The Mighty Logo

34 'Strange' Things You're Not the Only One Doing Because of Anxiety

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

We’re familiar and mostly accepting of some nervous habits brought on by anxiety, not giving more than a second glance to nail biting, minimal hair twirling and even foot tapping. But what about some of the — for lack of a better word — “stranger” things anxiety makes us do? Things we might be embarrassed about, even though to us they’re perfectly natural responses to what’s going on in our heads.

To show there’s nothing “strange” about some of the less-acceptable things you might do when you’re anxious, we asked people in our mental health community to share one “embarrassing” thing they do when they’re anxious. If you do any of these, you’re not alone.

Here’s what they told us:

1. “I often end up talking to myself, trying to anticipate others’ responses as if we were actually having to conversation. It’s nice because I can talk through an issue without having to talk to anyone, but it stinks because I’ve gotten in the habit of just talking to myself all the time. Like, any time I’m alone, I’m talking to myself. Obviously I need that verbal release to process what’s going on in my life, but it scares me sometimes.”

2. “I repeat questions or things I’ve already said. It’s embarrassing because then the person I’m talking to says, ‘You’ve just asked/said that.’”

3. “I make up new words mid-sentence or combine two existing words and act as though I didn’t just say that.”

4. “Crack my fingers each joint… If I’m really anxious I’ll pinch or scratch myself. I also become very fidgety.”

5. “I roll small pieces of paper that I pick off from anything — napkins, notebook paper, anything — between my pointer finger and thumb. I even do that if I don’t have anything there. Another thing I do is somewhat the same kinda thing — roll my fingers on the small corners by the touch pad on my MacBook. It has called small calluses and a sore/cut that gets better, then hurts again.”

6. “Trace words as the person is saying them so I know that I fully understand what they’re saying.”

7. “I hold my breath when I walk past people because I’m afraid they’ll hear me breathing.”

8. “As soon as I get high levels of anxiety, I start smiling or laughing. It happens in the most tense situations so everyone feels like I’m not taking things seriously and they just get creeped out.”

9. “I start signing my thoughts in a form of ASL, but super fast so people think I’m having a ‘fit.’”

10. “I rub my feet together, I don’t even realize I’m doing it!”

11. “I repetitively stroke the top of my hair right where it parts on my head. It’s become a nervous twitch, releasing any nervous energy. Once I start I can’t stop thinking about touching it, but everybody thinks I’m just petting my head.”

12. “When I’m feeling anxiety, I’ll blurt out words like ‘murder’ or ‘die’ or ‘cut.’ Luckily, this always happens when I’m alone.”

13. “I pee. A lot. Doesn’t even matter if I went to the bathroom five minutes before. If something stresses me out or makes me feel anxious, I get this overwhelming urge to go to the bathroom, even for just a trickle.”

14. “I give myself ‘pep talks’ inside my head when my anxiety gets bad. Sometimes this can be accompanied with eye movements, etc., so sometimes people may think I’m strange as it clearly looks like something is going on.”

15. “I lie. I get so nervous and anxious that I’m not smart enough, adventurous enough, pretty enough, exciting enough that I constantly lie about my life.”

16. “I get hiccups when I speak. They are loud, and when I think I have them under control and try to speak again, I hiccup some more.”

17. “I have this awful nervous laugh when I get really anxious; it’s like a joker style laugh and it freaks people out and it only happens when I’m having an anxiety attack.”

18. “I rock back and forth. I won’t even notice I’m doing it until someone points it out. Sitting or standing, I’ll find myself rocking… it’s oddly calming.”

19. “I will come home from a long day at work or become overwhelmed at a party and ask my husband to squeeze me! Sometimes just my arms/hands, but hugs work the best!”

20. “I repeatedly tug down at my tops. Doesn’t matter how short or long. I pull and pull at the hem until it resembles a dress, trying to hide myself.”

21. “Repeat myself over and over. My anxiety thinks that I’m not being clear so I have to try and say it as many ways as possible to get my point across.”

22. “A friend caught me breathing really heavily when they walked in the room and asked if I was ‘OK,’ and I was surprised by the question because I hadn’t even realized I was anxious at that moment.”

23. “I hum or say things randomly out loud to distract myself from my overthinking. I also pick at the sides of my fingers until they bleed.”

24. “Spam people with messages. Whenever I’m talking to someone, and I send a risky text, I end up spamming the person with about 20 to 30 messages, which makes my anxiety even worse.”

25. “I get ‘obsessed’ with a particular food. It’s all I’ll want, every meal of every day. Until one day, I become sick of the sight of it and move onto something else.”

26. “When it’s too quiet in the room I stop breathing. I’m petrified people will hear me breathe so I hold my breath and breathe as slowly as possible, and it always sounds like I’m out of breath and panting because I’m always out of breath and end up trying to quietly gasp for air.”

27. “I have a really bad eye twitch. One eye will blink a lot so it looks like I’m winking or I constantly look up with that eye. It gets really distracting when I’m in class or if I’m trying to drive. When people point it out or make fun of it, it gets a lot worse.”

28. “One of the many embarrassing things I do when my anxiety strikes is sing, and oh man, do I sing. Usually Wham! or whatever 80’s song is stuck in my head. Then I get anxiety because I’m like, “Oh man they are staring at me.” Life with anxiety…”

29. “When I get anxious, I physically cannot look another person in the eye. If I try, I end up looking away after less than a second because I feel so afraid and embarrassed. I do this on a regular basis with people I’ve never met, but when I’m really bad, I’ve done it to my boyfriend. I feel terrible about it, which makes me more embarrassed, which makes me look away and dissociate even more.”

30. “Oh. I also scold myself out loud. Like ‘stupid idiot!’ And then I get ‘What!?’ Oh it’s just me being silly as usual. Thinking of things that ‘might’ go wrong…”

31. “When I’m having anxiety, to call myself down, I have sit in random places, listen to music and just observe. The other day, I sat on the ground, outside by a car loop at my college and just watched everything that was going on. It was calming and refreshing to get a new perspective.”

32. “I carry around little figures of a character I like, such as different little Doctor Who dolls, that make me feel better and safe. Or wear a locket with the an actor’s picture in it for support.”

33. “When I get anxious, I break out in hives. Sometimes I don’t even notice it, but then someone will point it out and I’m left to make up some excuse as to why I have hives. It usually draws a lot of attention, which just makes the anxiety worse.”

34. “Because of my anxiety I carry small stuffed animals with me everywhere I go. They ground me when I dissociate due to my anxiety, and can act as a distraction in many ways so they’re able to calm me down and keep me calm in anxious situations. But it’s strange for other to see a 21-year-old in university ‘playing’ with stuffed animals.”

Originally published: April 21, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home