The Mighty Logo

34 Behaviors Kids Did That Were Code for 'I'm Anxious'

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

As a child, it’s often difficult to know why we do the things we do or think the things we think. And for children who struggle with anxiety, it can be even more difficult to know which thoughts and actions are caused by or used to cope with anxiety. In some cases, children and those around them aren’t even aware they’re struggling.

Not until we’re older do we realize that certain behaviors stemmed from worry, overthinking and fear that may be attributed to anxiety.

That is why we asked our Mighty mental health community to share with us behaviors they did as a kid that other may not have realized were actually code for: “I’m anxious.”

Here is what they had to say:

1. “Crying constantly for what seemed like no reason because I was unable to pinpoint or express why I felt so awful.” — Raye H.

2. “I bit and pinched my arms and hands. A lot. I’d hit myself in the head, that kind of thing. It distracted me from the uncomfortable irritable feeling I had no words to describe.” — Ethan B.

3. “Not going to or not wanting to go to friend’s birthday parties or just have playdates.” — Nova H.

4. “I constantly frowned, looked at the ground, kept my distance from people and didn’t talk. I grew up with severe anxiety and instead of people realizing that I was nearly having a panic attack from any attention and conversation, they chose to believe that I was just having an attitude or rudely frowning at them.” — Kellyann N.

5. “I’d stand in the stairs for half an hour working the courage to ask my parents a basic question. I chewed the corner of my papers. I always chewed on my shirts. I never realized what I was really doing until I learned what anxiety and depression actually was.” — Charles D.

6. “I would ask, ‘Why are you yelling at me?’ even if they weren’t. When I didn’t understand my anxiety as a child, everything felt like the end of the world and I conditioned myself to think everyone was mad at me all of the time.” — Sarah S.

7. “I used to hide behind my father’s legs when [I was] little. Then once I no longer fit, I’d hide behind anything I could where I could see what was going on; even if it was just a book. It’s amazing how safe I felt behind a book. Besides the obvious barrier, I could get lost in another world if I wanted to, or to be able to see and hear everything without having to interact.” — Lauren D.

8. “I needed to know what we were going to do every second of the day. I needed to know there was a plan and what it was. I could never go with the flow without feeling super anxious.” — Carina A.

9. “Whenever I’m in class and have to speak my palms will sweat, my back will sweat and I’ll start to feel dizzy and sick. I will constantly look around and then just freeze.” — Bethany M.

10. “Not sleeping. I was convinced if I slept something awful would happen to my family. Like I could save them as long as I was awake.” — Rosie F.

11. “I would hide out in the bathroom where I would often feel nauseated or shaky. I would socially withdraw from the other kids and create my own imaginary world to drown out what was scaring me. I would make excuses to keep from having to go out to eat, play at a friends house or travel because I had a hard time feeling safe anywhere but home.” — Kaitlin T.

12. “Going to have a nap. My parents thought I was just super great at putting myself down for naps, but it was always to avoid a situation that made me anxious. Usually when guests came over. I think I’ve conditioned my brain to respond to anxiety with tiredness because to this day, I’ll know I’m having low-level anxiety because it will make me sleepy.” — Sharon E.

13. “I’d obsessively worry that something bad was going to happen overnight, so I’d frequently run into my parents’ bedroom to ask them if they could remind me how safe we were in the house. So, ‘How safe are we again?’ was my code for, ‘I’m feeling anxious and need some reassurance.’” — Erika H.

14. “Not going to school often because I didn’t feel well. I’ve always had physical symptoms of anxiety, but I didn’t know it was anxiety back then. I had ribs cramps to the point where I’d be crying in a ball on the floor. I was also the kid to ask the teacher to do teamworks alone. I hated asking people if they wanted to work with me or if they wanted to be my friends, so I didn’t.” — Elodie G.

15. “I would fidget with things. Especially with my fingers. Either crossing them or tracing the dents in my skin. I just kept moving my fingers or hands.” — Janell R.

16. “On days when I had a presentation at school, I would fake a sprained ankle or being sick. As I got older and into my teen years, I would skip classes. — Jenny D.

