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“If you’re a human being living in 2017 and you’re not anxious, there’s something wrong with you,” said Sarah Fader, who’s being treated for generalized anxiety disorder, in an interview for a piece in the New York Times.

But what does anxiety, the kind that disrupts life as you know it, and prompts viral hashtags actually feel like?

Here are excerpts from novels, poems, songs, as well as interviews of people describing anxiety and panic attacks (anxiety in the extreme) in their own words:

“It feels like my throat is being choked. My arms start tingling because I’m breathing shallowly and not getting enough oxygen, which of course panics me more.” Anxiety sufferer quoted in the Huffington Post

“Panic. You open your mouth. Open it so wide your jaws creak. You order your lungs to draw air, NOW, you need air, need it NOW. But your airways ignore you. They collapse, tighten, squeeze, and suddenly you’re breathing through a drinking straw. Your mouth closes and your lips purse and all you can manage is a croak. Your hands wriggle and shake. Somewhere a dam has cracked open and a flood of cold sweat spills, drenches your body. You want to scream. You would if you could. But you have to breathe to scream. Panic.” Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

“Had a client with general anxiety disorder,” one user wrote. “She explained the feeling as if she tripped and the moment where you don’t know if you are going to catch yourself or not is how she felt all day long.” Therapist quoted in the Independent.

“All our hearts were the mansions of distress. And no one laughed and none seemed free from care.” Emily Brontë

“Ever been in a spelling bee as a kid? That snowy second after the announcement of the word as you sift your brain to see if you can spell it? It was like that, the blank panic.” Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl

“Every step I take feels a little shaky. It’s such a weird feeling that you wouldn’t know unless you have really bad anxiety…You feel like everyone is looking at you.” Chrissy Teigen quoted in Marie Claire

“Like the experience of warfare, the endurance of grave or terminal illness involves long periods of tedium and anxiety, punctuated by briefer interludes of stark terror and pain.” Christopher Hitchens

“People who suffer from anxiety are very good at hiding it. That can often be a contributor to the anxiety because the gap between the internal perception and the external impression can feel so large. ” Scott Stossel, My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind


Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2017). #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Jun 2017
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