By Jamie Jones,
When you see a news story about anxiety, most of the time it’s illustrated with a photo like this:
A grey-lit portrait of someone clutching their head in their hands or biting away at their fingernails with a nervous look on their face. In reality, a lot of people with an anxiety disorder look perfectly natural on the outside while dealing with their symptoms.
To help us better illustrate what anxiety really looks like, we asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to share a photo of a time they were dealing with anxiety.
1. “I’m just sort of floating around watching myself from a distance.”
“When my anxiety gets really, really bad it often leads to disassociation where my mind and body seemingly become separate. I’m there, but I’m not present, I’m just sort of floating around watching myself from a distance and that’s something that was going on during my graduation. I was so nervous about the whole thing, I also (as per usual) felt like I didn’t deserve it somehow or I’d tricked my way into graduation.”
– Maggy van Eijk, BuzzFeed
2. “It’s exhausting having to cope with my brain always convincing me something is wrong.”
“This was taken during a family trip in Europe. I looked happy and as normal as ever, but the truth is that I ended up crying in the shower almost every night during the trip. It’s exhausting having to cope with my brain always convincing me something is wrong and being unable to push the thought away.
“People say I’m quiet, uptight, and unapproachable. No. I desperately want to make friends, but the crowd is scary. Strangers are scary. And when a panic attack hits, it’s like the world buzzing and I’m just standing still, waiting for it to end either in a toilet stall or at the street corner. It sucks to not be able to control your thoughts and body when you are supposed to be in charge of them.”
3. “It feels like every muscle in my body is contracting into a tiny ball in the middle of my chest.”
“This picture was taken on a ‘treat yo self’ day and in the same hour that I had an anxiety attack in the bathroom of a restaurant. Anxiety disorders look like the girl sitting next to you at brunch. Anxiety disorders look like me. Anxiety looks like a lot of things – stressing about an exam, etc. – but an anxiety disorder looks very different than the passing feeling of anxiety.
“I have GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), a panic disorder, and intermittent depression, which manifests itself through my panic disorder. When I have a panic attack it feels like every muscle in my body is contracting into a tiny ball in the middle of my chest. I can’t breathe, I sob, shake, and start thinking the same thought over and over. It really feels like I’m dying. There are days when I literally can’t pick myself up off the floor, I have to call and have assistance from friends or family. I can’t have a regular job, I’ve had to move in with my parents in the past, and people don’t think my illness is real. Not even my health insurance.”
4. “Not a day goes by where I don’t feel some effects of anxiety.”
“What you can’t see in this photo is that just the day before I’d had my first full-on panic attack in almost a year. It was taken the day after a large social gathering and if there’s one thing that really brings out my anxiety it’s feeling lost amongst a crowd of 100-plus people.
“I first started experiencing anxiety at the age of 14. At first it was just a creeping sense of dread and unease when I was in an uncomfortable situation, but it gradually grew to the point where panic attacks made it impossible for me to be in a room with more than a dozen faces. Over a decade later and not a day goes by where I don’t feel some effects of anxiety – it’s forever creeping beneath the surface with the potential to erupt – but every day I get more experienced at overcoming it.”
– Jamie Jones, BuzzFeed
5. “It lurks behind you all the time, even when you feel so good about life.”
“I was actually in a slump mentally when I took this photo. I was afraid for my health and my career, that dropping out of college was a fatal mistake. Anxiety isn’t just being a trembling bundle of nerves. Like depression, it lurks behind you all the time, even when you feel so good about life.”
6. “I live with anxiety on a day-to-day basis.”
“This photo was taken in 2013, and I’m using it because it’s still one of about three photos from the past three years I didn’t take myself that doesn’t make me cringe. I wish I could recreate it but trying to figure out how I managed to look effortless and fun just stresses me out even more. I was on holiday, and I still remember the pressure of trying to be happy as much as or more than I remember moments like this photo, where I actually was.
“I live with anxiety on a day-to-day basis, and at the time of this photo it was exacerbated by the damning deadline of my master’s thesis, the fear of whether or not my new relationship was strong enough to weather the upcoming expiration of my visa (or even to weather the holiday, our first solo trip together), and a lack of job security afterward when all was said and done. Three years later, those problems are solved but my constant discomfort around other people, and in my own skin, hasn’t been.”
– Chelsey Pippin, BuzzFeed
7. “Because most haven’t seen my anxiety at its worst, they don’t seem to understand that it exists.”
