety hits its most intense form it is often called a panic attack. (Some call it an anxiety attack, but I think that panic attack is a better label. I see anxiety as less intense than a panic attack.)
A panic attack is very intense for a time—at least 10 minutes—but then usually subsides within an hour. After the panic feeling is reduced, an anxious feeling can remain, but the severity of physical symptoms is not as great as during the panic attack.
Physical symptoms of anxiety can include:
- muscular tension, aches, and pains,
- upset stomach,
- gastrointestinal problems (diarrhea, constipation, gas),
- loss of appetite or increased appetite,
- trembling or shaking,
- dry mouth,
- feeling hot or cold,
- hyper energy or low energy,
- a lethargic worn-out feeling,
- weakness in legs,
- sleep disturbance (difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep),
- inability to relax,
- brain fog or difficulty concentrating,
- hypersensitivity to noise or touch, or
- a closed down feeling in throat.
Physical symptoms of a panic attack can include any of the above plus:
- chest pain,
- increased heart rate,
- shortness of breath,
- extreme nausea,
- extreme shift in body temperature, or
- feeling faint or light-headed.
My own experience
I have experienced two panic attacks myself. They definitely are no fun.
Panic attacks are scary multiplied: they are caused by something scary and they are scary.
My first panic attack lasted about a half hour. It was spurred by my receipt of a threatening email from an ex-boyfriend. The panic reduced when I called someone to help me deal with the situation and I felt more secure.
The second panic attack occurred about a week later when I received another email in which his threats escalated. That attack lasted for about an hour. During that attack, I laid down on the floor because I was worried that I might pass out and I figured if I passed out on the floor at least I wouldn’t fall and hurt myself.
After the second attack, I took myself to a hypnotherapist friend. She fixed me up and I never had another panic attack.
I think that my personal experiences with anxiety and panic, combined with my professional education and experience as a counselor, give me an insight into anxiety that is more complete than most.
I know that my clients are often relieved to discover that I have experienced panic first hand and so have an understanding of what they have been through.