February 20, 2019

What My Anxiety Feels Like and How It Affects Me (A Long, Personal Mental Health Post)

What Anxiety Feels Like

I've been writing so sporadically lately, and I can't really pinpoint a reason for it:

I overthink the things I may want to write about; the thought of writing a post makes me anxious; my weight isn't where I'd like it to be right now; and probably several other reasons. So, I'm going to spill my guts in this post while it is morning time, when I'm feeling my best during the day.

Lately, I have had near-crippling anxiety.

I've had generalized anxiety disorder for as long as I can remember. I was diagnosed when I was originally diagnosed with depression--somewhere around age 9 or 10. Anti-anxiety meds have never really worked for me. When I was diagnosed with and started on bipolar meds in 2017, the anxiety quieted quite a bit, but it was always lurking in the background.

It's so hard to describe what anxiety feels like (for me), but I will try. I know that generalized anxiety disorder is a very common mental illness, so I'm sure a lot of you already know what it feels like. And maybe it feels totally different for you than it does for me! But to someone who hasn't experienced it, it's one of the worst feelings imaginable.

I always feel like I have a large pit in my stomach that just can't be filled. It's like I'm waiting for something bad to happen, because I know it's coming, but logically, there is no reason to feel that way. The reason it's called "generalized" anxiety is because I don't feel anxious about any one particular thing (such as flying on an airplane). It's anxiety over nothing and everything at the same time.

99 Problems Anxiety Meme

Try to imagine something that you are most afraid of. And then imagine that you know you will have to deal with that thing--not today, but tomorrow. How nerve-wracking that feels all day long! My anxiety feels like that.

All. The. Time.

It's a combination of a pit in my stomach and a blanket of dread draped over my shoulders. As I write this, it feels like my stomach is twisted in knots and there is a hand squeezing my throat. I often wonder if other people feel this way, too, when anxiety takes hold.

What Anxiety Feels and Looks Like

I know most of my anxious thoughts are irrational, but my brain is not rational when my anxiety takes over. It's very difficult to explain, but it makes me feel like a bad person in general. Like I'm never doing enough. Like I feel guilty, but I don't have anything to feel guilty for. (Again, I know it's irrational--I'm not looking for validation that I'm not a bad person. Any of my friends or family will tell you that I'm a good person. But my brain is always trying to tell me otherwise.)

I can try SO hard to distract myself, to reason with myself, to try the mental exercises I learned in therapy, and nothing helps. (Well, alcohol was always a good distraction for a few hours; but I quit drinking 51 days ago, and now I don't have that as a temporary fix.)

I keep hoping that the reason for my recent increase (read: sky-rocket) in anxiety is due to the fact that I can no longer have a glass of wine to calm my nerves. If that is the case, I am also hopeful that it is only temporary, and the longer I go without alcohol, the better I will be able to learn to deal with anxiety in healthy ways.

The worst time for me is in the evenings. I cannot calm my mind, and that makes it impossible for me to focus on other tasks. I can't read a book, I can't write in a journal, I can't watch a TV show, I can't even listen to a podcast. The anxiety overrides all of that in my mind, and it usually makes me get so frustrated that I get really emotional.

I wish I was one to enjoy calling a friend to chat with about it, and I have a couple of friends that I know would be more than willing to listen, but even the thought of calling them gives me anxiety (how's that for irony?). Jerry is desperate to help, but there is honestly nothing that he can do. He is the perfect husband and I love him so much for trying. I just wish that there was some way for him to help, because he feels bad.

As I've written before, I thrive on a routine. When I have a routine for my day-to-day life, I feel my best. When something throws that off, it tends to trigger the anxiety. Upcoming travel is the worst of it. It could be a trip that I know I'll have a lot of fun on, usually going to visit a friend that I adore, but the thought of being away from home, out of my familiar space, causes me to dread travel. I've even canceled trips over it several times through the years.

The last time I can remember feeling really good and having minimal anxiety was in 2013. I was training hard for the Chicago Marathon, running six days a week while following Hansons Marathon Method. I know that exercise has been proven to help with anxiety--and I have found this to be true with myself--yet, I have been having a really hard time sticking with anything lately. I was doing well with getting back into a running routine, but it was so easy to skip a day here and there when something came up.

What's my plan from here?

