A man sitting on a couch covering his face. Text reads: 31 habits of people with anxiety

31 'Habits' of People With Anxiety

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There are the quirky, small things that make you, you. Then, there are the things you do because of anxiety. While personality traits and anxious habits can blend together, to an outsider it’s not always clear which of these “habits” are driven by anxiety. Whether it makes you look “rude” (avoiding phone calls, canceling plans) or “odd” (leaving a social setting quickly, bouncing your leg) — it can be hard when others judge you based on these actions without knowing what’s going on inside your head.

To find out some habits of people who have anxiety, we asked our mental health community to share one thing people might not realize they’re doing because of anxiety.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “I run my hands along my face and neck, scanning for imperfections (acne, facial hair, scabs), and I pick at them. Sometimes until the spot is bleeding or I’ve hurt myself.” — Nana M.

2. “I apologize for anything and everything that might seem like it would be an inconvenience for anyone… whether I can control it or not.” — Tamara J.

3. “If I start to feel overwhelmed I have to go somewhere else. Sometimes that means I zone out even in the middle of conversations. Other times I have to run out of the room so I can go cry and freak out. It’s not that I don’t like people; they just overwhelm me at times.” — Becca W.

4. “Getting irritable and snapping at little things. This is often accompanied by sensory overload. When I have a panic attack, my thoughts are so intense and engulfing that I could lose my cool at the drop of a hat. I’m normally kind and patient, but sometimes my mind just won’t stop.” — Shelby S.

5. “People don’t realize I shake constantly because of my anxiety. I often blame it on being cold because I don’t want people to know I’m having a panic attack and feel like I’m about to pass out.” — Ally M.

6. “Forgetting random things of varying importance. My mind is so overtaxed just getting through the day, things sometimes slip… sorry…” — Trüth B.

7. “I take everything personally. Even though it may have been a small mistake/error, it will expand and take over my mind and I will be thinking about it all day.” — Jeremy C.

8. “I space out, even in the middle of a conversation, if my anxiety gets too bad. I can go from completely engaged in the conversation to just physically there in a matter of seconds.” — Alicia S.

9. “I scroll through my phone. It looks like I’m not paying attention or don’t want to be with whoever is there, but I do I just need an extra distraction. I also have ADD so I can be mindlessly scrolling through an app on my phone and be engaged in conversation; it’s just my anxiety is overwhelming if I don’t have that distraction.” — Liz T.

10. “For me it’s playing with my hair, not talking on the phone at all, not participating in anything. Shaking and stuttering. I sometimes even forget how to even form sentences.” — Lily S.

11. “Worrying about every little thing to the point where it annoys people, but it’s not my fault I can’t stop worrying and dwelling.” — Amanda A.

12. “I constantly shake my legs… I have since a child… I don’t even realize I’m doing it until someone brings it to my attention.” — Davin T.

13. “I get really really quiet — to where people don’t even know I’m in my office. I start to detach and zone out, and people will remark how they haven’t seen me all day.” — Carolyn A.

14. “Biting my nails and the skin on my hands until they bleed. I have permanent scars on my hands now — I hate them. People just think I have a bad nail biting habit.” — Molly E.

15. “Comfort eating constantly. Not just because I have a big appetite. If I’m anxious, I will just eat. Even if I’m extremely full.” — Holly M.

16. “I talk a lot in social settings, which seems a bit odd for someone with social anxiety, but I can’t handle any prolonged silence when in a group. I get very anxious, and then I start talking. The more I talk the more I get caught up in the anxiety and as can be predicted, I usually say inappropriate things that in turn increases my anxiety and the talking, and I repeat the cycle. It’s horrible, especially if there’s alcohol involved.” — Mindy W.

17. “If I frantically leave a room, I can promise it is only because I’m experiencing a sensory overload and my anxiety is through the roof. It gives me even more anxiety to feel like I’m being rude, but the idea of having a panic attack in front of people is too brutal to continue standing in the room.” — Alexa K.

18. “People don’t realize my jitteriness (leg shaking/tapping on desks) is because of my anxiety. If I don’t do something to release nervous energy, it just builds up inside, which is much worse.” — Liz P.

