Thinking Outloud

What Anxiety Feels Like

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Written by Jenn

I’ve struggled with how to express this properly, and sometimes it doesn’t come out quite right, but I want to explain how it feels to have an anxiety disorder. Not the minute stress from everyday life that causes momentary panic and makes your heart skip a beat, but the engulfing feeling of your body attacking itself from within. Extreme panic associated with stressful situations or PTSD, and even sometimes an attack without a known trigger. This is my struggle.

The way I can best describe what happens is this: imagine you’re riding on the outside of a train, hanging on by just a rail or a handle. Now you feel the wind rushing as you struggle to hang on, to stabilize, to breathe. You start to shake, you can tell the train is about to crash, but you don’t know how or when. You’re just anticipating this implosion of train and death, and your mind and heart race. It’s out of control now, you can’t think about anything else. Someone telling you to calm down at this point basically induces rage because you’re in full on panic, and YOU KNOW the train is going to crash! How do you stop this? Start breathing. Can’t breathe? Close your eyes. Not working? It’s getting worse (even typing this is causing my heart to race.).

I don’t possess the ability to simply “calm down” during an attack. I freeze, I shake, I cry. I’m not sad, I’m scared and overwhelmed. Everyone experiences panic attacks differently, similar as they might be. What works for you may not work for someone else since your brain and body chemistry differ from person to person. I don’t want pity, I just want understanding. When I react it’s because I’m overwhelmed. I’m not able to process my thoughts in a way that is healthy so I section it out, dealing with one piece at a time. That means cutting people and things out for a while to regroup. I’m not being rude or ignoring you, I’m trying to survive and not say things I’ll later regret.

When I hear the “suggestions” of what I should do (especially from people who do not understand this disorder), I cringe. I’ve tried exercise, I’ve tried therapy, I’ve been on medications and supplements, and if you name it I’ve probably done it. And yes, OF COURSE I have prayed about it. Why that hasn’t worked? Ask God and stop blaming me. The implication that I haven’t started there first is insulting, frankly, and it makes me want to punch you. In the Bible, Paul explains a thorn in his side that he’s asked God to take away…well, I’ve come to accept that this is mine.

For those who claim that I don’t need a doctor or medication, I submit to you that illnesses of all kinds are the result of a fallen world. This includes mental illnesses. God also created the science that gives us doctors and medicine. These are good things, and as we know all good things come from God.

I hope this sheds light on what people with anxiety deal with and helps you relate.

If you also deal with this, I encourage you to talk about it. I can relate; post a comment. I’ll respond.

Thanks for reading, we would love it if you'd share your thoughts in the comments below Transcend Church Harrisburg Also, come check out the Church behind this site at 1801 State St. Harrisburg.


  • I can very much relate to this. I have only had a few attacks. I have generalized anxiety disorder, where I worry about life in general, or even if I’m doing the right things, or pleasing people in my life. In my mind I know I shouldn’t worry about these things, but I suppose that is the struggle. It’s hard to make the anxiety stop. I have never taken medication for fear of side effects. I am trying to find ways to lessen my anxiety. A lot of times just breathing and being alone for a few minutes helps.
    Thank you for educating people on what people with anxiety go thru. I believe mental health is very important and should be taken more seriously by the world.

  • Thanks for sharing your experiences. Although I don’t suffer from anxiety attacks, I enjoy an opportunity to learn about them from someone who knows firsthand. What then, do you suggest I can do to support a friend during an anxiety attack?

    • Hi Tiffany, that’s a great question and I’m glad you asked it. The most important thing you can do for your friend is be available. Be with them, if they want you to. Listen, but don’t try to fix the problem unless they specifically ask for a solution. Pray for them and let them know they aren’t alone. Sometimes friends will back away when they notice a person having a breakdown, which can cause more feelings of fear and rejection. Let your friend know you’re available, even if you’re not actively doing anything else. It is a huge help and comfort to someone struggling with anxiety. – Jenn

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