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6 Things Anxiety Disguises Itself As

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While we typically think “anxiety” is a synonym for “stress,” the truth is it can be so much more. Anxiety, like all mental health struggles, manifests differently for every person who experiences it — and oftentimes, it doesn’t even “look” like anxiety from the outside. Because anxiety wears a lot of different disguises, it can be hard to know when a loved one’s actions are really driven by a mental health struggle. For this reason, it’s time we unmask anxiety.

Here are six things anxiety disguises itself as:

1. Appearing ‘Fine’

This disguise is probably the one anxiety wears most often. Sometimes it looks like the straight-A student taking more AP classes than seems humanly possible. Other times, it can look like that Super Mom who appears to get everything accomplished without breaking a sweat. Or sometimes it’s that person you know who keeps giving and giving of themselves because they are afraid of saying no. Mighty staff and community member Sarah Schuster is familiar with what it’s like to live with anxiety, but look fine on the outside. In her piece, “What It’s Like to Have ‘High-Functioning’ Anxiety,” she wrote,

It’s when you’re social enough to get invited to things, but so often find yourself standing in a room where it feels like no one knows you. It’s being good at conversation and bad at making close friends because you only show up when you feel ‘well’ enough. Only text back when you feel ready. Because you’re afraid they’d hate you if they really knew you. That the energy would overwhelm them, and you’d lose them.

So you learn to rein it in. Channel it. Even though sometimes you do everything right (exercise, sleep, one TV show, five emails, 10 pages…) and you’re still left with racing thoughts, the panic. The not good enoughs.

2. Fear

Anxiety can often play on someone’s deepest worries, making them appear outwardly as a fearful person. In his piece, “When the Fear of Anxiety Comes From ‘What Ifs,’” David Rodriguez shared why anxiety makes him so fearful.

Often anxiety pumps thoughts into my mind that wreak havoc and put me in a state of fear. I fixate on many ‘what if’ questions, and I grow anxious from being afraid and worried. My fears and worries take many forms, and they are often not a rational reflection of reality…

I fear what others think of me. I fear I am doing something wrong. I fear come off as a mean or an antisocial person. I fear I am not good enough. I fear I am a burden to people. I fear others think I am weird. I fear my girlfriend doesn’t love me. I fear maybe she’s too good for me. I fear my friends don’t care and so on. These thoughts wear me down.

3. Anger

Anxiety that presents outwardly as anger is often misunderstood. What may look like being “short-tempered” on the outside can actually be symptomatic of the discomfort anxiety creates on the inside. Mighty contributor Heidi D. wrote about this in her piece, “When Anxiety Presents as Anger, Not Fear.”

Anxiety presents in lots of ways that may not be obvious. Unfortunately for me, most of the time mine presents as anger. What does that mean? It means when I feel anxious on the inside, it manifests itself on the outside as me being pissed off. So when I was a kid and my sister was comforted for being upset, I was scolded for losing my temper… Back then, my anger-anxiety looked like me losing my temper all the time. When I lost a video game, I would throw the controller. When my sister teased me, I would hit her. Tiny triggers were huge triggers, and my level of anger-anxiety varied from moment to moment.

4. Being ‘Tired’

You know those days when you’re having a hard time, but when someone asks you how you are doing, you shrug and say, “I’m fine, just tired”? This is something many people with anxiety face every day. But like all the other disguises anxiety wears, “tired” means so much more than what it sounds like. In her piece, “How Anxiety Gives New Meaning to the Word ‘Tired,’” Jill Alexandra explains what being tired really means when you have anxiety.

Yes, anxiety is exhausting. You’re always tired. That doesn’t mean you sleep. That doesn’t mean your mind shuts off; it just means you’re always tired. No matter how many naps you take or cups of coffee you drink — you are always tired in a way that is almost impossible to articulate. Anxiety doesn’t just make you tired. It drains the life out of you — mind, body and soul.

5. Blaming Others

Many of these disguises are easy to assign as character traits — Oh, she’s a scaredy cat. He’s an angry person, etc. — and the habit of blaming others is no different. But before we jump to the conclusion that someone is a compulsive blamer and will never take responsibility for their own mistakes, it can be helpful to identify why this behavior continues to happen — because sometimes it is an anxiety-driven habit. Mighty contributor Alan Eisenberg wrote about this in his piece, “The Anxiety Habit That Hurts the Ones I Love.”

Boy, this is a tough article to write, because it is painful for me to admit the truth of what I have been doing all these years. I have hurt the ones I love and I have hurt myself in return. I have been doing this behavior for so long, I am only hopeful that I can stop it now.

When I feel my anxiety rising, when I am feeling stressed, when I am feeling low or sad, when I want to boost my ego and self-esteem — I fall back to one of the worst habits that hurts those I love. I blame and yell.

Shedding some light on this anxiety disguise may encourage people to change their behavior or get the help they need to do so.

6. Your Friend

Perhaps the most detrimental disguise anxiety wears is the “friend” disguise. While anxiety may make you punctual, have a higher standard for work you do and be prepared for anything, sometimes it goes too far, becoming more foe than friend. This is something Mighty contributor Miranda Fitzgerald knows all too well. In her piece, “When Anxiety Is Your Best Friend,” she wrote,

Anxiety is my best friend… We were attached at the hip from the very beginning, and it remained that way for some time. She was my partner, the one who gave me advice that I weaved through life’s wicker basket of decisions…

Then — it happened…

She whispered something gently — “You are not enough.”

From that moment on, those words branded into my soul.

My friend, who I put my trust in, who was always by my side, had crushed me.

And her name was Anxiety.

She’s like a whirlpool that spirals deep into the ground. She’s your conscious that’s at every corner of your mind. She is an overthinker, an underestimator, a crack in the sidewalk. She will set you up for failure because you can’t get her words out of your mind.

Anxiety can be debilitating, and it can be harder to live with when it hides behind smoke and mirrors. It’s time anxiety comes out into the light, so we can deal with it and get people the help they need.

What disguise does your anxiety wear?

Originally published: November 16, 2017
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