19. “Talking out loud to myself and narrating my actions and surroundings to myself. Like, ‘I am here, sitting at my desk, I have a stack of papers here, here are my pens, my tea cup feels warm in my hand, I am turning my computer on now…’ This is actually soothing to me, and I’ve done it since I was a little girl.” — Andréa V.

20. “I go to the restroom a lot. Probably half of the time I go when I am in public is because I need a break. Yeah, anxiety makes hanging out in a small cramped bathroom stall my comfort zone. I can be alone and get a break from the social situation that is causing my anxiety.” — Desiree N.

21. “Over-planning trips. Crying. Not being able to sleep. Being overly protective (even of friends). Canceling plans/trip/party. Picking at sores/scabs/zits. Hurting oneself. Overcompensating.” — Ciara C.

22. “Stretching at my desk. Sure, it’s a good idea to do when you mostly sit for your job, but it also helps ‘ground’ me when my anxiety spikes and helps me not dissociate or spiral out of control with my thoughts.” — Chriss T.

23. “I sleep a lot. I guess it looks like laziness to most, but being with or meeting other people drains me from energy. I can be tired for days after meeting/talking with somebody. Even being with my friends can drain my energy to below zero. Lately it has been so bad, I’e started to isolate myself because I just don’t have the energy anymore.” — Sanne V.

24. “Awkward laugh. I don’t do it intentionally, but often when I’m uncomfortable, I’ll catch myself laughing after saying something or during an awkward silence. I hate that I do it and I try not to, but it just seems to be my body’s reaction when I’m anxious in a social situation.” — Keira H.

25. “Nagging. Sometimes I can be really bossy or nag people because I’m trying to feel in control of something. For example, I get really bad anxiety in cars and I will constantly ask my husband to slow down, even if we are going below the speed limit. Another one is also over-preparing. I’m always packing the diaper bag with a million things ‘just in case…” because I have run through every nightmare scenario in my mind and I feel like if I don’t have enough supplies for three days+ for each kid, then something bad will happen.” — Sabrina H.

26. “I space out a lot. Sometimes I even forget who I’m with or where I’m at. I cry spontaneously over really little things. I always ask for a specific person when I have an attack even if I’m surrounded by others that care. They all seem to think it’s because they aren’t helping or that they’re scaring me but it’s not any of that. It really sucks sometimes.” — Gennie A.

27. “I’m forgetful and scared I’m going to forget something important. I keep three calendars which are always updated identically, and I carry them with me. I make to-do lists. There are tons of alarms and reminder alerts on my phone because of this.” — Kristin S.

28. “Being indecisive. People think I’m just being picky and can’t make up my mind, but honestly I’m freaking out because you might hate me if I chose the wrong one.” — Angie B.

29. “I always have my headphones in because I’m really sensitive to noise. It’s easier to block out all the noise for me, but people find it really rude. I also mess with my hair a lot and talk really soft.” — Alex R.

30. “I play with my hair, either wrapping it around my fingers or knotting and unknotting it. People take it the wrong way and assume I’m either being really ignorant or even flirty sometimes but I really cant help it.” — Sophie D.

31. “Being really quiet… I’m probably either ruminating about something I shouldn’t be ruminating about and I’m trying not to mention it, or I’m mentally exhausted and trying to exist as little as possible for a while.” — Moonjay R.

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When Anxiety Convinces Me I Don't Belong

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Leather executive chairs are set around the square conference table.

I feel them staring at me when I walk into the room.

I can hear them whispering in my head.

Who is she? (She’s not one of us.)

Why is she here? (What could she possibly contribute?)

I am surrounded.

They’re still looking at me. (Where could she have come from?)

All of them thinking the same thing.

I don’t fit in.

The women perfectly coiffed with blonde hair.

The men in custom suits.

My black curly hair is big.

My dress, short.

The silver bracelets I chose so carefully stand out against their Cartier and Ebel.

Their titles:

Chief operating officer.

Senior legal counsel.

Owner.

President.

Senior executive.

With their with MBAs, JDs and PhDs.

