How to Explain Anxiety to Someone Who Doesn’t Have It

If you’ve ever struggled with mental health conditions, you already know how difficult it is to explain anxiety to someone who doesn’t have it. So, here’s how to explain anxiety to someone who doesn’t have it.

To explain anxiety to someone who doesn’t have it, help them understand the feelings being felt and why those feelings are happening. Then, let them know how their behavior affects our anxiety and what they can do to help us with these anxious thoughts.

The people around us may have the best of intentions but still can’t help because they have no idea what anxiety feels like.

Chances are that your friends or a close family member want to help when you’re experiencing anxiety; they just don’t know how.

If you’re feeling panicky or in a rush, you can check out this article on how to stop anxiety fast. Otherwise, keep reading to learn exactly how to explain anxious feelings to someone who doesn’t have it!

How to Explain Anxiety to Someone Who Doesn’t Have It: 4 Steps

Step 1: Explain What Anxiety Is

Let’s start with the basics by explaining what anxiety is.

Everyone experiences anxiety and it’s actually a completely normal human emotion. For some people though, anxiety can become so overwhelming that it interferes with their daily lives. There are many different types of anxiety, and the issue is far more complicated than regular nervousness or irritability.

To our evolving ancestors, anxiety worked as a sort of internal “smoke alarm” alerting them to potential danger.

Since lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!) were very real threats back then, anxiety literally kept these early humans alive. This threat detection system also programmed most of us with a healthy fear of heights, crowds, and creepy crawlies… amongst other things!

Imagine it: It’s 35,000 years ago.

You’re foraging for berries in the forest when you feel a hand grab your shoulder to stop you. Surprised, you look down and realize you almost stepped off a 300ft cliff. Seeing the sheer drop, you feel the mental and physical symptoms of anxiety kick in as your stomach turns and your heart rate quickens.

Your brain screams, “STEP BACK!”

Our modern environment is not usually as dangerous for us as it was for our early ancestors. Nonetheless, these defense mechanisms remain in place. Even when we know logically that something like skydiving is quite safe (statistically speaking!), our genetic and ancestral fear of heights will still try to keep us safe by letting us know that something bad will happen.

Just about anything you can feel anxious about will either have roots in our evolutionary past or previous personal experiences.

Even if the reasons we’re feeling anxious are not obvious, they’re present. Of course, sometimes we may also just be feeling generally anxious due to shortcomings in our daily routines like exercising and maintaining a healthy diet.

Everyone experiences some type of anxiety to some degree.

Explain why your anxiety might seem irrational to others. It’s possible that someone may be unable to relate to your fear of public speaking, for example, yet they have an equally irrational fear of ladybugs.

Just because something doesn’t trigger someone else’s anxiety doesn’t mean it’s not real for you. Your brain is wired differently, and that’s okay!

This brings us to our next step…

Step 2: Explain Why You are Feeling Anxious

With so many different types of anxiety disorders and phobias, it’s hard for anyone to guess what makes you anxious.

Take a moment to explain why you are feeling anxious to someone.

Share what triggers your anxiety. For some people, anxiety is triggered by specific situations, such as public speaking or flying on an airplane. For others, it may be more general, such as feeling overwhelmed by work or school. You’d be surprised by how others may relate.

Help them understand your anxiety. Does it fit into one of these categories?

  • General Anxiety – Random, general anxiousness characterized by feelings of tension with no clear cause
  • Social Anxiety Disorder – Anxiety related to interacting with, being around, or being in front of other people
  • Phobias – When a specific phobia or thing is the source of seemingly irrational fear or anxiousness. But social phobias can combine this and social anxiety too.
  • PTSD – Post-traumatic stress disorder is recurring episodes of anxiety following an extremely traumatic event
  • Panic Disorder (panic attacks) – Short, extremely intense (and sometimes random) bouts of anxiety that may include hyperventilation or fear of impending doom

Since we all have different experiences with anxiety, it can be difficult to understand what’s happening in someone else’s head. Learning how to explain what makes us anxious can help others better understand what’s going on with our nervous system.

This step is especially important if you’re explaining anxiety to someone who is actually triggering your anxiety. Sometimes, people who don’t have anxiety will have no idea you’re struggling with anxiety at all.

Hopefully, confiding in them about this will help them to fully understand and adjust their behavior to accommodate your mental health needs.

Step 3: Explain How Your Anxiety Feels (Symptoms)

Most importantly, as you explain your anxiety to someone who doesn’t have it, try to explain how anxiety feels for you. Anxiety disorders affect everyone differently.

Some common physical and mental anxiety symptoms include:

  • Racing heart
  • Rapid or shallow breathing (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating
  • Sense of impending doom or fear of dying
  • Sleep issues and restlessness
  • Gastrointestinal issues or the “butterflies in the stomach” sensation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Persistent overthinking or behavioral changes

Anxiety affects people differently.

There’s a good chance you’ve even experienced physical or mental anxiety symptoms that aren’t listed here. It’s important to remember that anxiety can feel completely different for you than it does for someone else.

