Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/23/2023
Everyone experiences the occasional anxiety around things like going on a job interview, giving a presentation or making a big move.
Beyond that, a large number of people experience more frequent anxiety. In fact, the Anxiety & Depression Association of America says that over 40 million American adults are affected by some form of anxiety disorder.
While everyone experiences anxiety differently, there are common symptoms of what anxiety feels like — and looks like. Learning what anxiety feels like can be helpful if you’ve just started experiencing it in your life, but it can also be helpful to read about these common symptoms because it can make you feel less alone.
With that, let’s talk about what anxiety looks like for many people.
Depending on the severity of your anxiety, it can have a huge impact on your mental health and your daily life.
When it comes down to what anxiety feels like, there are many psychological anxiety symptoms that people experience. They include:
Feelings of panic
An inability to feel calm
Remembering or reliving traumatic events
You may feel these things all of the time, or just every once in a while. However they present, feeling anxiety can lower your quality of life. You may start to avoid social situations if you feel intense anxiety. Or you could be so worried about having an anxiety attack that you live in a constant state of worry.
Along with anxious feelings, there are physical symptoms of anxiety that can manifest in your day to day life. Some of these signs of anxiety can actually be noticeable when someone looks at you.
So, what does anxiety look like? Some physical symptoms of anxiety include:
Sweating, including sweaty or cold hands
Chest pain or feeling like you’re having a heart attack (but aren’t!)
It’s worth noting that certain anxiety disorders may look slightly different. For example, a panic attack can be more extreme but doesn’t last forever, whereas GAD can sometimes present as more low-grade but constant.
No matter what type of anxiety disorder you have, physically noticeable signs can be upsetting. You may worry in social situations that people will notice, which can then cause even more worry.
If you have anxiety, it does not mean you are weak or that you have done something wrong. Anxiety disorders occur for a variety of reasons, many of which are totally out of your control.
A common anxiety disorder is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which is diagnosed if someone feels anxious more often than not over the course of six months.
Other types of anxiety disorders include social anxiety disorder (SAD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
While it’s not exactly known what causes anxiety disorders, it is believed that the following things can influence whether or not someone develops them:
Genetics: Often, multiple people in a family may have anxiety disorders. So, it’s possible that they are hereditary.
Brain chemistry: Long-term stress can actually alter your brain chemistry. In turn, this can impact your mood and cause anxiety.
Life experiences: Going through difficult life circumstances or trauma can make anxiety pop up.
In addition to the above-listed reasons of why anxiety disorders may develop, there is the possibility of circumstantial anxiety. As previously discussed, this is when something pops up that can cause nerves or worries — like going on a first date, having a big meeting at work or even traveling to a new place.
Now that you know what it's like to have anxiety, you should know that it is possible to treat it. Whatever type of treatment you choose to address your anxiety, you likely won’t be able to cure it. However, addressing your feelings can help vastly improve your day-to-day life and will give you the tools to manage anxiety whenever it pops up.
To determine the best treatment for your anxiety, you should consult with a mental health professional. They will be able to provide guidance on what may work best for you.
Two of the things they may recommend are:
Talk therapy is one smart way to treat anxiety.
More specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy known to be helpful in treating anxiety disorders.
With this form of therapy, you work with a mental health professional to figure out behaviors that boost or exacerbate your anxiety. After you figure that out, you come up with ways to alter those behaviors.
Exposure therapy is another form of therapy that has been found to be especially helpful in connection to GAD and PTSD. A big part of this form of therapy is confronting things that spike your anxiety with the guidance of a trained mental health provider.
Anti-anxiety medications can help improve what anxiety looks like — as well as what anxiety feels like.
The most common medications for anxietyinclude selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (such as fluoxetine), beta-blockers and benzodiazepines.
Before you take any new medication, you need to talk to a healthcare provider about any medical conditions you have, whether or not you are on other medications and any allergies you have. This information can help your healthcare provider determine what the right medication for you may be and it will inform them on whether or not they need to monitor you for any potential interactions.
A licensed professional will have to prescribe anti-anxiety medication. Hers offers online consultations, which make it easy to find a professional who can assist with both medication and therapy.
If you have ever wondered what anxiety is like, you now know that it can impact how you feel and it can also manifest as physical signs. Both of these things are totally normal. As discussed above, you do not have to live in misery with anxiety.
There are treatments that can really help you manage it. The first step to finding a treatment that works for you is to speak with a mental health provider. He or she will be able to talk to you about your anxiety and figure out ways to approach treating it.