Why am I here?

I try to shrink into myself.

The mania that comes with my ups and downs (they’re a package deal) makes me want to talk.

To be heard.

But my anxiety tells me I have nothing to contribute.

I want to disappear.

Because I can hear their voices.

Whispering that I don’t belong…

even when I have a seat at the table.

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Photo via Unsplash, by Samuel Zeller

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Anxiety: A Poem on What Anxiety Really Is

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Anxiety

They say anxious people
Have a head full of dreams
But let me tell you
Anxiety is not all what it seems
It’s not butterflies in your stomach
Or a rush of blood to your head
It’s a thousand pounding drums in your chest
The stuttering, muttering, mumbling
Of words your lips can’t expel
The beads of sweat breaking out on your brow
Then trickling down your cheek
Anxiety is desperately trying
To look strong when you’re undeniably weak
“I’m calm, I’m in control”
“I can do this” … No, no, no
“I’m not worthy at all”
And in between all your “what ifs
You realize anxiety is just a thief
Stealing your joys, grinning slyly
As it jumps off your window
Breathe, breathe…
Every day you have a choice
Walk out of the house
Leaving your agitation by the door
Or collapse, curl up in a corner
And watch your teardrops splatter on the floor
Anxiety is not a flustered irritable being
It’s a person who may be worth knowing
A naked soul you wouldn’t blush when seeing
A heart wide open peeking through a trembling body
You can’t see all the quivering and shaking
You see, anxiety is often invisible
With all the colossal efforts a person is making
To stand tall, and say the right things
Which they often don’t, by the way
So if they choose to remain silent
Just know it’s for your own sake
It takes courage to love them
And more courage to keep this love awake
It’s hard work, confusing, perplexing,
But loving an anxious person may just be
the best mistake you’ll ever make

Follow this journey on Translationista.

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Unsplash photo via Mathias Reed

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Anxiety and Self-Sabotage

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I was the smart one. I was the responsible one. I was the first in my family to attend university. I was destined to be “successful.”

So why do I feel like a failure?

The answer: Self-sabotage.

I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life. And somewhere along the line I figured it was easier to run or push away good opportunities rather than to work through periods of anxiety and depression.

I often hear, “Don’t be silly, you’re a great co-worker, employee, friend,” but in my head it’s all lies. At times I convince myself I have made mistakes or have done harm to the organization I am working for. The fear is terrifying. During an attack I obsess over every detail… check, double check, triple check my work then repeat until I find something that could have, should have been done differently.

Then the catastrophizing sets in. I am consumed by the “what ifs” and the harm it’s going to cause the company. Before I know it in my mind I am the worst employee the company has ever hired and feel the only option is to quit or be fired. Trying to rationalize these thoughts just doesn’t seem possible… or at least for a long time they didn’t.

But things are slowly starting to change. With the help of my therapist, I’m learning about self-compassion and how to let go of my perfectionism tendencies. I’m learning a lot of growth can come from making mistakes and I’m slowly starting to love myself.

It’s not easy. There are good days and bad, but I figure if I can try something new each week and fail a little along the way, I can learn how to embrace challenges in a work environment and stop the self-sabotage.

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Photo via Unsplash, by Christopher Sardegna

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How Constantly Using Social Media Negatively Affects My Mental Health

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I’ve never been popular. Throughout my life — elementary school, middle school, high school, college and beyond — I’ve been considered a “shy” girl, and sometimes a “sweet” girl, but I’ve never had more than a couple of friends at a time. I’ve always wondered why this is. What is it about me that makes it so hard for others to like me? And honestly, nothing makes me feel the pain of rejection stronger than social media.

Social media is, for me, a sickening drug. It constantly makes me feel bad about myself, and it even triggers compulsive behaviors — yet I’m addicted to it. I check and check and check again, only to feel down about myself afterwards. I don’t even know what I’m hoping to find. I just keep thinking that this next time I check, there will be something that makes me feel better (which hardly ever happens, or if it does, it’s incredibly fleeting).

