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What It’s Like to Have Anxiety

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What it’s like to have anxiety is like having a rock on your chest. It’s like having your breath taken away in the worst way possible. It’s like this low-level, unplaceable fear that comes from nowhere and everywhere.

Anxiety is like fear, except it’s not. It’s this thing that eats you alive, that takes you out of the moment and places you in this strange future where you can’t place what it is that’s causing you to be so goddamn afraid, and yet you are—this future where something terrible is about to happen.

But that’s just generalized anxiety disorder—anxiety about something that you can’t place or name.

There are many other types of anxiety out there.

How wonderful…

Let’s take a look at some of the different types.

What It’s Like to Have Social Anxiety

I have pretty severe social anxiety, but I’ve found that it basically doesn’t exist when I’m around people I trust—friends, family, people I feel comfortable with. People I can be myself with.

But when I’m around people I don’t know, when I’m in situations where something important could happen with those people I don’t know (like being in a job interview, for example), my social anxiety skyrockets.

Having social anxiety is just like having generalized anxiety disorder in my experience. When I’m around friends whom I trust, I have no problem telling jokes, playing around, having fun, having deep conversations about important things, but when I’m around people I don’t know, I suddenly can’t talk. I find myself unwilling to strike up a conversation, unwilling to take control of the conversation when the conversation starts to falter or silence comes along.

Now that I think about it, having social anxiety is like having your throat close and your mind go blank when you normally don’t have that problem. It’s like I’m suddenly super aware of myself and everything I do or say. It’s like I feel like a total idiot and can’t get the words out of my mouth, like being perpetually afraid I’m going to say or do the wrong thing.

What it’s like having social anxiety is what it’s like to have anxiety in general—in certain situations, I just feel my heart pounding out of my chest, and I feel like I can’t look at anyone. A good example would be being in a room with people I don’t know who all know each other, like going to a networking mixer or going to an AA meeting that I’ve never been to before.

One of my biggest fears when it comes to social anxiety is speaking. This can mean public speaking, and even though I’m pretty good at speaking in public, especially giving speeches, it still terrifies me. My heart feels like it’s going to shatter my ribcage every time I get up on stage. It also means speaking in groups, or even speaking one-on-one with someone I don’t know.

It all comes down to feeling like I’m just not in a place that’s safe. I think that describes all kinds of anxiety—it’s like I’m under attack. It’s like my stupid-ass lizard brain is telling me there’s danger and that I have to get away, even though there’s no lion or tiger or bear to run away from.

I can only imagine what my anxiety would do in those cases.

What Is It Like to Have OCD? It’s Like All of the Above and Then Some

OCD is generally pretty specific for me. What it’s like to have OCD is like being terrified of specific actions or events that I can’t stop thinking about. For example, I’m terrified that I’m going to hurt my animals accidentally or that they’re going to get hurt. I’m terrified that they’re going to get outside accidentally when I open the door to go into the garage or to go outside. I’m terrified that I’ve left them outside accidentally (especially because this has happened once or twice before).

To alleviate this anxiety, I have to do these little rituals—that’s one of the defining features of my OCD: constant checking.

So I’ll check the door when I open it, and I mean stare at the bottom of the door and say in my head “there are no animals here, there are no animals here, there are no animals here.”

There are other things I’m terrified of, like getting a disease. That means any time I’m near something that could give me a disease (dog poop, cat poop, raw chicken, raw meat in general) I feel like the disease is already on me, so I wash my hands over and over (and any part of my body that touched it, like my wrists and arms) until I’m absolutely certain I got it all, which is, of course, impossible because it’s impossible to see germs.

These little rituals give me temporary comfort and make me slightly less afraid of getting some sort of disease, but they aren’t permanent.

What It’s Like to Have Anxiety—It’s Miserable

Anxiety is miserable, but thankfully, there’s help for anxiety. I’m a drug addict and was heavily addicted to Xanax and other benzodiazepines, which is unfortunate because that’s one of the medications that can help with anxiety, but there are other ways to cope.

One way is through meditation. Another way is through non-narcotic medications. For instance, I’m on Buspar, and that seems to help. I’m also on Pristiq, which is an SNRI, and that seems to help too.

There are other methods of dealing with anxiety, like cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy for OCD. Ultimately, you have to find what works for you.

Do you have bad anxiety? I totally get it. Tell me about it in the comments—I want to hear your story.

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Adam Fout

I'm a speculative fiction and nonfiction writer. I have a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Professional and Technical Communication. I'm a graduate of the 2020 Odyssey Writing Workshop. I'm a regular contributor to Recovery Today Magazine, and I have been published in numerous literary magazines, including December, J Journal, and Flash Fiction Online, among others.

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