How To Explain Anxiety To Someone Who Doesn’t Struggle With It

How To Explain Anxiety To Someone - Prairie Health

What Is Anxiety?

Before we dive in and discuss how to explain anxiety to someone who doesn’t struggle with it, it’s important to gain an understanding of what anxiety actually is.

Healthline describes anxiety as the body’s natural reaction to stress, manifesting as fear or apprehension of upcoming events such as a job interview or a speech. When feelings of anxiety become elevated and extreme and interfere with daily life, this is what is referred to as an anxiety disorder.

If you are struggling with anxiety, there are many resources available to help you cope with anxiety. You can also help yourself with solutions such as self-care, breathing techniques, and mindfulness.

Anxiety disorders can take many forms, such as social anxiety, panic disorder, and GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), which have different symptoms and triggers.

So to properly discuss anxiety, we must first define anxiety, its types, causes, and symptoms:

Causes Of Anxiety

There can be several causes of someone’s anxiety, perhaps all occurring at once. Some causes may even relate to other causes. These causes include:

  • Stress caused by environmental factors– for example, work, family and relationship problems, or financial issues.
  • Stress caused by substance withdrawal – substance withdrawal can have a devastating effect on the body, and substance misuse can cause stress in other parts of life such as work and family life.
  • Genetic predispositions to anxiety – if you come from a family with a history of anxiety this can make you more likely to develop an anxiety disorder yourself.
  • Brain chemistry – for some people, an imbalance of hormones or electrical activity in the brain is implicated in anxiety.
  • Medical factors – issues with recovering from surgery, effects of medications, and symptoms of a disease can all lead to anxiety.

There are many other causes of anxiety; this is simply a summary of the main categories of stressors that can lead to anxiety.

Types Of Anxiety Disorders

There are several types of anxiety, including:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder – often referred to using the acronym GAD, this anxiety disorder refers to an overarching fear or worry that is not linked to any specific event or cause. This can cause feelings of anxiety without a known trigger.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder – this form of anxiety is defined by a fear of judgment, public humiliation, or intimacy. People suffering from a social anxiety disorder often struggle with isolation due to an avoidance of social situations.
  • Panic Disorder – panic disorder refers to intense panic attacks that cause feelings of panic or terror often accompanied by difficulty breathing, shaking, and sweating. These panic attacks can be extremely distressing.
  • Agoraphobia and other specific phobias – agoraphobia is a type of anxiety that is defined by a fear of crowds and public spaces where escape would be difficult, like elevators. There are other phobia-based anxiety types that are rooted in a specific trigger that causes fear and anxiety, such as objects and situations.
  • Separation anxiety – this kind of anxiety is triggered by a person’s separation from a specific person or place, often causing panic.

Symptoms Of Anxiety Disorders

The emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety disorders are used to diagnose anxiety. These include:

  • Feelings of worry or excessive worrying
  • Restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Increased heart rate, or feeling like you are having a heart attack
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration
  • Self-criticism
  • Panic attack

Anxiety makes normal life difficult, and physical symptoms like insomnia can interfere with your overall physical health.

Ways To Explain Anxiety

If you don’t suffer from anxiety yourself, it can be helpful to understand what anxiety looks and feels like. This way, you can relate to the anxiety sufferer and empathize more easily with what they are going through, rather than accidentally making things worse. 

Conversely, if you suffer from anxiety and want to explain it to someone else, here is a reminder of the type of symptoms that many people with anxiety report.

Constant Exhaustion

When preparing for a threat, a fear-based response, your body produces adrenaline and a rush of hormones. Once these hormones are used, they can cause a ‘crash’ and affect energy levels. Also, sufferers from anxiety can have insomnia due to late-night worry cycles. This is why anxiety and exhaustion often go together. You can relieve this feeling by improving your sleep hygiene.

Physically Suffocating/Constricting

Those suffering from anxiety can often experience shortness of breath which can exacerbate feelings of panic as they struggle to catch their breath. This feeling of physical suffocation can come with dizziness, heart palpitations, and tightness in the chest that can feel like a heart attack.

To manage these symptoms, try using breathing techniques to slow your breath and heart rate.

It Can Be A Continuous, Vicious Cycle

There is a cycle that accompanies anxiety, also known as the cycle of avoidance. In order to provide temporary relief, anxiety sufferers can avoid situations that cause anxiety. In the long term, this can cause the anxiety around a situation to grow and become more threatening. To break this cycle, anxiety sufferers are encouraged to become mindful of their avoidance, and actively combat it by confronting the situation directly, ensuring appropriate safeguards are in place.

It Can Be Similar To Depression

Anxiety can be similar to depression. A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that 45% of those who have suffered from depression have also suffered from anxiety, and refers to the two disorders as comorbid. The isolation and constant worrying caused by anxiety can often lead to feelings of hopelessness associated with depression.

Fluctuating Moods, Emotions, And Behaviours (Feeling Great Today, Horrible Tomorrow)

Anxiety can appear seemingly at random, particularly for those suffering from GAD. This means that a person suffering from anxiety can be feeling great one day, and awful the next day. The emotional symptoms of anxiety can appear in a person’s mood and behavior, and the random appearance of anxiety can cause a sudden shift in these areas.