The ways I feel bad from social media are countless. The biggest thing is how it affects my self-esteem, how I measure my self-worth based on how many “likes” I get. When it undoubtedly comes up shorter than others, I always wonder why I’m so unpopular, and from there, I go down that self-doubt and self-shame rabbit hole again. Not to mention comparing myself to others. She’s so much prettier than me! Look at how fit she is! He has so many more friends than me!  These comparisons are absolute murderers of my self-esteem.

The other main way it makes me feel bad is how it triggers my anxiety and compulsive behaviors. For some reason, whenever I do my routine checks on social media, my mind starts to feel cluttered and unsettled, but in my head, the way to relieve it is to check over and over again until it feels “right.” I also notice I repetitively check my activity log on Facebook to make sure I haven’t done something embarrassing online, even though I didn’t do anything — I just have to repetitively make sure to reassure myself. Even if these compulsive behaviors have calmed down, I notice being on social media spikes my anxiety for a while afterwards.

Of course, social media isn’t always negative. It can be a great way to reduce feelings of loneliness sometimes, or to distract yourself, or to stay in touch with loved ones who feel far away. I bet it can even build self-confidence sometimes, too! But for my mental makeup, it becomes this toxic and addicting thing.

So lately, I’ve been trying to practice self-care in terms of social media. I’ve tried so many different things to help this addiction including journaling how I feel before and afterwards, keeping track of how often I go online. But the best thing I’ve started doing is just leaving my damn smartphone at home. If I have it with me, I just don’t have the willpower to resist looking. It’s become so freeing and liberating to be without it! When I’m at home, I’ve noticed myself even throwing my phone across the room, just to get myself to stop obsessively checking. Unfortunately, it’s not always reasonable to leave it at home, like when at work, when I need to make sure I’m safe, or when I need to be able to get in touch with others. But I’ve been trying to stretch my comfort zone recently, like going on hikes or grocery shopping without it.

Some other things that have helped are having an accountability buddy (my partner will help remind me when it’s obvious I’m getting sucked in), and trying to make my life more full of other activities so I have less of an urge to look (especially since I often look when feeling bored). I also keep reminding myself of this quote by Wendell Berry:

“You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:

Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.”

I still have a long way to go with my social media obsession, but it’s something I hope to keep working on. The days when I keep my social media usage to a minimum make me feel better and healthier, than even exercising or meditating ever do!

How does social media affect your mental health? What are some strategies you use to keep time spent online from spiraling out of control?

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Thinkstock photo via Anikei.

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What No One Knew About 'the Anxious Teacher'

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Being a teacher is one of the most arduous and challenging professions that anybody can take on. It takes an exceptionally resilient and strong-willed person to survive the battles faced every day in this job. For me, returning to teaching after having my daughter took an already prevalent anxiety condition to an entire new realm. In this blog, I will share my experiences of teaching, the emotions and internal struggles I faced and how my job took me to a very dark and lonely place.

April 13, 2016: Returning to work

After 13 special work-free months caring for my beautiful baby girl, the day had finally come. Since the moment I gave birth I had been fearfully counting down the weeks. Each day that passed caused a greater knot in my stomach, bile in my throat and adrenaline in my veins. Every inch of my body and mind screamed out at me not to return to the shackles of the education system. I knew only too well the grasp a job in teaching has over your life. The late nights, the lost weekends and holidays, the unpaid hours upon hours of marking and planning. How could I possibly be the best mum and the best teacher?

Now my time was up.

The first few weeks were a blur of training, emails, slideshows and class lists. Starting again, learning the names of 120 students, trying desperately to search my battered baby brain for the tools of teaching and behavior management I had somehow hidden in the darkest corner of my memories. Then came the assessments and the marking, followed closely by the observations, the performance management, the work analysis and the performance-related pay progression. Everything was different. Everything had changed. A new curriculum, a new specification, a variety of new policies. It was never-ending.

I could feel myself slipping.

During my days off, precious moments with my daughter would be tarnished. I wasn’t there; my physical presence perhaps was, but my mind was elsewhere. Some days, my daughter would decide to take an impromptu, later-than-usual nap, and I would be overcome with panic for the late night she would undeniably have that would now jeopardize my evening of tackling the copious amount of work I needed to complete. When bed time came and we lay together in the unlit room, I would feel my heart begin to race, my breathing quicken and my body become irritable as the anxiety set in. I would pray for the moment her eyes would shut and wish away this time.