“I’m at Pride in this photo, and although I had an amazing time, I was so anxious the whole day due to the crowds. No one seems to understand that when I cancel plans last minute or don’t turn up to uni for days on end it’s not because I’m lazy or just can’t be bothered, it’s because I can’t leave my room, let alone the house.
“Only about three people have ever seen me in the middle of a full-blown panic attack, so because most haven’t seen my anxiety at its worst, they don’t seem to understand that it exists.”
8. “Anxiety keeps me from doing the things I want because it makes me feel like I’m a burden to everyone.”
“Every day is a battle for me. The amount of pressure and guilt I put on myself is unbearable. Anxiety keeps me from doing the things I want because it makes me feel like I’m a burden to everyone. The photo of me is when I went to Finland with friends. I may look happy but secretly I was dying inside thinking I am a waste of space.”
9. “Behind the smile, the makeup, and the happy façade, I am still broken.”
“I was diagnosed with severe anxiety my freshman year of college. I was tearing myself up over grades, food, and especially my friendships. I had joined a sorority and I was constantly questioning whether anyone actually wanted me there – I still often battle these thoughts two years later.
“Behind the smile, the makeup, and the happy façade, I am still broken and I crave love and support. While I have a sisterhood that provides all of this and more, the anxious thoughts still pull at me and that is my reality for now.”
10. “I’ve always had anxiety, but it got worse while I was in college.”
“The picture above is me trying to convince a friend I was having an OK day, even though I had been having anxiety issues since I woke up that morning. I’ve always had anxiety, but it got worse while I was in college.
“I couldn’t walk through a group of people without getting shaky and sweaty, leaving class to go to the bathroom gave me anxiety, and being late to sports games or classes scared me because I couldn’t deal with that many people looking at me. I had to listen to music to cross campus because the silence of walking by myself made me so nervous that I’d get to class sweaty and shaking, and I hated the dining hall because that many people in such a small place could throw my anxiety into overdrive.
“Luckily my college had counseling services, and speaking with a psychiatrist every week really helped me out. My anxiety isn’t as bad now, but I still avoid crowds and being the center of attention.”
11. “It has gotten progressively worse to the point where I needed to start taking medication.”
“This picture was taken before I attended a swing dance at my school a few weeks ago when I was in the middle of an anxiety attack that had lasted almost all day. I had decided to go to the swing dance to see if it would help distract me from my anxiety.
“I have struggled with anxiety since I was in the fourth grade, but since I started college, it has gotten progressively worse to the point where I needed to start taking medication. Just because someone looks fine on the outside does not mean that they aren’t suffering from a mental illness.”
12. “You feel like you’re either a pretender or a fraud.”
“No matter where you go or who you’re with you feel like you’re either a pretender or a fraud. You don’t feel comfortable, you don’t feel settled, you don’t feel authentic, you don’t feel…right. When the world divides by two you’re always the remainder. Even in a group of friends you’re the always the one on the outside of the conversation.”
13. “It becomes a vicious circle.”
“I’ve had depression and anxiety for two years now: The most frustrating part for me is trying to pretend everything is okay on the outside because it makes me anxious and it becomes a vicious circle.
“This summer I volunteered at my university’s experimental unit where they have an agricultural and animal segment. It helped me realise what made me happy and what calmed me down was being surrounded with nature and my dogs. I haven’t since spent a day without trying to connect with both.”
14. “I was just shut down and told to get over it by a lot of people.”
“I’ve had social anxiety and panic disorder since I was 12. The first couple of years of getting to grips with it meant that I was agoraphobic: I didn’t even leave the house to go to school. I think from the outside, a 12/13-year-old refusing to leave their bedroom was probably pretty standard, and when I opened up about it, I was just shut down and told to get over it by a lot of people.
“On the day this was taken I was walking when somebody stopped me from the local newspaper to take a photo of my outfit and ask me questions about my style. In this photo I was 18, and I was still finding it really difficult to go outside and do things. I remember my heart jolting and stuttering horribly. In the picture I’m smiling, but in my head I’m actually screaming ‘OH GOD, WHY ME?!’
“I’m 22 now and I run a blog about my experiences with mental health issues. I still find myself avoiding social situations and struggling with panic attacks, but the people in my life now are much kinder and supportive about it. Something I don’t think people realise about anxiety is that it’s not always an outward experience; a lot of it happens inside with nobody knowing. ”
– Victoria Kimber via email