Bodily Tension And Stress

The feeling of anxiety can cause muscles in the body to brace subconsciously, as they are preparing to face a threat. This tightness can appear in the jaw, the stomach, or the shoulders. Yoga is an excellent way to become mindful of tense areas in the body and provide release.

Anxiety Can Be Paralyzing

Anxiety can manifest as a feeling of paralysis, feeling unable to move your body. This can have a severe impact on your ability to function. Feelings of paralysis can occur when a person may feel unsafe.

Anxiety can also cause emotional paralysis, a complete disconnect from one’s emotions. This often causes a person to become despondent.

How To Explain Anxiety To Someone - Prairie Health

Anxiety Reactions: Anxious Behaviours

To explain anxiety to someone who doesn’t suffer from it, it is useful to identify the responses associated with anxiety, so that they can spot when someone is feeling anxious. These anxiety reactions and behaviors fall into three categories: fight, flight, and freeze.

The Fight Response

This is a coping mechanism to address a perceived threat aggressively. This response is associated with intense emotions, shaking, sweating, and outbursts. The response can cause grinding of the teeth, an urge to punch, intense anger, crying, and an attack on the source of perceived danger.

The fight response is often mistaken for aggressive behavior rather than a sign of distress, as it appears when the person is failing to make rational decisions to address the threat with an appropriate response.

The Flight Response

This response is the body reacting to danger with an urge to escape. This can cause restlessness, fidgeting, pacing, tension, and stress.

When the flight response is applied to ongoing causes of anxiety, it can manifest as avoiding stressful situations, constantly planning escapes, and using distractions like work, hobbies, and they can self-medicate with substances to fend off symptoms of anxiety.

If someone is using work and tasks as coping mechanisms and can function despite feeling chronic anxiety, this is referred to as a high functioning individual. This does not mean that they do not suffer from extreme stress.

The Freeze Response

The freeze response is categorized as the brain pausing in response to the threat and can manifest as numbness, a failure to think or respond to situations properly, and a lack of energy. This response can cause feelings of shame.

A long-term freeze response can involve methods of escapism to mentally check out in order to find relief through fantasies, sleep, hiding emotions, and isolation.

Online therapy can be a useful tool to help identify these responses and use our awareness of them to manage stress responses. Or, you can use the Prairie Health blog’s self-care and self-help tips to fight racing thoughts when you feel overwhelmed.

Causes Of Anxiety: Anxiety Triggers

Anxiety triggers can cause and exacerbate anxiety. Some forms of anxiety do not have any trigger at all. In order for someone to fully understand anxiety, it is important to explain what can bring on an episode of anxiety.

Triggers can include lack of sleep, caffeine, skipping meals, work stress, financial stress, social events, conflict, medications, and health issues. Worries and concerns about the future can also be a trigger. Triggers can be both physical (like consuming too much caffeine) and emotional (like worries about the future).

It is important to have an awareness of your particular triggers so that you can be aware of what is causing your anxiety, which will help you to manage symptoms.

Explaining Anxiety To A Child

If you need to explain your anxiety to a child, to help them to better understand your behavior, you should go over the following points, opening up about your experiences of anxiety along the way to encourage openness:

  • Why we get anxious – to respond to a threat.
  • What happens when we get anxious – the body’s natural response to threat.
  • Why anxiety can be useful in situations with real danger.
  • Your experience of anxiety – what makes you anxious, how you respond, and how you cope.

If you create an atmosphere of openness with your child when it comes to mental health, this will help them to understand you, and it will help them to ask for help if they are struggling with any mental health issues down the line.

How To Explain Anxiety To A Partner Or Loved One

In order to explain anxiety to a partner or loved one, you will need to inform them of what anxiety is, what triggers your anxiety, and what kind of anxiety responses you exhibit.

It may also be useful to provide them with a list of things they can do to help with your anxiety, such as questions to ask you to break worry cycles.

If your loved ones understand your anxiety, this will help them to empathize with your distress in order to assist you and strengthen your relationships.


In order to fully explain and help someone understand anxiety, you must make them aware of the causes and responses to anxiety. You must also give them an understanding of the types of anxiety, the type that affects you, and how it feels to have anxiety.

Understanding anxiety is important to help avoid misunderstandings, and help the other person to respond better, and be of more help when you are feeling anxious.


  • Prairie Health is an online psychiatry service focused on reducing all barriers to mental healthcare and modernizing treatment. Prairie specializes in helping adults with depression or anxiety get better through online psychiatry appointments, genetics-informed medication plans and ongoing support, all from the comfort of home.

Categorized as Anxiety

By The Prairie Team

Prairie Health is an online psychiatry service focused on reducing all barriers to mental healthcare and modernizing treatment. Prairie specializes in helping adults with depression or anxiety get better through online psychiatry appointments, genetics-informed medication plans and ongoing support, all from the comfort of home.