I would spend every day with my daughter this way. Never feeling present. Incessantly worrying about what I needed to do. Afterwards, when night came and I lay my head on my pillow, my thoughts would spiral and escalate out of control. The most powerful of all was the unbearable guilt of knowing I hadn’t been there for my daughter. In my mindful absence, I was tainting the memories I could never get back.

November 2016: Breaking point

Every teacher occasionally has a bad lesson, a bad day or even a bad week. During my time in schools I’ve experienced complete opposition and work refusal, odious insults, classroom fights, I’ve had books tossed at me and chairs launched across the room. It has never prevented me from carrying on. It has never left me feeling defeated. Until now.

Coping with the rampant demons in my mind made my ability to maintain resilience against daily teaching battles nearly impossible. What used to come naturally to me seemed to fade and fall apart. As soon as my students would enter the room my heart rate would surge; a cold sweat would creep over my entire body and I would feel myself suffocating and gasping for air. Most lessons I would try to escape to the sanctity of my cupboard for a brief 10 seconds just to catch my breath. As each hour of the day passed, these feelings would intensify. I could feel the panic building within me, and by the end of each day I was physically and emotionally exhausted.

To everybody around me: family, friends, colleagues… I was in control. Inside, I was falling apart. I felt completely lost. I was broken.

December 2016: Admitting defeat

Making the decision to go on sick leave should have been an easy one and one which brought with it the opportunity for me to seek help, manage my anxiety and begin recovering. This wasn’t the case. Somehow, it made everything worse. It brought with it an assortment of new worries and fears that I just couldn’t control. “Will I be letting my students down?” “Are my colleagues talking about me?” “Is my boss angry?” “Will my family be disappointed?” “Am I setting a bad example for my daughter?” “Does everybody think that I’m a failure now?”

During this time, I craved some reassurance from the people whom my absence was effecting. A simple text message, phone call or even a comforting email to say everything was OK, to wish me well, and to offer support. But it never came. The alarming silence made my worries and fears cultivate and left me feeling incredibly isolated and alone. I felt backed into a corner with no way of getting out.

This needed to change. I needed to change.

January 2017: Being free

Those with anxiety often hit a point when all of the worries and fears that control us seem to become such a blur that we feel numb. Incapable of worrying about those things which a few days before were governing every aspect of our life. This is what happened to me. I reached a point where I became so overwhelmed with the worry that in self-preservation, my mind blocked any and all thoughts associated with teaching. This sounds like a terrible thing. Denial. A false pretense. But ironically, it gave me the opportunity to put my life into perspective. I started to appreciate the important things in my life. The angelic smile on my little girl’s face, the late nights laughing with my fiancé, even the opportunities to do little things for myself like reading a book. It was during this time I finally realized I, and only I, could change everything.

Making the final decision not to return to teaching has been the most exhilarating and fulfilling feeling I have ever experienced. Finally choosing to disregard the effect my choice may have on others and put my own feelings and health first has meant I can begin to pick myself up and move forward with my life. Now, for the first time in a long time, I feel free. Free from the ridiculous pressure put upon teachers to achieve the unachievable, free from late nights and wasted weekends, free to appreciate every single moment with my family, and free to become anything I want.

Being in any type of employment while struggling with a mental health condition is often a daily struggle of fear, stress and panic. A lot of days can be spent existing in a haze of confusion and self-destructive thoughts of inadequacy, and a lot of people — colleagues, employers, even friends and family — find it difficult to understand how lonely this can be. For various reasons, I chose to leave behind my career for a happier life, but many people aren’t in a position to do this. I can only hope those people ensure they receive the support they deserve to help them cope with working with a mental health condition. As an invisible condition, mental health is often dismissed by society; but it is essential that organizations employ the tools to support these people through the struggles they are facing. There is always light at the end of the tunnel, but to make our way through the dark, we need those around us to guide us through.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by DGL images

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