Jerry and I were talking about fitness, and we brought up the Wii Fit U. Remember when I was doing the Wii Fit U challenge and wore the Wii Fit U Meter? Jerry and I had a lot of fun with that. I'm not sure what happened to our meters, but I recently bought some on Amazon and they're less than $9 now.

I got Jerry, the kids, and I each one, so that we can compete with each other in distance. When we sync to the Wii Fit U, it shows on a map how far we've gone based on our steps. Since we've been doing some of the Wii Fit U games together recently, it just adds another layer to that.

Also, I've been thinking about signing up for a race to run. One of the first things I tell people who want to start running is to sign up for a race--it could be as long as six months away!--because it will be a reason to stick with it. If I feel like I'm working toward something, I can set mini goals to get there. I really don't want to get back into racing, but doing a 5K or 10K once in a while would at least keep me training.

I'm not ready to be super ambitious, but I am definitely thinking about setting a fitness goal that feels challenging enough to work for and see if I can do it! I will have to think a bit about what I want that to be, and I may not even declare it here or anywhere else. But it's something to think about.

Anyway, I'm getting off track. My point is just that I know exercise is the most natural way of anxiety relief that I have found to work for me. And if I can just really make myself commit to it, then maybe it will help with the increase in anxiety I've been feeling recently.

I previously wrote a post about The Top 5 Ways I Relieve My Anxiety, and those still ring true. I will also have to add to it, because right now, the biggest one that works for me is actually playing a game on Lumosity. By doing that, my mind doesn't have time to think about anything else. (I like fast-paced games that require 100% concentration).

Of course, I can't play games all day, but it's definitely helpful in the evenings when I want to relax.

(Speaking of having a hard time staying focused, it's now 1:43 PM, and I started this post at 8:00 AM. I really need to get some work done around the house before it's time to get the kids!)

To finish this post, I just want to say that I am sorry for anyone out there who suffers from anxiety. I know how much it sucks. And I hope it helps to know that you're not alone! (Just search for "funny anxiety memes" on Pinterest, and you will feel a million times better already.)


  1. oh my gosh, girl, we must be cut from the same cloth. You described my anxiety to a "T" as well. I was doing really well in January, but then my dad had to have surgery, my grandma (his mother) died the same day, and I caught a really nasty sinus infection, and I've just been totally derailed this month. Sending you good thoughts that you'll be able to snap out of it (and that I will too). <3

  2. It's funny you posted this today because just this morning I started the (audio) book, "Anxious for Nothing" by Max Lucado. My mom recommended it to me and just from the first few minutes, I think it's going to be helpful (I also struggle with anxiety). He's a Christian writer, but I suggest this book not because I discount other-than-prayer approaches to dealing with anxiety. There's definitely a place for medicine, but I think there's a lot of power in faith and prayer and perhaps this book might be worth a read.

  3. Hi Katie- It sounds like you know what you need to do. You probably need to schedule something relaxing in the evenings which is when you would normally have some wine and unwind. What about some gentle exercise? Maybe not running or training at night, but something else like yoga or stretching. I think you've said that yoga is not your thing, but there are lots of kinds and different programs that might be more fun. On another note, years ago I lost some significant weight and after 6 months started having panic/anxiety issues. A therapist told me that I probably always had low-level anxiety and had been medicating it with food and now that I was no longer using the food - the anxiety revved up! Great - I went back to eating :(

  4. HI I use to follow your journey on open diary. I think I commented a few times. I always struggled with my weight and mental illness. I probably quit reading you so much a year or 2 ago...so I'm behind on your journey. You happened to pop up on my Facebook feed. I have been struggling with anxiety lately so I decided to follow the link. I know you couldn't possibly remember a comment from me...but I couldn't begin to tell you what my old account was. I have finally lost the weight but I had help with weight loss surgery because my mental illness took over my life and medications had horrible impact on me.

    I'm glad even if you aren't where you want to be you have kept the majority of the weight off. That you still continue to try new things and push your self. I know people find you inspiring keep up with what you do. Keep being amazing.

  5. So sorry! I too have bipolar... it's hard and has aniexty mixed in...Im I not sure what is worse depression...or aniexty...both you would not wish on your worst enemy. Working out is good...just remember this to shall pass. I wish I knew someone like you that lived near me. I would give you a big hug. Take care and know you are making a difference in the world. I like you have an awesome husband!