In fact, sometimes the racing heart symptoms could feel like chest pain or even a heart attack! So when in doubt, talk to your doctor or maybe even call 911; better to be safe than sorry.

Try to communicate your feelings.

Focus on sharing your unique emotional response to anxiety. Even though someone may struggle to fully understand anxiety, you want to explain it as best you can. This way, they can help you find solutions to ease your anxiety symptoms and provide better support.

To minimize these symptoms, it’s probably worthwhile to learn some effective breathing exercises for anxiety.

Step 4: Explain How Someone Can Help Your Anxiety

Many people simply don’t understand what mental health issues like anxiety and depression are.

They misunderstand, thinking that anxiety is just “nervousness” or depression is just “feeling sad.” When they talk to someone with anxiety, they may think phrases like “just calm down” or “it’s not so bad” are helpful (when, of course, they are just frustrating!).

Yet still, you’re never alone in coping with day-to-day anxiety.

Your loved ones want to help. They just don’t know how since they may have never experienced anxiety themselves or experienced it differently.

Here are some tips to help others help you:

  • Share how you manage your anxiety. Do you like to meditate or do yoga while anxious? Is there an exercise or breathing technique that helps you take your mind off things? Maybe they can remind you to do these things or even do them with you.
  • Let them know that you’re working on managing your anxiety. Managing anxiety takes time and effort, but it’s worth it. With treatment, most people with anxiety can learn to control their symptoms and live happy productive lives. Just knowing that you’re doing your best will make them less likely to overreact, judge, or misunderstand your anxiety.
  • Encourage them to be supportive. When you’re dealing with anxiety, having a supportive network of family and friends is crucial. Let your loved ones know what they can do to help you, whether it’s patiently listening or helping out with practical tasks.
  • Tell them what you need from them. Maybe there’s something they can do to immediately help you relax, whether it be listening to you vent or just giving you something to laugh about. Or perhaps they’re doing too much when you just need space and alone time. Don’t be afraid to talk about anxiety; help them help you.

True friends and family will always want to help, even if they don’t know what it’s like to live with anxiety themselves. If they’re doing the wrong thing, be patient and gently correct them. Tell them what anxiety is like for you and how they can best help you with it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do people not understand anxiety?

I’ll be honest. While my ex-wife and 2 older daughters struggle with anxiety and depression, those are not things I have ever struggled with. As such, I did initially have a hard time understanding their conditions.

I especially had a hard time understanding why they couldn’t just pull themselves out of it.

In a way, it would be akin to me not understanding how a blind person perceives the world. Unless you’ve experienced anxiety issues, it is going to be hard to fully comprehend.

So, for the person who struggles with anxiety in their daily life or in social situations, the best way to explain it to someone who doesn’t fully understand, is to equate it with something relatable in their life.

Almost everyone has something they fear or that makes them nervous.

It could be a fear of heights, spiders, confined spaces, etc. Figure out what that is for the person you are trying to explain your feelings of anxiety to and then use that as an example.

Can anxiety make you not understand words?

As a general rule, anxiety doesn’t typically cause issues with either being able to speak or understand others. However, when panic sets in, sufferers do have a hard time focusing on what others may be saying and may struggle to get their own words out.

But it’s not typically neurological the way it is with conditions such as dysarthria.

That being said, if the anxiety is obsessive-compulsive disorder or social anxiety, those do tend to have a larger impact on speech and can lead to slurred speech.

But even those conditions do not typically lead to not being able to understand words.

Can you be anxious and not realize it?

In many cases, people with mental illnesses such as anxiety disorder may not realize what they are experiencing it. But generally speaking, they will know something is going on that is out of the ordinary.

For example, the person with social phobia will no doubt be aware they have become uncomfortable when they walk into a room full of strangers.

Even if they haven’t been diagnosed or officially had an anxiety attack, they will be aware of their fight or flight response kicking in.

So, of course, when someone feels those kinds of feelings, it is a good idea to look for mental health professionals who can help.

While they may prescribe anti-anxiety medication, it also depends on the type of anxiety disorder, how often the person feels those feelings, and the overall amount of anxiety they are reporting.

There are many different ways of treating anxiety, including many healthy ways that don’t have the side effects associated with certain medications.

Some of those ways can include:

  • Deep breath work
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Martial Arts

But always talk with your doctor before starting or stopping any treatment plan or medication.

What's normal anxiety -- and what's an anxiety disorder? | Body Stuff with Dr. Jen Gunter

Final thoughts

For all the troubles anxiety may bring, there are many ways we can decrease anxiety on our own.

First off, you should always seek professional help if needed.

Anxiety is no joke; it can mess up your whole life if you let it. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a great way to talk to someone who understands rather than trying to explain anxiety to someone who does not. With a good therapist and repeated visits, you might even find your anxiety goes away entirely over time.

There are many other effective ways to manage anxiety in everyday situations, including medication and self-care techniques like relaxation and exercise. The best solution will vary from person to person; it’s something you’ll learn through time and experience.

Whatever path you choose, just know that you’re never alone. You’ve got this!

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

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