Today is #TimetoTalk day, so here’s what I thought I’d do: talk, and talk about anxiety.
When we sat down for brunch the other day in a gorgeous little cafe in Ilkley, my husband asked me if I was cold. I said no, asked why, and he said “you’re shaking”. When we got back home, him lounging in front of the fire with the dog and me in my PJs with a book and a glass of wine, I thought it would be a good idea to pull together a post on what anxiety feels like.
People tend to get a bit confused when you talk about anxiety. They say ‘don’t worry so much’, and while it can be frustrating to hear that said repeatedly I don’t think it comes from a dismissive place. We associate being anxious with worrying about things, so naturally it’s the first place someone will go when they hear the word ‘anxiety’ if it isn’t something personal and familiar to them.
People also tend to fear the repercussions of talking about mental health. The general feeling is that we should shut up and deal with it, but not only is that unhealthy it’s unfair, and it reinforces the stigma that mental health struggles are something to be ashamed of. But let’s talk about it, because it’s OK not to be OK.
It feels different for us all, I think that’s the first thing I really need to highlight. An anxiety attack can feel different for everyone. The feelings and sensations I mention here may or may not be familiar to you since anxiety affects us all so differently, both physically and emotionally. But I think it’s important to consider what anxiety feels like to you, personally, so that you can begin to recognise the signs of it.
The most visible one for me is that I shake. My hands, in particular. I’ve had weeks where my hands have literally been shaking for days, and that becomes especially noticeable when holding a pen or a cup of coffee. I also notice a drop in temperature, so even if it’s warm outside or in the room I’m in, I feel cold – in particular my hands and feet. I also tend to do things like play with my hair or nails.
Below I’ve listed just some of the things that occur when you struggle with anxiety. Do any of these resonate with you?
The visible signs:
- Shaking, tremors.
- Repetitive hand motions.
- Pale or flushed skin.
- Picking at hair, lips or skin.
- Repetitive or unfocused eye movements.
- Visibly faster breathing.
- Skin rashes.
- Blanking or zoning out, sometimes mid-sentence.
And the invisible ones:
- Racing heart.
- Dry mouth.
- Constricted chest, often described as ‘an elephant sitting on my chest’.
- Faster or slower breathing.
- Drop or spike in temperature.
- Numbness or tingling in extremities.
- Muscle tension.
- Muscle aches (particularly in neck and shoulders).
- Unfocused, lack of concentration.
- Disturbed sleep.
- Disturbed eating patterns.
- Dry skin.
That isn’t an exhaustive list. I’ve barely touched on the emotional side of anxiety, which includes irrationality, mood swings, tearfulness, and anger. But I’d be here all day writing down everything and I know you wouldn’t want to sit and trawl through such a long list. If you want to talk or listen more, there will be someone in your circle who either knows what it’s like to experience anxiety or wants to discuss it more in general so reach out. You never know who will take your hand and want to talk.
Today, try and talk to at least one person you know who might be struggling with their mental health, be it anxiety or depression or anything else. It’s #timetotalk about how we’re doing.