Anxiety is something that a lot of people have in the world and it seems like that number goes up every single day. The world is a stressful place to be, but the question today is how do you use that anxiety in characters and make it work?
If you have an anxiety disorder the answer is pretty simple: write what you know. If you don’t have one the answer gets a tad bit more muddled, how can you write something that you have no experience with it and make sure that it is done properly. Looking at anxiety can affect people in several different ways: panic attacks, body pain, fatigue, and restlessness. Or if you are really unlucky you could have to deal with all of these at the same time. Personally I cycle through these symptoms depending on how anxious I am or how stressful the situation I am anxious about is. How as an author can you put these into your characters? How can you make these things sensations that can’t be explained away? Make it read like a fight scene or battle between your character and this unseen opponent that hits them mentally. Or a tightness in their chest making breathing hard and like someone is standing on it. Or the feeling of tendrils of pain extending from one point in their body and fading away as it get further into the core of their physicality.
Another way to write this especially for train of thought or dialogue is to have them repeat certain phrases over and over and over. The big thing about anxiety is dwelling and overthinking the simplest of situations. That leads to the physical symptoms and the panic attacks.
Why would you do this? To make your characters more relatable and because no one makes it out of life without scars. Especially not the heroes of a fantasy tale. That battle hardened veteran that slaughtered thousands of men with his sword single handed? Yea, he is pretty messed up in the head after words. No one can leave a climate of always being on the look-out and be fine in normal society and going back into that way of life would be hard after acclimating to normality. It puts that simple element of real life into your work that makes the characters more fun to read and allows the reader to place themselves into the story and live as that character that they want to be.
Anxiety while a terrible thing in real life is a great and super helpful tool when writing. I found that writing my personal experiences with anxiety down has been a big relief for me and made a character, that when I created him I was not going to like him, one of my favorite characters because I related with the situation that he was going through on a personal level.
I hoped this helped and if you personally have anxiety please go see a therapist and find some coping mechanisms they can be a great help. And, please let me know if you do anything different when writing anxious characters that I missed.