Avoiding text messages. Refusing to pick up the phone. Tapping. Nail biting. Hair pulling.
While these might seem like rude or annoying habits to an outsider, for someone with an anxiety disorder, it can be part of their everyday life. And while most people understand what it’s like to be nervous or anxious, those with more persistent anxiety or panic symptoms might express or cope with their anxiety in different ways — ways that might be hard for others to understand.
To find out other ways anxiety manifests itself, we asked The Mighty’s mental health community to share one thing people don’t realize they’re doing because of their anxiety.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. “Zoning in and out of a conversation to prepare a response or to silence your brain. My brain is so active, I am constantly thinking of the right word, then I say the exact opposite.” — Willi M.
2. “I literally carry my water bottle with me everywhere. I cling to it because if I start feeling anxious or nauseous, sipping water grounds me temporarily. I also say I’m sorry, a lot. Whenever I feel uneasy about anything, sorry immediately comes out.” — Marla S.
3. “I’m not on my phone because I’m ‘just another teenage girl with her eyes glued to her screen.’ I’m on my phone to distract myself from the thoughts in my head telling me everybody is staring at me and judging me. In fact I’m more than likely just scrolling around on my home screen.” — Alyssa D.
4. “A lot of fidgeting. I play with my ring, bounce my leg, swallow a lot, flex and point my feet, eyes dart between trying really hard to focus on the person in front of me, but I’m often actually looking at exits. I have meditation rings and often wear long necklaces to keep my hands busy while I’m anxious. Otherwise I often end up with deep half moon dents in my palms from my nails or scratches/rashes on my forearms and chest from scratching because of anxiety.” — Erin W.
5. “Touching my face and hair constantly. Making plans and hoping they fall through. Looking for exits as soon as I enter any place. Obsessing for days about conversations and what I said wrong/ could have said.” — Mary C.
6. “Disappearing for a bit. Sometimes at an event if there’s nowhere else, I will visit the toilet repeatedly. Not to use it but just to get a little space away from everything so I can reset. It’s not a glamorous hideout, but it can work!” — Natalie J.
7. “Showing up late. I usually have to force myself just to show up to a social event, so the thought of being early, having to sit or stand by myself, having to find a way to distract myself while I’m waiting, without drawing attention to myself, or worst case scenario — having to socialize with people I don’t know! All of these thoughts force me to make sure I’m never early! (Even though it’s also scary thinking about people staring at me if I walk in late!)” — Holly L.
8. “Not asking for or accepting help with everyday tasks when I’m sick or injured or just need a hand with something. People think it’s stubbornness or a control issue, but really it’s anxiety and fear of judgment. If I’ve been sick and haven’t done the dishes for a few days, I’m embarrassed at the mess and loathe the idea of someone silently judging me for it even if they genuinely want to help me get caught up.” — Chelsea D.
9. “Being super irritable and easily set off. I have extreme reactions to the littlest things. I get sick to my stomach if I’m somewhere and start to feel anxious. I even throw up.” — Patricia L.
10. “When I’m having bad anxiety, I develop a real fear of checking my emails and texts. I avoid reading them because I just know it will be about something bad and it’s somehow my fault.” — Nikki W.
11. “I’m a naturally loud talker, but when I get anxious and begin to feel insecure, I get even louder, almost yelling. I know it happens, but I don’t realize it when it does. This leads to people pointing out that I’m being really loud, which only increases my anxiety and insecurity. It’s a vicious cycle.” — Amanda K.
12. “I stare at a spot and can’t look away… can’t speak, can’t look at anyone… even if that person is right in my face asking if I’m OK, telling me they love me… it could just be a blank wall and I will stare at it for hours, in a zone of no life, no brain… I’m like a doll with no movement and no soul.” — Tiffany P.
13. “I play with Scotch Tape. I roll it into little pieces and mash it between my fingers until the sticky is gone and then I will get another piece. I go through up to three rolls a day. It also helps me not to pick at my skin on fingers because it is keeping my hands busy.” — Marcia Austin P.
14. “When I talk to people I tend to act as though I’m trying to rush through the conversation. The flight response. I don’t mean to do it. It’s as if my brain doesn’t know how to deal with the situation, so basically decides to not deal with it at all.” — Naomi U.
15. “Putting in my ear buds and listening to music. I do this all day. My brain functions much better when I can choose my background noise. Most people think it’s because I simply love music. I do, but because it is the one constant that has helped me stay focused. There are moments when I do this in a room full of people. Most assume it is because I am antisocial or annoyed. Truth is I am bringing myself down to avoid a panic attack. Stick around me long enough and you know exactly what is happening when you see me place those ear buds in and hit play. I have even used break time to run to buy new ones if I realize I have forgotten them at home. It is my one constant accessory.” — DeEtt B.
16. “Fiddling! They say it’s an annoying trait but things like shaking your leg or playing with your hair or fiddling with your hands. It is such a helpful coping mechanism though for people with anxiety who sometimes just need something to ground them and keep them present.” — Hannah F.
17. “Not being able to make phone calls. People think I hate taking on the phone because I’m a millennial, but it’s honestly because my anxiety. I break in cold sweats, throat tightens. And then I feel emotionally exhausted for the rest of the day.” — Heather M.
18. “My voice gets tiny and it’s hard to talk or express my thoughts or tell others what I need that may help. My mind races with millions of thoughts coming and going. I can’t make eye contact with anyone.” — Maki P.
19. “Being very noise sensitive, saying sorry constantly, repeating the same question, paranoid about people being annoyed at me, forgetting things easily, biting the skin on my lips, my head shakes uncontrollably sometimes.” — Becca H.
20. “If anxiety builds while I’m in public, I often stand completely still like a statue. There I’ll be in the produce section, unable to move for several minutes. I regain some normalcy by remembering to breathe deeply. Once I’m moving again I may finish shopping or I might hurry out the door leaving everything I’ve shopped for behind.” — Nancy M.
21. “My eyes are constantly scanning the room. People often think I’m staring or ‘watching’ them, when in reality I probably couldn’t even tell you what they were doing.” — Dana W.
22. “Unable to sit still. People don’t understand that’s related to my anxiety not just because I have ‘energy.’” — Aurianna S.
23. “Talking to myself under my breath, mostly reassuring myself, always needing to be moving either my hands or my legs; never being able to stay completely still, closing my eyes and taking deep breathes when I start to feel my chest getting more and more constricted and biting the life out of my nails is a huge one.” — Hannah M.
24. “You’ll rarely see me eating lunch at a table with several others at work. Sometimes the food noises – and especially mouth noises – are too much! Let me eat in peace, alone with my anxious thoughts.” — Emily B.
25. “Yawning. Sometimes when it gets so hard to breathe or I can’t open my mouth to reply to someone, yawning allows me to take a deep breath or take a little more time to think of a reply.” — Zaehl S.
What would you add?