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23 Things People Didn't Realize They Were Doing as a Kid Because of Anxiety

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When anxiety is part of your reality as a child, it can sometimes take a bit to figure out why some of your behaviors or reactions seem different than your peers. Not until adulthood did I realize the twisting stomachaches that happened every time I was supposed to sleep over at a friend’s house — which would inevitably result in me going home — were a result of childhood anxiety.

That’s why we asked our Mighty mental health community to share with us some things they didn’t realize they were doing as a kid because of their anxiety. Because even though anxiety is experienced differently by everyone, identifying what you’re going through is often an important step, and more kids need to know they’re not alone. 

Here is what our community had to say:

1. Lip-Picking

“I have very vivid memories of being told over and over and over to stop picking my lips. As a child, I didn’t fully realize it was because of my anxiety. As I grew up, I learned it’s an actual thing and I wasn’t just gross and weird for picking my skin. Learning it had a name — dermatillomania — and others have it really helped. I still pick at my skin, but now I know why and I can start working on it.” — Joleen R.

“Picking. I still do. I pick my lips. I will pick them until they bleed, wait for the blood to stop and continue on. Sometimes I get stuck in the weirdest spots, picking. I get lost in it. I can do it for hours, days. I am not OK when I am unable to control it. My lips currently are raw, and they sting. I have to wear lipstick and gloss to mask it. I have done it since I was a little kid and am almost 40 now.” — Rachel M.

2. Staying Home From School

“Staying home from school because you’re too sick to go. It was nausea, which manifests when I’m very anxious.” — James-Micah E.

3. Not Being Able to Sleep at Friends’ Houses

“I could never sleep at anyone’s house, even my best friend, who was practically my sister. I would always wake up in the middle of the night and call my mom to pick me up.” — Rebecca G.

4. Hiding

“[I would ] lock myself in my room and not let anyone near me. I would have trouble getting to sleep because I would always feel unsafe, like someone was going to come in and attack me while I slept because of the anxiety. I still have anxiety and still have problems sleeping — it seems to only be getting worse.” — Triss H.

“Building a little house under my bed. I stayed there for hours. My mom used to get so angry with me, that I still play with my dolls at the age of 15, but I felt safe being with them.” — Jedidiah A.

“I would go hide in small places, like the back of the furnace room and bring my doll and hold her in the dark.” — Rachael M.

5. Hair Pulling

“I would spend hours searching my hair for split ends and pulling or biting them off. I realized that was my trichotillomania first showing signs. It’s an anxiety habit I still deal with today.” — Kerrie W.

6. Avoiding Eating With Others

“Avoiding going into the dinner hall with my friends because of social anxiety, and instead walking home alone to my grandparents’ where I felt safe.” — Hannah C.

“I never ate in the cafeteria at school. The idea of the people, the noise, worrying about having no one to sit with, or worse, someone sitting with me and the expectations that brought. For four years of high school I only ate one meal a day because of it and only realized later in life it was a symptom of my mental illness.” — Dawn S.

7. Being Quiet

“I was always quiet. I would freeze whenever I felt uncomfortable. For some reason I just wouldn’t move or say anything.” — Lexi B.

“Being mute. Whenever I was in school when I was very young I would never speak because I was so scared of everyone and everything. I just got labelled as ‘shy’ and ‘quiet,’ when in reality, I was too scared to speak.” — Beth S.

8. Always Going to the Nurse’s Office

“Going to the nurses office every day in elementary because I felt sick to my stomach. She’d ask me why I was always in there. I didn’t know at the time, I really just thought I was sick. It would confuse me a lot whenever she’d send me home and I’d magically feel better once I got there. I also used to throw up before school in junior high.” — Jackie D.

9. Difficulty Breathing

“Having ‘asthma‘ attacks. I’d have trouble breathing and was diagnosed with asthma, but once I was diagnosed with anxiety I never had an asthma attack again.” — Amanda W.

10. Nightmares

“Nightmares. And needing to make accommodations to really basic routines because of phobias/anxieties surrounding different things like sounds, textures, etc. And picking at my skin. And talking too much about something.” — Josie S.

“In elementary school I had recurring nightmares about family members dying. I would wake up in a panic and wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep. My school nurse gave me a beanie baby dog and called it my ‘worry dog’ to hold onto and remind me that my anxiety is temporary.” — Sandra K.

