11 Images That People With Anxiety Will Understand

The most common mental illness in the U.S. is anxiety disorder, with 40 million people currently diagnosed. This number does not include the many people who are either misdiagnosed or never seek help. So, it's pretty massive — but that also means it's broad and hard to pin down. What does anxiety mean to individual people? What does it feel like? What does it look like?

Since spreading a greater understanding about mental illness is one of the most important ways to bring mental health to more people, we decided to interview a handful of readers and R29 staffers about what anxiety really feels like to them. We received a wide range of responses, from jarring, graphic imagery to descriptions of persistent undercurrents.

One described it as their "whole psyche fracturing and bubbling like lava."

"It's like a hot, muggy type of suffocation," wrote another respondent.

"It's a perpetual electricity running through my chest, scrambling my thoughts into loud static," wrote another.

To illustrate a handful of these narratives, we tapped photographer Sam Cannon and prop stylist Marissa Herrmann. Together, they created eerie GIFs that show, rather then tell, the visceral feelings that anxiety provokes.

Ahead, 11 descriptions of anxiety, along with accompanying visualizations.

If you are experiencing anxiety and are in need of crisis support, please call the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.