17. “Zoning out a lot, especially during a panic attack or high anxiety. I can’t count how many times this happened in the classroom and at home.” — Anna J.

18. “I tended to lie. I made up lies to make myself sound more interesting and fun. No one paid attention to me because I was the ‘bigger girl’ in school. I didn’t want people to see that I was anxious on the inside and just wanted people to like me. A few years of counseling with my anxiety definitely helped me.” — Cassie M.

19. “Biting my nails, being quiet and whenever I’d become anxious, I’d find things in my room (toys) that had a flaw or that got broken and hid them from myself. That’s how I would project my anxiety. I’d also be irritable and get upset easily.” — Hannah S.

20. “I was just very mean to people when I was anxious — sarcastic and almost rude. I’d also just zone out — not even daydream — but my mind would go blank like it was trying to find a reset button.” — Melissa H.

21. “I pace for hours at a time. For whatever reason, pacing and listening to music distracts me from the fact that I’m anxious. The problem with that, is that it bothers my family by even knowing I do it, so they try to force me to stop, which makes my anxiety worse. They don’t seem to want to understand that it’s more of a need for me, not a want.” — Marie J.

22. “I constantly had stomach aches and nausea, and frequently would repeat how I ‘didn’t feel well.’ I would repeat to my parents how I knew something was wrong with me. I cancelled plans often due to meltdowns and I would frequently apologize for things that didn’t require an apology — walking too slow, forgetting to grab something, not getting an A, disagreeing.” — Jessica G.

23. “Avoiding eye contact, stuttering and pulling on the ends of my long-sleeved shirts were the visible ticks I had as a child. I have also been a talkative person to make up for uncomfortable silence or discomfort with social situations.” — Lauren J.

24. “I sucked my thumb and ran my fingers through a silk robe. The dentist had to install a habit breaker in my mouth to stop me from sucking my thumb, but here I am at 30 years old and I still run my fingers through the end of a pillowcase. If I don’t have access to my pillowcase then I pick my lip or bite my nails.” — Christina V.

25. “I always would pull/rub my ears. Something about my ear getting messed with has always help calm me down. Most likely because it made me hyper-focused on what I was doing. I would also scratch right above my knee. I have several jeans, even to this day, with worn marks from doing this.” — Kayla H.

26. “I pick at my fingernails and hands a lot — I feel in control when doing that. I don’t know why, I just always have. It gives me a sense of security I think, like a kid that has a security blanket that makes them feel safe.” — Jessica H.

27. “I always wanted to stay home. I would even come up with ways to make plans go awry so we could just all hang out at home instead of going out to eat or whatever. If that didn’t work, I would pretend I didn’t feel well.” — Rachel C.

28. “Being really upset when my parents didn’t pick me up on time, or when they said they would. Especially related to school and the bus, too. I would get upset, start crying and not be able to explain it to anyone.” — Claire W.

29. “I would pinch my arms so much I would bruise them. It was a distraction to myself so I wouldn’t draw attention from others in an attempt to stay calm. It got so bad, I would wear my sweater even in summer. This was almost every day without warning. “ — Felix T.

30. “I would break out in hives. Still do. For as long as I can remember, as soon as the anxiety would start, so would the hives. Even if I felt ‘fine,’ my mom would know I wasn’t because I’d be covered in hives.” — Katrina G.

31. “Incessant list-making or copying by hand or typing books, addresses, lyrics. People kind of encouraged this as the quirk of an organized kid, but it was and still is a compulsion.” — Emily G.

32. “I flicked my tongue across my teeth a lot. Enough to cause blisters. My family all laughed about it. Still do. I didn’t know how tell them how I was really feeling.” — Nikki P.

33. “Whenever my mother would try to go out with her friends I would follow her out of the house, bawling and pleading her to not go out and clinging to her leg. And crying after she left to the point where I would make myself sick.” — Riley S.

34. “I would read. Everyone accepted it because that’s what I had always done, but I definitely used my books as a shield from the rest of the world when I couldn’t deal.” — Andrea S.

Getty image via archv

Originally published: January 11, 2018
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