  6. I think my daughter just experienced her first panic/anxiety attack..I felt so bad for her and I felt bad that due to my genes she inherited it...

  7. YouTube Marconi union- weightless. Allegedly this song helps with anxiety, my husband swears by it! I'm not saying it fixed me, but it did help me relax a bit on a particularly bad evening.

  8. Always great! from the heart. thank you for sharing. you're certainly not along.

  9. I've started doing 50 lunges first thing when I get up. It takes only a few minutes, so is really hard to talk myself out of doing. I don't know how much it will do to improve my general fitness, but it is a good way to start the day, and it certainly can't hurt.

  10. Thanks for sharing that. I have struggles with anxiety as well. A little different than yours, prior to having my son I had some anxiety issues which manifested in my sleep and caused me to have terrible anxiety dreams every night. Often they were just small silly stuff. Forgotten items, late for appointments. But I could always tell when my stress leveled rose as my dreams would get worse. The worst was the same dream where I was executed. That sounds horrible as I write it, but that was always my red flag that my anxiety was at a high and I needed to do more to manage it.

    I did have this wonderful time right after my son was born that I had no anxiety. It was like all my energy went into this child and all the small stuff didn’t matter anymore. It was bliss.

    Unfortunately that rolled into bigger anxiety about what would happen to my family in the case of a catastrophic event. I had really horrible what if thoughts for a few months last winter.

    Now I’m back to a normal for me which is being aware I have a higher anxiety level than most people and need to manage it. I do think exercise helps, my mental game is best when I take time to relax and read and I meditate. I have a one minute meditation on my watch and I’m always amazed how much one minute of breathing gets me back on track.

    I hope you find your balance again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. You help people just by talking about mental health!

  11. I am so sorry you are struggling.

    Please forgive the unsolicited advice, but if the Wii Fit doesn't motivate you enough, have you ever tried group fitness classes? I know there's anxiety in approaching a new environment, but Jerry could help you check it out, and you might really like it. You have to make sure there are classes that fit the "mom schedule" but that shouldn't be too hard to find.

    The advantages are (1) classes are at a set time you so can't just put it off a little at a time. (2) Once the class starts, you don't have to motivate your self--you just do what they say. (3) It's actually kind of fun--and a low level of social interaction that will likely be pleasant after you get acclimated.

    I know you're a problem solver and you'll get through this rough patch one way or another. (And surely the sun will shine soon which couldn't hurt!)

  12. Hi Katie!
    You are so brave and honest and I can’t thank you enough for that. As someone who has struggled with anxiety my whole life, but it’s really gotten worse the last couple years, it is SO SO comforting to hear others talk about their struggles too. In January of this year, I suffered from debilitating anxiety with multiple panic attacks a few days in a row. The physical nature of it is overwhelming!! And I agree- it is very difficult to explain to someone unless you’ve experienced it yourself. It’s a very scary feeling to feel out of control of your own body and it’s symptoms!! Truly, I’m here if you’d ever want to talk bc I get it!! I’d gladly give you my number if you need support.

  13. I feel so badly that you have to endure this tremendous burden. It sucks. I hope that the Wii competition helps you find some relief. Or perhaps a different med? I don't have any answers. Hope it helps to know many of us out here in your Blogville care about and hope you find a way out.

  14. Hi Katie - wow, thank you for sharing your struggle. It sounds rough! Have you looked for a support group of some type in your area, or even online? I wonder that that would help. Going this alone sounds particularly difficult. Good luck, I hope you find some helpful tools for managing your anxiety.

  15. Another good post! My anxiety is generally more up and down with periods on my own the worst, when my breathing starts to speed up I know I need to take control before I have a panic attack.
    To avoid depression and anxiety I need to do stuff that makes me smile. I recently restarted a team sport I used to do. Its just for fun and I will never be really good at it but it fun for me and good exercise.
    If apps make you happy ... Why not when you have free time. There is a study that shows being positive results in better thing actually happening to you. There is a spot smile google play app where you look for smiling faces between not smiling faces. It helps you feel positive and look for smiles in real life. I'm trying small steps at a time and build up slowly and of course never give up.

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  17. Katie, your vulnerability and ability to describe your experience................amazing! You have no idea how many people you are touching and inspiring along the way.

  18. Thank you for sharing. I feel like that picture is such a perfect description of the looks and feels of anxiety. Sending positive thoughts your way.


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