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10 'Irrational' Things People With Anxiety Do That Others Don't Understand

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

Those of us who experience anxiety in our everyday lives know how often the word “irrational” comes to mind. From internalized feelings of guilt to presumed perceptions of what people outside of us think about our behavior, anxiety stirs up feelings of fear or worry that can sometimes feel debilitating.

An overwhelming sense of fear or worry is just the surface of what anxiety can look and feel like. For someone with anxiety, something as minor as a last-minute change of plans can lead to a downward spiral of overthinking, which in turn can manifest as a feeling of panic, doom, heart palpitations, rapid breathing and feelings of guilt. You’re no longer in control and all you feel is the uncontrollable gasps as you struggle to keep from drowning in anxiety. To remedy it, you might feel compelled to do things that seem “irrational” to cope with it all.

That being said, anxiety is a very real disorder, and if you ever find yourself feeling small or alone because you feel “irrational” — you aren’t alone. In fact, to further prove that point, we asked members of The Mighty’s anxiety community to tell us “irrational” things they do that people in their lives don’t understand.

Here’s what they told us:

1. Overplanning

“I have to pre-plan things… lots of times I call [them] Plan A and Plan B. I run scenarios over and over in my head to make sure my ‘plans’ will work. Over the years, I have learned to work it through if Plans A or B fail, but I still don’t do well with chaos. The only thing that fixes that is if I sleep.” — Susan G.

2. Saying ‘No’ to Last-Minute Plans

“I don’t adjust well to a quick change in plans. I have to try really hard to keep it together and I come across as being mad and I’ve been asked repeatedly, ‘What’s wrong?’ and ‘What do you want to do?’ etc. It’s exhausting and draining and I generally just need some time to adjust and come to terms with the change and then I am almost always OK. I just need a minute. Of course, then afterwards, I am plagued with guilt for making everyone think I was mad and I obsess excessively over every detail.” — Camy S.

“I don’t like last-minute plans. If someone wants to do something last-minute and if I have to go, I have a panic attack. I need time to mentally prepare and a lot of people don’t understand that.” — Caitlin C.

3. Cleaning or Organizing Obsessively

“I start to obsessively clean and organize things. I guess it gives me a sense of ‘control’ when I’m spiraling.” — Sara P.

“I rearrange things… Something as small as the order of towels in my bathroom, taking everything out [of] my cabinets, and putting it back in different places, or even my furniture. Sometimes it stays, sometimes I move it back the way it was after a few hours. I guess I feel like it’s in a better spot than it was before and if I’m moving while doing it I’m putting myself in better place also.” — Jennifer M.

“I blink. A lot. And clean like a madwoman. Sometimes, it’s the only thing I can do that allows me to feel in control of something. I also twist my hair, wiggle toes on one foot only at a pretty good pace (not shaking), and click my nails.” — Emily C.

4. Overthinking

“I don’t think anyone knows of this because it happens in my head. But… I think about what I’m going to say before I even speak. Like I thoroughly organize my thoughts and words. How I feel about it. If I don’t like it, I certainly won’t say it. I way overthink it. And the conversation could be completely simple, like, ‘How’s the weather today?’” — Sarah L.

“When my anxiety gets really high, I start panicking over what could happen if I drive to the store (accident), or in the store (active shooter), or on the drive back (bridge collapses)… and if I let it keep spiraling, I’m simply not going to the store that day, nor am I sending a loved one because I believe it’ll happen to them because I sent them.” — Cassandra F.

5. Knocking On Wood

“When I have these irrational anxiety-filled thoughts, I knock on something three times… Ideally wood but any surface will work. I’m completely, 100 percent cognitively aware it does nothing — but if I don’t do it, the thoughts will spiral. So I just surrender to the knock and immediately feel like I’ve exerted some control. I. Hate. Anxiety.”  — Cassandra F.

6. Feeling Worthless

“My anxiety leads me into a state of thinking I’m worthless, not doing enough or being good enough. Then that leads me into my depressive, no motivation/isolation state.” — Stephanie B.

“I ask my boyfriend why he loves me and why he chose to be with me. I often don’t feel like I’m ‘enough.’ If I’m anxious at work I send him text after text of just random thoughts. It not only overwhelms him, but me.” — Megan W.

7. Avoiding Major Roads While Driving

“Driving gives me a lot of anxiety and when I’m super anxious, I will go out of my way to take roads that are less busy so I don’t have to deal with traffic. However, since driving causes me anxiety, the extra few minutes are just as painful.” — Kaylie S.

“I refuse to drive on the interstate. Just can’t handle it. I’ll spend an hour and a half taking the back roads to my destination instead of the quick 20-minute way that involves the interstate.” — Courtnie V.

8. Breathing “More Intensely” Than Usual

“When my anxiety is high, it affects my breathing. I catch myself inhaling multiple times in a row as if my body doesn’t think I’m getting oxygen. Sometimes the urge to take these repeated breaths can become so intense that I can’t speak. I’m stuck trying to inhale and exhale and catch my breath out of nowhere.” — Jennifer R.

9. Picking My Skin

“I ‘pick’ at my skin. It’s like I see small blemishes/pimples all over my arms and legs and feel a compulsive need to pick at them.” — Tabetha F.

“I constantly pick at my arms and legs. Sometimes it is so painful, but it’s what I can control. I isolate myself from my family and the few friends I have left. I would hate for anyone to feel the pain I feel, so I hide.” — Kristie G.

10. Isolating From Loved Ones

“My anxiety makes me feel that I’m always bothering people. Even close friends. Just trying to start a conversation with them makes me feel that I’m just being a big bother, so I tend to isolate myself. Since feeling lonely is better than feeling like a bother.” — Alexandria A.

“I usually will ignore everyone in class because just talking to someone, especially someone I don’t know makes me sweat a lot and has made me have panic attacks. I tend to just put my headphones in and not say a word all day.” — Jeffrey K.

“When it gets to be too much, I push people away. I don’t like being touched, being talked to, if anyone around me is simply loud, I get overwhelmed and freak out. It’s cost me a lot of friendships.” — Emma B.

Managing anxiety is hard. No matter what anyone says, the way you cope is far from “irrational,” it’s valid, it’s human, and dare I say, normal. The next time you find yourself at the throes of anxiety, instead of surrendering to feelings of self-doubt and guilt, read this to remind yourself that you’re not alone.

Here are some additional resources that may help:

Originally published: February 28, 2019
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