write anxiety

When you  write anxiety, it is so much easier to simply say he’s nervous, or she’s upset. But that would be telling. We have all heard the adage ‘show don’t tell’. So, how do we make it obvious to our reader that our character is anxious without telling.

We feel it is essential for your reader to visualize your character’s anxiety. Therefore, we have put together a list of hundreds of actions, gestures, facial expressions, etc. This list will make it easy to find just the right way to write anxiety in your characters. We want to share this list with you.

Download over 500 ways to show Anxiety

The following post will show you how we use these phrases.

Write Anxiety for a Character with Inner Conflict

write anxiety inner conflict

Writing a character who is confronted with something that throws them off balance. An event that forces them to address their weaknesses, flaws, or fears.

This torment rushing up from their inner world can be devastating.

Your character may find issues from the past invading the present. Remember, to explain your character’s issues causing the anxiety.

Here are a few ways to show this type of anxiety,

  • pushed hair back from forehead
  • head pounded with tension
  • pinched bridge of his nose
  • lips grew thin and firm
  • voice thick and unsteady
  • sweat made dark circles under his arms
  • ache in the belly telling him something was wrong
  • ominous thoughts squirmed at the back of her mind
  • cold spiderlike fingers racing up and down my spine
  • thousands of questions prowling through my mind
  • he sat on the horns of his dilemma

Write Anxiety When a Character Faces Danger

Your character can have three possible reactions to danger: Fight, flight, or freeze. Determine your character’s dominant trait, then use the phrases that fit.


  • His nostrils flared; his fist clenchedanxiety fight
  • Jaw thrust forward, ready for battle
  • Anger, like fire leaping from her eyes
  • Sat ramrod straight on edge of chair
  • Face still, eyes blazing
  • Splash of anger crossed his face
  • Lips curled over teeth
  • He shifted his weight from one foot to the other


  • Glanced furtively over shoulder
  • Heart hammered in chestanxiety fear
  • Adrenaline rushed through veins
  • Prickling sensation shot up spine
  • Urge to run but where to
  • On razor’s edge of panic
  • Gasped for air
  • Spasm of worry crossed his face.
  • Told my trembling legs to run


  • Watched in numbed horror
  • Made quiet sound of helplessness
  • Too overwhelmed with terror to move
  • Blood drained from face
  • Felt vulnerable
  • Took long slow deep breath
  • Felt imprisoned by fear
  • Could no longer see anything but the threat
  • Starred mindlessly, paralyzed

Our list has hundreds fabulous phrases Just like these.

Anxiety in a Character Who is Plagued by Constant Low Burning Anxiety

This type of character usually has low self-esteem, and feelings of inadequacy.

But how do you write anxiety like that?

Well here are a few ideas.

  • Feels like thought gremlins are in charge of my brain
  • No escaping the constant negative voices.
  • Spirals of self-doubt
  • A face shot of a child

Description automatically generated I over-analyze every situation
  • People are whispering about me
  • She struggles to make simple decisions
  • I just want to be left alone
  • I am ashamed of being afraid all the time.
  • He always fears the worst
  • Eyes darted around the room

Write Anxiety for a Character with a Phobia

A phobia is when someone is afraid of a specific thing, like spiders or heights. To write this type of anxiety will require some backstory to explain the source of this anxiety.

Foreshadowing may also be helpful to make the phobia seem more realistic.

Phobias will cause your character overwhelming anxiety. But only concerning the specific fear. People with phobias will go to great length to avoid the thing they fear. If confronted with their phobia their reaction will be intense

You might also consider allowing a character who is not traditionally nervous to become anxious in certain situations.

Examples: A businessman who is afraid of spiders. Or a macho outdoorsman who is claustrophobic in tight spaces.

  • His panicked thoughts grew wild
  • Sudden stab of fear assaulted her
  • Strange pain rose in his throat
  • Sanxiety fearJerked a sharp breath
  • Color drained from her face
  • Spasm of fear crossed his face
  • Blood pounded in her ears
  • Adrenaline burst into veins
  • Felt something squeezing her chest
  • Knees went weak
  • Perspiration beaded his brow

Our list will make it easy to Write Anxiety

Don’t just use the phrases as is. Use the words and especially the strong verbs to develop your own unique phrases.

For more ideas on writing anxiety see:



Happy writing

John & Patty