Can you think of a time when you felt that you were in danger?
Physiologically speaking, when your body senses danger, it goes through steps to ensure that you’re prepared to protect yourself. Your adrenaline starts pumping, your heart rate increases, your pupils dilate, your brain starts searching for whatever imminent danger caused these responses, and it starts strategizing, preparing you for battle.
Now imagine that you feel that way constantly for no apparent reason.
Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’ve experienced anxiety at some point in your life. It’s normal to feel anxious about a job interview, a test, a first date, a major life change. Some call it “the jitters” or “butterflies.” Really, though, it’s anxiety. Feeling anxious in those moments is completely natural. This is the body’s response to stressors; it’s our innate ability to find the means to survive in uncomfortable situations. Those are the moments of anxiety that people often describe as nervousness.
When you have an inexplicable feeling that something terrible is about to happen, that’s also anxiety. Overthinking every social interaction, trying to solve problems that don’t exist, anticipating shortcomings or failures—that’s anxiety. Our brains and nervous systems were not built to sustain that level of anxiety for prolonged periods.
The difference between feeling nervous and feeling anxious is that those feelings of nervousness have a very logical and reasonable cause. There is something triggering that survival instinct. You know that the feeling will pass once the danger passes, so it’s tolerable.
Anxiety often doesn’t seem to have an immediate source. It just kind of exists for no clear reason. If you’re able to pull yourself out of it for long enough to explore what you’re feeling, sometimes you can identify a trigger that was likely the product of trauma; however, there’s not always a clear answer as to what is causing your anxiety. If there’s no reason for it, then there’s no way to know if the feeling will ever end.
What makes anxiety so frustrating and difficult to manage is that it often feels unpredictable. If you’ve lived with anxiety for long enough, you’re aware of your more common triggers, but sometimes the anxiety takes you by surprise. It’s those unexpected moments that make you question yourself—is this anxiety, or is it something I should really be concerned about?
For some people, anxiety presents outwardly. Maybe you become overly emotional about seemingly minor things. Maybe you try to control everything and everyone around you in an attempt to limit the unknown. For others, anxiety is internalized. Maybe you withdraw, consumed by the thoughts spiraling inside your head. Maybe you try to share your anxious thoughts, but you’re met with disdain, so you keep it to yourself instead.
Anxiety may cause you to feel like you’re a burden to the people in your life. You know that your anxiety doesn’t make sense, and the more you try to make sense of it, the worse it gets. It’s a cycle you continuously feel stuck in, and it’s exhausting.
Sometimes it feels impossible to ask for help because you don’t even know what the problem is, so how could you expect anyone else to help you solve it?
So no, anxiety is not just feeling nervous. Anxiety is questioning yourself constantly. Anxiety is wondering what is true and what is simply a product of your anxiety. Anxiety feels like a never ending, unsustainable way to live.