11. Nail Biting

“I bit my nails. When I say I bit my nails, I mean down to nothing. I bit one nail so badly one time my mom had to take me to the emergency room because it got infected. They had to remove my whole nail and my finger had to be soaked in iodine and warm water daily. I am 34 years old and I still bite my nails and pick at the loose skin around my nails. I’m always anxious and have really bad panic attacks.” — Jonna L.

“Biting my nails. My parents tried and tried to get me to stop, but I just couldn’t. I still bite them, but keeping them painted helps.” — Tori H.

12. Headaches

“I used to, and still get really bad headaches because of sensory overload caused by my anxiety, but it wasn’t until I was 15 that I realized what it was.” — Yoeli C.

13. Not Being Able to Look People in the Eye

“I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. I would cry anytime anyone raised their voice. I would hide in the bathrooms after lunch or recess because I didn’t want to go back into a room full of other kids that I felt were all mean.” — Stephanie C.

14. Sleep Walking

“Sleep walking! At times of change, such as entering a new grade at school, I would sleep walk at the same time every night until the event causing me anxiety happened.” — Katie W.

“Sleep walking and talking. I used to not be able to sleep with the TV on when my anxiety was bad because I would start having conversations with the TV or be convinced I needed the item in the commercial, like a Slurpee at 3 a.m., even though I never liked them.” — Bree M.

15. Constantly Watching the Clock at School

“I would sit in class watching the clock hoping to get through the hour without embarrassing myself with an episode of a panic attack. I could feel the anxiety ebb away as the hour ebbed away, but only when there was about 10 minutes left. I knew I could handle 10 more minutes. I missed a lot of what was being said in class just worrying for that hour to be over.” — Kimberlee B.

16. Zoning Out

“I would ‘zone out’ as my mom called it. Basically, I would just sit and stare at something until everything around me disappeared. I didn’t think about anything, I just let it all disappear. It calmed me. I recall I had done this once at school during a particularly stressful time. It was during recess and I never noticed when we were all supposed to go back in. Apparently I sat out there like that during multiple recess times and missed part of my school day because of it. I wonder now why the teacher didn’t notice, or if she did, why she didn’t say anything.” — Desiree N.

17. Anger Issues

“My so-called ‘anger issues.’ My family made it a habit to pick certain qualities about me and laugh. It made my throat feel tight and my heart race. I would panic and explode, which was what they wanted. Later on, I was sent to anger management, which wasn’t the issue and I was being treated for the wrong thing. I dropped out within a week.” — Brianna N.

18. Not Being Able to Sleep

“Walking around the house in the middle of the night because I couldn’t sleep and being easily guilted into anything — both of which I still do. I never realized that wasn’t ‘normal’ until I really thought about it.” — Bonny K

“I used to lie in bed, unable to sleep, staring at my window and wondering if tonight was the night someone would break in and hurt me. Nearly every night. I tried to decide whether I would stay in my room and let him hurt me, then he’d escape; or if I should try to run out of my room to get help. I usually decided I’d stay, because if he chased me, he’d see I had a little sister across the hall.” — Becca R.

19. Being ‘Clingy’

“I was terrified of being left alone or thinking I was. I would lose it if my mom was more than a step away from me in the grocery store. I would have panic attacks so bad I couldn’t breathe right.” — Rebecca B.

“Clinging to people. I was terrified of being left alone, and especially around people I didn’t know.” — Katherine C.

20. Always Asking Questions

“Asking too many questions to the point where my middle school orchestra teacher told me to stop asking questions enough times, so now I have a fear of asking ‘too many’ questions.” — Rebecca G.

21. Stomach Aches

“I always felt sick, mostly stomach aches, and my mom started telling me I was a hypochondriac and I believed [her] for years.” — Stephanie M.

“I always got stomach aches when it was time to do something I didn’t want to do.” — Dorenda B.

22. Canceling Plans

“Constantly canceling plans, even ones I’m excited for because people make me super nervous (social anxiety). I still do this and sometimes it takes me forever to meet anyone because I’m too scared.” — Kay B.

23. Fidgeting

“When I’m feeling anxious, I fidget with the seams of my clothes.” — Brandi R.

“Nervous repetitive behaviors. Twirling my hair around my finger until it’s knotted up, running my hands over my face over and over again, and tugging at my clothes.” — Carolyn A.

Unsplash image via Tara Evans

Originally published: April 14, 2023
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