What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

Understanding Anxiety in Your Partner or Loved One

What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

Last year, the number of Americans reporting anxiety surged by 62%. Different stressors can cause anxiety to heighten and in the last year, due to the pandemic and growing uncertainty in many areas, it was difficult for people to find ways to take care of their mental health. In many cases, the coping mechanisms people had developed to manage their mental health were no longer accessible, and people struggled to find alternatives. 

Let’s talk about what anxiety might feel like and how you can best support a loved one who struggles with anxiety.

What Is Anxiety? 

Anxiety is categorized as having excessive worries, fears, or intrusive thoughts that make day-to-day functioning difficult. It is normal and healthy for people to be anxious or worried about big changes, moves, or new environments, but when the intensity and duration of the anxious feeling lasts far beyond the stressful activity, it can become a diagnosable medical condition. The professionals at Dakota Family Services can help you identify the source(s) of anxiety and provide treatment options. 

What Does Anxiety Really Feel Like?

Anxiety can feel many different ways to many different people. It is a constant state of being on high alert and being hypervigilant of the environment. Many times, sufferers feel like they have a reel in their brain playing intrusive thoughts and worst case scenarios over and over that they are unable to control, even if the thoughts are irrational. In some cases, these thoughts can escalate to cause panic attacks or render someone unable to participate in day-to-day activities. It can be exhausting and quite debilitating, and far exceeds the normal level of worry everyone experiences. 

Common Anxiety Symptoms 

Everyone experiences anxiety differently, but common symptoms include intrusive thoughts, restlessness, irritability, perseverative thinking, difficulty concentrating, a disruption in sleep, excessive sweating, stomach aches, rapid heart rate, headaches, muscle tension, and fatigue. People may also notice loved ones avoiding certain situations in order to prevent feelings of anxiety as they are too distressing. Again, many people experience these feelings in the presence of a significant threat or a stressful event, but those with anxiety will feel them without the imminent threat, more intensely, and for a longer period of time.

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Why Is Anxiety Not Taken Seriously? 

In general, mental health issues tend to go undiagnosed for many reasons. In part, people believe there is a stigma attached to those who seek mental health services. Some see getting help for these issues as weak. Dakota Family Services strives to lift that stigma, normalize mental health conditions, and provide your loved one with the help they need to feel better. 

Mental illnesses and disorders are complicated to understand. Most people will experience a feeling of anxiousness or fear at some time in their lives and not have a diagnosable condition. It is hard for people to understand how diagnosed anxiety is different—you feel anxious all the time, without the presence of a significant stressor. “Just stop worrying and get over it,” you might say. That is, however, extremely difficult—if not impossible—to do without help. If your loved one suffers from anxiety, they may know they don’t have a “reason” to feel anxious, but that doesn’t stop the worry and intrusive thoughts that can be very frustrating and lead to other mental health conditions.

The caring professionals at Dakota Family Services want to help alleviate symptoms so your loved one can lead a full, happy life by learning how to manage anxiety. We acknowledge that it can be hard to ask for help, and we won’t let them down when they do.

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Types of Anxiety

Anxiety manifests itself in many ways. Some of the most common forms of anxiety are defined below. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) creates excessive anxiousness and worry that goes beyond what would be deemed typical anxiety responses for the situation. The anxiety is present more days than not for at least 6 months, and it is very difficult to control. Due to many people not getting help for their anxiety, it is possible these feelings have been present for years. 

It is also characterized by feeling restless, irritable, or on edge, being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, or sleep disturbances. 

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder creates a fear of criticism, humiliation, or embarrassment in social situations like meeting new people, eating or drinking in front of others, performing in front of people, or being faced with needing to have a conversation with someone else. Again, most people can feel anxious in any of the above situations, but for someone with social anxiety disorder, the anxiety causes extreme avoidance, impairs their ability to participate in normal day-to-day activities, and lasts for six months or more. 

One way to support a loved one who has social anxiety disorder is to ask them if they would like to go out before assuming they will be comfortable in that setting. Also ask if there is something you can do to help alleviate their anxiety or worrying thoughts related to the environment.

Most of all, be patient with them and understand when their anxiety is preventing them from participating in an event or going out.

In children, social anxiety may also be expressed in tantrums, crying, freezing, or failing to speak in social situations. These symptoms might be attributed to something else, too, so having them assessed by a mental health professional will help you figure out how you can best help your child. 

