Anxiety affects more than 8 million people in the UK – making it the most common form of mental illness. Yet, despite its prevalence and highly treatable nature, there is still a deep-rooted stigma around the condition, making it difficult for many to talk about it.
However the Twitter hashtag #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike is attempting to combat that – and has already prompted thousands to open up online about their experiences.
It started two months ago when Sarah Fader, who founded the mental health organisation Stigma Fighters, tweeted about the anxiety of waiting for someone’s text message response.
The 37-year-old New Yorker, who experienced her first anxiety-fuelled panic attack when she was 15, wanted people to understand what she and so many others go through on a daily basis, and so she added the hashtag to a post.
Two months later, #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike is still going strong on social media.
Speaking to Bustle, Fader explained: “I wanted to destigmatize and normalize anxiety [...] People with anxiety are often depicted as dramatic exaggerators and I wanted to debunk that.”
Thousands of tweets have since been tagged with the hashtag, with many social media users welcoming the opportunity to talk about their anxiety.
And, as has been made apparent, no two experiences of the mental health issue are the same.
Here are just a handful of the plethora of posts:
“Any tiny mistake you make, tiny misunderstanding, or regret turns into weeks of no sleep [and] beating yourself up.”
“Anxiety is feeling like you forgot to do something important. All. The. Time.”
“Literally second guessing every [single] thing you do and the intentions of everyone you [know].”
“Being exhausted but unable to rest because your heart and brain are running a marathon.”
“Anxiety is the cold hand that grabs your throat in the middle of the night.”
“When you hold your breath under water and struggle to reach the surface. Burning lungs and desperation.”
“Wanting to talk to people but knowing you’re just going to make a fool of yourself.”
“Finding even the littlest changes in people’s behaviour and thinking they hate you.”
“Chest pain, numbness, fear, confusion… we are not making it up or being dramatic.”
“My brain is always buzzing too fast and won’t be quiet. Ever. It just keeps going like an engine in my head.”
As Fader points out in a piece for The Huffington Post, the hashtag did more than educate others about what anxiety really feels like – it has formed a sense of solidarity among people who often feel isolated by their disorder.
“Anxiety is an isolating illness,” she said, “and I wanted to form a community of fellow anxious people.”
It is incredibly difficult for sufferers to put anxiety symptoms into words – and it is often mistaken by others as nothing more than a general state of worry.
However true anxiety is far more distressing than this, usually involving a sense of danger or threat, of not being able to cope with what might happen – a “nameless dread” that provokes such physically real symptoms that it can be debilitating.
The severity of these symptoms can vary from person to person, and can include:
- A sense of dread
- Feeling constantly “on edge”
- Difficulty concentrating
- Shortness of breath
- Panic attacks
- Heart palpitations
While anxiety can last for long periods of time and cause serious distress, it can be effectively treated through counselling, medication and self-help techniques, though not all work for all sufferers.
Stephen Buckley, from the mental health charity Mind, says: “A lot of people don’t understand what anxiety is and how serious it is. It can have a devastating impact on their life.
“But it is a very common problem and people shouldn’t feel hopeless. With the right help things will get better.”
Hopefully, with #ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike opening up more conversations about the ‘taboo’ topic of mental wellness, more people will feel able to speak up about their own battles and seek the help that they need.
If you suffer from anxiety, experts advise that you visit you GP to explore the number of treatments available.
You can find out more information – including a series of approved self-care tips – on the Mind website.