12 Pictures That Show the Different Ways Anxiety Manifests

You may be familiar with how difficult it can be to explain what anxiety is actually like.

Sometimes words just can’t accurately portray the surprising ways anxiety emerges, the thoughts and feelings it provokes and the seemingly irrational actions it makes you do.

Sometimes words just aren’t enough. 

So if you’ve found it difficult to explain your struggle with anxiety, or understand someone else’s struggle with anxiety, these photos showing the different ways anxiety affects people might help.

1. The “Butterflies” in Your Stomach

portrait of woman's stomach opening with butterflies emerging

Photo artist Anya Anti knows what it’s like when “anxiety butterflies” invade your stomach, and brought it to life in a surreal self-portrait. “Opening” up her stomach, she reveals what you can’t see from the outside — a relatable concept for people who have anxiety, but appear to look “just fine.”

2. The Isolation of Being Overwhelmed

Anxiety can be overwhelming, and when you’re overwhelmed, it can be hard to focus on anything but your anxiety. So if you feel like you want to shrink into shadows, like the photo featured above, you’re not alone.

3. When the World Feels Like “Too Much”

a woman shields herself from the camera

Savvy W. told The MightyThis is what anxiety feels like for me. Too much happening, overwhelming, so much that I can’t see straight. Everything is breaking around me until I eventually fall into an attack. I’m afraid of the negative or judgmental comments people may make. You’re always so happy, how could you have anxiety? [and] You always seem fine, are ones I get quite a lot.” 

4. Anxiety That’s “Disguised”

Instagram user and blogger T.J. Jourian said in his post, “That look when you’re slowly emerging from a two day anxiety attack masquerading as irrational anger and sadness.”

5. The Aftermath of a Panic Attack

Tia D. told The MightyThis is a picture of me right after I had a panic attack. I never share things like this on Facebook as I feel friends might think I’m doing it for attention and [worry] they won’t believe this is an actual illness. Whenever someone challenges the fact I have anxiety, it just makes the anxiety even worse so I never post pictures like this to avoid the chance of this happening. Most of my friends don’t even know I have anxiety as I have a fear of people not taking it seriously.” 

6. “Flare Ups” That Hide Behind a Smile

woman with hives on her chest smiling

Kalyn L. told The Mighty,“I have chronic hives but I mainly get flair ups when I’m anxious, which happens to be most of the time I’m out in public. Normally I wear high shirts to avoid people seeing them. I took this picture and even though the hives aren’t the main focus of this picture it’s all I can see.”

7. When Anxiety Fuels Compulsive Behaviors

a hand covered in many bite marks

Eric K. told The MightyI lost it a few weeks ago and it has never been this bad. Usually when I start shaking and my head goes ‘crazy’ I bite my hand hard while taking deep breaths. This time it didn’t work, I kept biting and biting. This was during work… I took this picture just because I never been that bad. I won’t post it because I don’t want questions. I don’t like the robot responses people give because they don’t understand. Sadly the only person who calmed the noise has left so the noise since doubled.”

8. When Nail Biting and Skin Picking Become a Coping Mechanism

Anxiety can sometimes lead to nail biting, skin picking, excessively lip biting or chewing and other body-focused repetitive behaviors. It can often start as a simple coping mechanism to distract your mind from anxious thoughts, but soon it becomes habit. So if you want to know how anxious some people are, just check their hands.

9. When Anxiety Feels Like It’s Pulling You Under

Chris C. told The MightySomeone once asked me what it was like dealing with anxiety and depression and if I could explain it. I decided to draw this picture to use as a tool to better explain myself. I said depression and anxiety is like being in the middle of the ocean with no boats in sight, floating with only your nose above the water with a 50 pound dog named anxiety sitting on your chest and a giant hand named depression pulling you under at the same time [when] all you want is to breathe.”

10. When Anxiety Makes It Hard to Breathe

This is my interpretation of generalized anxiety disorder. I often times feel as if a black hand is rising up through my chest and clutching my throat and chest, trying to pull me into an abyss of chaos. I feel like my brain can't function anymore as it goes into overdrive. I can't think clearly and feel like I don't understand what's happening around me. Dealing with anxiety on a daily basis is also quite exhausting which is why I added the shadow under my eyes. GAD is hard to live with and unfortunately many without mental health issues don't understand it. I want people to see what anxiety looks like on the outside as a way to deconstruct all the misconceptions around it. Having GAD does NOT mean that I want to be left alone and isolated. It's hard for me to to go social events but that does NOT mean I don't want friends. It's just harder for me but I'm trying my best everyday! May is mental health awareness month. Please join me in raising awareness by participating in the #insideoutchallenge. I challenge you to show the world what your battle with mental illness looks like so others who fight the same battles know they're not alone, so others will see that mental illness should be treated the same way as physical illness, without any judgment or stigma. ???????????? ________________________________________________ PRODUCTS USED: @kryolanofficial Aqua colours, @nyxcosmetics @nyxcosmetics_canada black liquid liner, vivid halo liquid liner, vivid sapphire liner, @katvondbeauty "Underage Red" everlasting liquid lipstick ________________________________________________ #mentalhealth #mentalhealthmonth #mentalhealthwarrior #mentalhealthmatters #getloud #b4stage4 #mentalillness #anxiety #generalizedanxietydisorder #nyxcanada #nyxcosmetics #bluehair #inspiration #makeup #makeupbyme #makeuplover #makeupartist #makeupaddict #mua #buzzfeed #themighty #mic #bluehair #depression #dontgiveup #wakeupandmakeup

A post shared by YASAMAN GHEIDI ????????/???????? YVR (@lilmoonchildd) on

Makeup artist Yasaman Gheidi, who started the #InsideOutChallenge, said in an Instagram post, “I often times feel as if a black hand is rising up through my chest and clutching my throat and chest, trying to pull me into an abyss of chaos. I feel like my brain can’t function anymore as it goes into overdrive. I can’t think clearly and feel like I don’t understand what’s happening around me. Dealing with anxiety on a daily basis is also quite exhausting which is why I added the shadow under my eyes.”

11. When Anxiety Makes It Almost Impossible to Get Out of Bed

woman crying in bed

Lena M. told The Mighty, “When I took this photo I was supposed to be at work already. I really wished I was, but anxiety didn’t let me leave my bed. I was laying like this for hours trying to convince myself it’s safe to go, but I physically couldn’t leave. I took the photo because I felt like I had to prove my feelings were real even though no one asked for proof. It’s a suffocating feeling you can’t describe. I never posted it because I’d be afraid people would think I did it for attention. I just wish people would understand what it’s like.”

12. When Anxiety Looks Like Being “Put Together”

Comedian Lane Moore shared a picture on her Twitter, saying, “When your anxiety is worse than it’s been in years but no one can tell bc your makeup is that good.”

What does your anxiety look like?

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