Specific Phobias

 A specific phobia involves an intense, persistent fear of a specific object or situation that's out of proportion to the actual risk. 

Many phobias are developed by having a traumatic experience with the object causing distress, or even hearing about an event that caused a negative outcome. It is possible to overcome a specific phobia in a safe, accepting, and supportive way. The professionals at Dakota Family Services can help! 

Panic Disorders 

A panic disorder is a pattern of recurrent and unexpected panic attacks followed by at least a month with persistent worry about having additional attacks, or a significant change in behavior to avoid having another attack. When someone is having a panic attack, they feel an abrupt surge of intense fear or discomfort.  

Panic attacks can be very scary and may be accompanied by an intense feeling of terror, difficulty breathing, feeling like they are going to die, nausea, chest pain, sweating, trembling, and tunnel vision to name a few. If your loved one is experiencing panic attacks, encourage them to see a mental health professional who can help treat and manage their symptoms.

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Other Conditions Linked With Anxiety 

Finally, it’s common for someone struggling with anxiety to also deal with any of the following disorders.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) creates obsessions or compulsions which may manifest in recurrent and persistent thoughts and urges that cause significant distress. These thoughts can cause repetitive behaviors as a response to the obsessive thought to help prevent or reduce anxiety in a maladaptive way. 


Trichotillomania is a common disorder linked to OCD. Sufferers pull hair from their scalp, eyebrows, or eyelashes. The origin of this disorder is still unknown, but experts speculate that anxiety plays a large role. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur when someone has experienced a traumatic event. Not everyone who has gone through a traumatic experience will develop PTSD, however. Common symptoms include flashbacks or nightmares, distressing memories of the event, or extreme distress when exposed to things that remind the person of the traumatic event. If your loved one has been through a traumatic experience, find a mental health professional to support and help them as they work to heal.

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How to Help Someone With Anxiety 

Helping people with anxiety can be tough, but not impossible. Here are some ways to approach a loved one experiencing anxiety:

Create an atmosphere that will help them feel comfortable. Show that you're present and ready to listen. Listen to what they're saying. Don't undervalue their feelings and experiences. Talking about anxiety can be  difficult. Encourage them that they're free to speak their mind, but don’t force them to speak. Sometimes just being with them, in silence, is all they need. 

Acknowledge that what they are experiencing is difficult, and reassure them they won’t feel like this forever. Sometimes, hearing something as simple as this can give them hope.  

Recommend they see a professional. Therapists and psychologists at Dakota Family Services specialize in working with children, adolescents, and adults experiencing anxiety. 

Ways to Combat Anxiety 

Exercise is a great way to combat anxiety. Go to the gym or walk around your neighborhood. Take a friend with you or listen to music you enjoy. 

Take a walk in nature. Nature is such a great way to de-stress; it heals the mind and soul. This can be part of active meditation and can help you become aware of your feelings—the first step in healing. 

Consider yoga. Yoga helps you take control of your energy and stay flexible. You can do it with your friends and family! 

Progressive muscle relaxation or calming meditations can be helpful. Spotify, YouTube, the Calm app, or Headspace all have muscle relaxation and calming meditation playlists. 

Breathe deeply. Deep breathing is an easy and accessible way to move through big emotions when you have limited time or resources, and it can be highly effective. 

See a counselor who can help you combat your anxiety. Many therapists recommend Cognitive-Behavioral therapy (CBT) to combat anxiety.

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Get Support For Anxiety Today! 

Our specialized team is dedicated to helping everyone understand the question, "What does anxiety feel like?" We care about you and your loved ones, and want to make sure your voice is heard.

In fact, here's what people have to say about us

So, come on in and let us meet you! Together, we can help your entire family thrive. Join us now! 

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Dakota Family Services

This content was reviewed by the mental health clinicians at Dakota Family Services, a group of compassionate, practiced experts providing outpatient care for children, adolescents, and adults with behavioral health concerns.

Dakota Family Services is a highly trusted and respected outpatient clinic providing psychology, psychiatry, and therapy in North Dakota. Our community of compassionate mental health professionals help children, adolescents, and adults improve their overall mental health and well-being through a personalized approach, trusted expertise, and unconditional presence. We offer in-office counseling in Fargo and Minot and online therapy for those who prefer to meet from the comfort of their own home. To schedule an appointment, or to learn more, call 800-201-6495.