Rosemary Donahue
June 10, 2016 8:57 am
BSIP/UIG

Anxiety is different for everyone — some of us experience a steady and predictable level of anxiety in our daily lives, and for others, it comes and goes with no warning. Personally, I’ve dealt with both kinds and a number of variations in between, and it often seems like people who haven’t experienced anxiety don’t understand. That’s why I’m always trying to think of ways to explain what I’m feeling that, while they may sound ridiculous, are often more helpful than the usual stammering of, “I’m just… I’m anxious, okay!”

Here are five weird things I’ve said my anxiety is like before, and why:

When your shoe keeps untying itself, even though you SWEAR you’re tying it correctly.

This is SO irritating. You keep trying your hardest to do things right, and no matter what you do, you look down and you’re back where you started. Anxiety can feel this way sometimes. It can feel like no matter how hard you try, you’re still this anxious person who hasn’t learned to cope — but that’s not really true. I’ve had to realize that by #TalkingAboutIt online, starting the journey of taking meds (which isn’t for everyone!), and learning to take care of myself, I’m “tying my shoe” every day — which is my way of continuing the fight.

When you’ve had too much coffee and your heart won’t stop racing.

Okay, this one is kind of cheating, because this can actually induce a real panic attack, but it’s a good way to explain to people who haven’t experienced anxiety what it really means. I personally don’t drink coffee at all anymore, but I still often feel like I’ve just had three iced coffees when I’m in the midst of a panic attack — you get a little sweaty, your heart won’t stop racing, and yet you feel like you should be directing your energy toward something. You almost feel dizzy because of the mixture of feelings inside of you — they’re crashing up against each other with nowhere to go.

When you’re having a nice day at the beach and you suddenly get caught in a giant wave.

This one is the best way, for me, to describe a panic attack. It happened to me once — I was at the beach in San Diego and the waters were calm, and then a storm came rolling in. I was blindsided, and caught in a wave. My body wasn’t necessarily too tired to swim back to shore, but I was so shocked that it happened that it took me a minute to recover. This is what it feels like when, for seemingly no reason, you’re knocked down by your own chemistry. Sometimes, things like anxiety have nothing to do with your outside circumstances — you could be having a perfectly normal day, and then all of a sudden, a wave comes, and you have to fight like hell to survive.

When you’re trying on bras, and the lights are too hot, and every one you try on is just a little too tight.

Okay, trying on clothes is hard enough. The lights in the fitting rooms are often harsh and hot, and the mirrors are weird, but bras can be a whole different experience — when they’re too tight and you breathe in, your breath has nowhere to go, and your chest feels constricted. Of course, it’s always then that you have a hard time finding the clasp, and everything seems to go in slow motion. This is how I feel when I’m put on the spot — my chest feels tight, and I feel like I’m fumbling for something I can’t quite reach, and the lights are just too bright.

When you’re asked to make a toast you’re completely unprepared for in front of people you just met at a large social gathering. Also, you’re underdressed.

This is how social anxiety often feels. When I get invited to things, I often balk — did they really want me to come, or is it out of pity? These are the kind of thoughts I feel, and I worry about whether I’m interesting enough to have friends or be a good guest, and my chest feels tight and I start to sweat. It’s not quite on par with being the center of attention while making a toast, but it sure can feel like it sometimes.

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