Not waving but drowning: healing words by poet Stevie Smith

What does anxiety feel like to you?

In Guest Blog by Elena Langtry

Joshua Wilton is a History undergraduate from Newcastle University, writer, Mental Health advocate and Signpost worker.

Joshua asks what anxiety feels like, and offers ways to cope.

Anxiety can come to anyone in almost any situation or circumstance. This can be due to a lack of sleep, too much caffeine, a bad diet, life stress and from unrecognisable reasons. It is not uncommon in any regard and most people experience anxiety intermittently at the least, that much is certain. But what I want to question is, what does your anxiety actually feel like?

If you are suffering from anxiety I think it is crucial to answer this question. The ability to be as accurate as possible in identifying the feelings of anxiety can help us to anticipate going through the motions. It can equip us in the process of reducing the panic and debilitation that anxiety represents.

I believe that part of the problem is that so few people attempt to precisely describe their experiences and express them to others. Too many people experience anxiety in isolation, hidden and silently. Forming a coherent description and dialogue however, can move your experience and feelings into a compartment, separate from yourself as a person. It can enable you to identify your anxiety as a something external to you like a temporary flu that comes and goes, rather than part of your own identity.

I’m not going to label myself as an anxious person, but I do have anxiety at times. I simply refuse to categorise myself by one feeling. I experience love, confusion, jealousy and joy just as often. But anxiety can be a slippery feeling to grasp. It is not easy to define because it is often brought on from an unidentifiable cause or from a cause that would seem irrational to other people. Perhaps it is a good idea to think retrospectively at instances where you felt anxiety for ‘small’ reasons. How can you best describe the physical sensations? What thoughts were you having? What was the trigger? How was it resolved?

I know that far too often I will experience intense anxiety and then forget about it when it passes. However, I believe it is important to keep track of these instances and reflect upon them to try and make sense of them if possible. By keeping an open dialogue with yourself on your own mental health it might make it simpler to open up a dialogue with people who can support you such a family, friends, therapists, counsellors and mental health workers.

All of this can be used to make us more self-aware and increasingly accepting of the waves of discomfort that can lodge in our minds.

Anxiety is so ubiquitous but so rarely spoken about. Quite understandably, people are insecure about showing supposed ‘signs of weakness’ in a highly competitive world but maybe if we spoke about mental health a little more, we could reap great rewards. Change in this instance certainly comes from below, it is not political or economic but sociocultural. The most notable developments will come from people becoming more outspoken on their own mental health issues and others becoming more aware of such experiences.

Social media has become a bastion for mental health awareness and I wholeheartedly encourage anyone struggling with anxiety to write about their experiences and to deepen the understanding of how anxiety feels like. This would further an open and broad discourse and forge greater connection and empathy between people.

But as a simple start, if you feel comfortable with doing so, attempt to form an understanding of what your anxiety feels like through writing, illustration and conversation. Any mode of expression you are comfortable with.

If we can get to know ourselves better, perhaps we can understand others better, too.

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“My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in weakness”

“My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in weakness”