How Anxiety Feels

Those who have not experienced anxiety often ask how it feels. Does it feel like worry, fear, or panic? And what causes anxiety? Are we born with a predisposition to anxiety? Or does life make us anxious?

Some people are simply more anxious than others. It’s in their genes. But anxiety is experienced by all of us. When we experience anxiety, our brains are telling us that we need to be careful, on alert, as there might be a threat.

The problem with the anxiety-prone is that they feel this heightened state even when there are not real threats.

Anxiety often starts with a thought. You think something that causes you concern, then you worry about the something you thought, then you feel the worry as fear in your body. Mild to moderate anxiety often is felt in the area of the stomach. Many people describe the feeling as a pit or a ball in their stomach. One very creative woman described her anxiety this way.

“It’s like I have this swollen tennis ball stuck in my stomach, one that was left out in the rain, then baked in the sun. The ball’s really big, because it got swollen by the rain, and it’s really hard from being in the sun. And it’s stuck and it won’t move.”

When anxiety is more severe, people often experience it in the chests as well as the stomachs. They say they feel their hearts racing.

When anxiety is severe and comes on suddenly, it is referred to as a panic attack. Ask anyone who has ever experienced one and they will tell you, panic attacks are intense.

What do panic attacks feel like? “Don’t ask and maybe you will never have one,” says David.

If only it were that simple.

People who experience panic attacks often report racing hearts, sweaty palms, a feeling of lightheadedness or dizziness, and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms include: tingling or numbness in the hands, trembling, perceptual disturbances, temperature changes, and a terrifying feeling that something awful is about to happen. It is not uncommon for someone having a panic attack to believe she is having a heart attack. Panic attacks typically last about ten minutes, although they can last longer. If you ride out your panic attack, you will find that your anxiety crests, then falls. They are not physically dangerous, but they are scary.

Many people who have panic attacks end up in emergency rooms because they fear they are having heart attacks. Do not feel funny if this has happened to you. It is certainly better to rule out a heart attack than to take a chance.