There are the quirky, small things that make you, you. Then, there are the things you do because of anxiety. While personality traits and anxious habits can blend together, to an outsider it’s not always clear which of these “habits” are driven by anxiety. Whether it makes you look “rude” (avoiding phone calls, canceling plans) or “odd” (leaving a social setting quickly, bouncing your leg) — it can be hard when others judge you based on these actions without knowing what’s going on inside your head.
To find out some habits of people who have anxiety, we asked our mental health community to share one thing people might not realize they’re doing because of anxiety.
Here’s what they shared with us:
1. “I run my hands along my face and neck, scanning for imperfections (acne, facial hair, scabs), and I pick at them. Sometimes until the spot is bleeding or I’ve hurt myself.” — Nana M.1
2. “I apologize for anything and everything that might seem like it would be an inconvenience for anyone… whether I can control it or not.” — Tamara J.
3. “If I start to feel overwhelmed I have to go somewhere else. Sometimes that means I zone out even in the middle of conversations. Other times I have to run out of the room so I can go cry and freak out.1 It’s not that I don’t like people; they just overwhelm me at times.” — Becca W.
4. “Getting irritable and snapping at little things. This is often accompanied by sensory overload. When I have a panic attack, my thoughts are so intense and engulfing that I could lose my cool at the drop of a hat. I’m normally kind and patient, but sometimes my mind just won’t stop.” — Shelby S.
5. “People don’t realize I shake constantly because of my anxiety. I often blame it on being cold because I don’t want people to know I’m having a panic attack and feel like I’m about to pass out.” — Ally M.
6. “Forgetting random things of varying importance. My mind is so overtaxed just getting through the day, things sometimes slip… sorry…” — Trüth B.
7. “I take everything personally. Even though it may have been a small mistake/error, it will expand and take over my mind and I will be thinking about it all day.2” — Jeremy C.
8. “I space out, even in the middle of a conversation, if my anxiety gets too bad. I can go from completely engaged in the conversation to just physically there in a matter of seconds.” — Alicia S.
9. “I scroll through my phone. It looks like I’m not paying attention or don’t want to be with whoever is there, but I do I just need an extra distraction. I also have ADD so I can be mindlessly scrolling through an app on my phone and be engaged in conversation; it’s just my anxiety is overwhelming if I don’t have that distraction.” — Liz T.
10. “For me it’s playing with my hair, not talking on the phone at all, not participating in anything. Shaking and stuttering. I sometimes even forget how to even form sentences.” — Lily S.
11. “Worrying about every little thing to the point where it annoys people, but it’s not my fault I can’t stop worrying and dwelling.” — Amanda A.
12. “I constantly shake my legs… I have since a child… I don’t even realize I’m doing it until someone brings it to my attention.” — Davin T.
13. “I get really really quiet — to where people don’t even know I’m in my office. I start to detach and zone out, and people will remark how they haven’t seen me all day.” — Carolyn A.
14. “Biting my nails and the skin on my hands until they bleed. I have permanent scars on my hands now — I hate them. People just think I have a bad nail biting habit.” — Molly E.
15. “Comfort eating constantly. Not just because I have a big appetite. If I’m anxious, I will just eat. Even if I’m extremely full.” — Holly M.
16. “I talk a lot in social settings, which seems a bit odd for someone with social anxiety, but I can’t handle any prolonged silence when in a group. I get very anxious, and then I start talking. The more I talk the more I get caught up in the anxiety and as can be predicted, I usually say inappropriate things that in turn increases my anxiety and the talking, and I repeat the cycle. It’s horrible, especially if there’s alcohol involved.” — Mindy W.
17. “If I frantically leave a room, I can promise it is only because I’m experiencing a sensory overload and my anxiety is through the roof. It gives me even more anxiety to feel like I’m being rude, but the idea of having a panic attack in front of people is too brutal to continue standing in the room.” — Alexa K.
18. “People don’t realize my jitteriness (leg shaking/tapping on desks) is because of my anxiety. If I don’t do something to release nervous energy, it just builds up inside, which is much worse.” — Liz P.
19. “Talking out loud to myself and narrating my actions and surroundings to myself. Like, ‘I am here, sitting at my desk, I have a stack of papers here, here are my pens, my tea cup feels warm in my hand, I am turning my computer on now…’ This is actually soothing to me, and I’ve done it since I was a little girl.” — Andréa V.
20. “I go to the restroom a lot. Probably half of the time I go when I am in public is because I need a break. Yeah, anxiety makes hanging out in a small cramped bathroom stall my comfort zone. I can be alone and get a break from the social situation that is causing my anxiety.” — Desiree N.
21. “Over-planning trips. Crying. Not being able to sleep. Being overly protective (even of friends). Canceling plans/trip/party. Picking at sores/scabs/zits. Hurting oneself. Overcompensating.” — Ciara C.
22. “Stretching at my desk. Sure, it’s a good idea to do when you mostly sit for your job, but it also helps ‘ground’ me when my anxiety spikes and helps me not dissociate or spiral out of control with my thoughts.” — Chriss T.
23. “I sleep a lot. I guess it looks like laziness to most, but being with or meeting other people drains me from energy. I can be tired for days after meeting/talking with somebody. Even being with my friends can drain my energy to below zero. Lately it has been so bad, I’e started to isolate myself because I just don’t have the energy anymore.” — Sanne V.
24. “Awkward laugh. I don’t do it intentionally, but often when I’m uncomfortable, I’ll catch myself laughing after saying something or during an awkward silence. I hate that I do it and I try not to, but it just seems to be my body’s reaction when I’m anxious in a social situation.” — Keira H.
25. “Nagging. Sometimes I can be really bossy or nag people because I’m trying to feel in control of something. For example, I get really bad anxiety in cars and I will constantly ask my husband to slow down, even if we are going below the speed limit. Another one is also over-preparing. I’m always packing the diaper bag with a million things ‘just in case…” because I have run through every nightmare scenario in my mind and I feel like if I don’t have enough supplies for three days+ for each kid, then something bad will happen.” — Sabrina H.
26. “I space out a lot. Sometimes I even forget who I’m with or where I’m at. I cry spontaneously over really little things. I always ask for a specific person when I have an attack even if I’m surrounded by others that care. They all seem to think it’s because they aren’t helping or that they’re scaring me but it’s not any of that. It really sucks sometimes.” — Gennie A.
27. “I’m forgetful and scared I’m going to forget something important. I keep three calendars which are always updated identically, and I carry them with me. I make to-do lists. There are tons of alarms and reminder alerts on my phone because of this.” — Kristin S.
28. “Being indecisive. People think I’m just being picky and can’t make up my mind, but honestly I’m freaking out because you might hate me if I chose the wrong one.” — Angie B.
29. “I always have my headphones in because I’m really sensitive to noise. It’s easier to block out all the noise for me, but people find it really rude. I also mess with my hair a lot and talk really soft.” — Alex R.
30. “I play with my hair, either wrapping it around my fingers or knotting and unknotting it. People take it the wrong way and assume I’m either being really ignorant or even flirty sometimes but I really cant help it.” — Sophie D.
31. “Being really quiet… I’m probably either ruminating about something I shouldn’t be ruminating about and I’m trying not to mention it, or I’m mentally exhausted and trying to exist as little as possible for a while.” — Moonjay R.