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25 Things People Don't Realize You're Doing Because You're Anxious in Public

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No matter how we act or feel in our private lives, there’s this unspoken rule we need to “keep it together” in public places. But when you live with an anxiety disorder — and being in public is one of your triggers — sometimes playing it cool just isn’t an option.

When this happens, anxiety finds little ways of sneaking out. Maybe it’s more subtle, like constantly cracking your knuckles. Or maybe it’s more overt and you end up drawing unwanted attention when you accidentally snap at someone in the grocery store. Either way, anxiety affects everyone differently, which means anxiety comes out in different ways when you’re struggling in public.

To acknowledge some of the different ways anxiety comes out in public, we asked our mental health community to share with us one thing people may not realize they’re doing because they’re anxious in public. 

Here’s what whey shared with us:

  1. “Being rude. I don’t mean to be and it might mean I am snippy or short when I answer. I am just so overwhelmed it comes out as rude since I am trying to keep it together internally.” — Katrina R.
  2. “I’ll start talking nonstop. Like nervous talking. And I’ll know it’s annoying people and I’ll keep going anyways, thus resulting in more anxiety from feeling like I’m being judged. Like internally, I’ll be screaming at myself to shut up. Eventually I’ll have to go be alone to calm myself down.” — Morgan L.
  3. “I mess with my ponytail just to get the feeling to go down a little and I swerve the cart back and forth. My daughter thinks it’s hilarious and she starts asking my questions to calm me down.” — Gabrielle H.
  4. “My mind wanders off, so I don’t know what people are saying to me.” — Kerry S.
  5. “Shake my leg/foot, both sitting down and standing up. I also bite my lip and bite the skin round my fingernails.” — Katie M.
  6. “I laugh at weird times or ‘overexplain’ things and seem like a know-it-all. And it’s just because when I’m nervous, I ramble. I don’t mean to sound snobbish. Or I’ll fiddle with my sleeves or hair ties.” — Hannah J.
  7. “Talk a lot really fast and ramble on, laugh when it’s not necessary, tug at my ears, become silent and space out, wiggle my toes (something my now ex picked up on and finds annoying — I don’t realize I’m doing it when I do it).” — Ruby M.
  8. “When I’m in a store, I walk around. Not really looking at anything. Just kinda coasting along. My anxiety gets really high in stores. I will also walk reallllllllyyyyyy fast darting around. Either one can happen.” — Samantha M.
  9. “Shake my leg, hide near or behind my significant other. I can’t sit still ever, I have to have music blaring in my ears to block out crowded places when I don’t have my significant other with me. I start to breathe shallowly, I turn pale and I’ve been told my eyelids turned purple. I keep my head down and try not to look at other people. I chew on my fingers and the skin around the nails. I have gotten teary eyed before and felt sick and continuously look around me to make sure no one is looking at me.” — Brooke K.
  10. “I become very clingy to my husband, stand very closely, almost behind him where I cannot be seen. If I could crawl inside his clothes, I would.” — Mandi A.
  11. “I am usually very animated in public. My anxiety tends to make me a bit childlike under stress. I make jokes, have big loud laughs and talk constantly. If I allow myself to slow down and get into my head, I start to panic so I go off to a place where I am in control.” — Amanda C.
  12. “I tend to walk really fast and try to avoid congested areas at all cost. I also fidget a lot. Play with my hands. Pull on my shirt. Bite my nails. If I get to straight panic mode, I’ll sit down. Right where I am. I don’t even care if I am in the way of other people. I sit down and put my head between my legs, nearly on the floor, and practice the exercises my therapist gave me.” — Heather C.
  13. “I scratch. Usually I’ll scratch inside my shirt, especially on my back, or my shoulders. I now have some scars on my shoulders from scratching so often.” — Melissa S.
  14. “Walk at a quick pace or out of my way to avoid people, act like I’m doing something on my phone, fidget/move my legs, stretching constantly, undo and redo my ponytail numerous times, clench my fists and/or teeth. The list seems endless but mainly I am constantly moving or distracting myself in some way.” — Brittney D.
  15. “My brow furrows and I look like I’m going to lash out at people, but really I’m just trying to keep my cool.” — Wendy P.
  16. “Being on my phone. It’s my crutch and my comfort. So when people tell me to get off and enjoy the outside it irritates me so much.” — Melissa M.
  17. “Scratching my scalp. Lots of people joke I have fleas. Or I will push my thumb or knuckle into my lips. I don’t know why, but the pressure helps me stay calm.” — Stephanie R.
  18. “I laugh at the worst possible time, I feel awful afterward. Especially after I get the strangest looks, sometimes I feel I should apologize or explain myself but not sure people would understand.” — Lisa M.
  19. “Avoiding eye contact at all costs. It’s not a purposeful attempt to be rude, it’s simply me not being able to comfortably talk when I’m fully aware of people staring at me.” — Ryann M.
  20. “Walking really close to the wall so I can see most things around me. Having headphones in to separate the outside noise from my thoughts so I don’t get overwhelmed. [I] talk really quietly when you ask me something.” — Hannah T.
  21. “I pick my lips. I don’t even realize I am doing it until my lips start hurting. I know it’s gross and I don’t want people to see me doing it, but it’s nearly impossible to stop.” — Madison F.
  22. “During shopping, I zig zag all over the store. I can never make just one swoop through because I’m constantly avoiding people and situations that look threatening. I will stand and stare at the chip aisle for 30 minutes waiting for someone to leave nearby.” — Brandy M.
  23. “Pacing or ‘staring into space.’ It sometimes looks like I am staring at people but I am really just stuck in my own thoughts.” — Chelsea D.
  24. “It took me forever to realize I was extra snappy while out grocery shopping because it makes me incredibly anxious. I’m always over the top snappy in my head to other customers around me because the crowds and worrying what people think of me or if I’m annoying them or taking too long to pay on top of trying to find everything I need at good prices is just too much. It exhausts me. There’s a noticeable difference when I shop for fun and can be more relaxed.” — Oriana S.
  25. “Always checking something on my phone whether I have notifications or not. Having something to bite on — pen caps, paper clips, etc.” — Luz M.

What would you add?

Lead photo via danielvfung

Originally published: March 8, 2018
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