Although people with anxiety can relate to each other’s symptoms and feelings, sometimes anxiety “comes out” in ways we would’t expect. Behaviors that don’t outwardly scream “I’m anxious” could mean just that, and it can be difficult to explain why an anger outburst or sudden need to isolate is actually because of anxiety.
To get a better idea of all the different ways anxiety can come out, we asked people in our mental health community to share something they do when they’re anxious that others might not realize is because of anxiety.
Here’s what they shared with us:
- “I have an attitude out of no where and I can be really short with people even though it’s not their fault.” — Lisa K.
- “I cannot express myself right. I can’t find the words, they don’t come out in the right order and I cannot process what people are telling me. I can’t look at them, hear them speak and have no idea what they just said or did not understand them at all.” — Laura P.
- “I brush people off and close myself off. So many people think anxiety looks like running around and being visibly upset, but most often it’s a battle within your own mind. I know I’ll come off snarky, and I do, if people force me into talking (especially small talk) when I’m having a panic attack.” — Amanda P.
- “I question every little thing and no amount of reassurance will convince me that the people in my life don’t hate me.” — Lillian S.
- “I’m constantly fidgeting. With the pop socket on my phone, bracelets, anything. I also always play on my phone when I’m out. If I’m waiting in line at Walmart, I pull out my phone. Just standing there makes me anxious.” — Kariy Y.
- “I start shaking, start to get very angry and frustrated, start to get very quiet, the simplest decision turns extremely complicated or I may even start to shut down and ‘zone out.’ Can’t think of the words that I want to say (stutter).” — Matt S.
- “I lash out in anger. My brain fills up with anxiety and I sometimes say things I don’t mean because I feel like I’m in a fight or flight situation. It hurts my relationships with other people if I don’t watch what I say when anxious.” — Morgan M.
- “I slip the collar of my T-shirt over my mouth and just under my nose. It makes me feel comforted, much like sleeping with the blanket covering the face at night. I get stares, but honestly it’s for my own comfort.” — Christina M.
- “I pick my scalp hair. It probably looks terrible to other people but I can’t help it.” — Rebecca S.
- “My voice volume increases and I don’t know it. There is also increased urgency in my speaking.” — Jennifer Po.
- “My anxiety gave me dermatillomania. People notice that I dig and pick at my fingers to a point where I’m bleeding a lot, but don’t understand why. It only happens when I’m anxious, so it’s difficult to explain to others when I don’t realize that I’m doing it and then I get more flustered and irritable.” — Erica K.
- “I literally can’t sit still, I’ll do anything to distract myself and end up with a toothbrush in my hands scrubbing the bathroom tiles. I also bite my nails and tap my foot really fast.” — Audrie M.
- “I stop answering any and all texts, I rarely talk when I’m with someone or I talk too much.” — Erika K.
- “I shake my leg(s), almost like I am ‘buffering,’ usually more aggressively if I’m in the eye of a storm that’s exacerbating my anxiety. I also scratch at myself, sometimes breaking skin. It’s like I zone out as a distraction. Most people assume it’s a ‘normal’ tick, but these for me really come out when I’m anxious.” — Kate E.
- “Rock back and forth. It’s been a soothing mechanism since I was a child.” — Malia L.
- “I cancel plans… even if it means missing out on something I used to love. Anxiety has been a huge part of my life for about two years now and I have missed out a lot. Just thinking of planning something can be so physically exhausting. I don’t think people know that I am so drained from just worrying about what could happen, I would rather stay home.” — Kayla L.
- “Shutdown. When I do, people always assume I am anti-social or being rude. There are only three people who I can physically speak to when my anxiety takes over and it took them years to build that trust.” — Jessica T.
- “I stutter and slur my speech. My speech goes downhill the second anxiety kicks in. It’s really annoying. Most people think I just have a stutter, but I really don’t.” — Alyssa B.
- “Getting disproportionately upset. When something feels off, I automatically assume I did something wrong or that someone is upset with me, and that they don’t want to be around me anymore. These thoughts spiral out of control rapidly within a few seconds, which manifest as anger.” — Laura B.
- “Joke around with people or compliment complete strangers. I get a lot of people, including family, that ask why I do that and I usually say I can’t handle stress. I just try to put a smile on someone’s face and it helps me smile.” — Terri A.
- “I’ll be using all my concentration on keeping my anxiety under control. So much so, that if you break that concentration or interrupt me, I may be impatient or come across blunt and rude because I don’t have the energy to give my attention to you as well.” — Adelle W.
- “I pace rapidly. Seems like I can’t walk fast enough until I have to stop, then I start hyperventilating. Usually progresses into a full-on panic attack. Numbness and tingling, can’t breath.” — Kathy Z.
- “I go quiet and usually go on my phone. I’m often accused of being unsociable/rude in these situations, but I’m just pointlessly scrolling to try and distract my brain from everything going on around me!” — Chloe W.
- “Pick at my fingernails. Most people just think it’s a habit… but I have come to realize that when I get anxious and I have nothing to distract me, I pick at my fingernails.” — Kari Giles
- “I start touching/massaging my throat and neck because it’s tightening up due to nausea. I pinch my pressure point between my thumb and first finger. I swallow/cough. I get quiet or irritable and my answers are short and to the point. I distance myself as far away from other people as possible, and when I can’t, I angle away so I’m not directly facing them. Sometimes I will pull or tug at the hair on the base of my neck. I will also hide out in the bathroom for extended periods of time with the fan on to dull out lights and noises.” — Erin M.
- “I generally stop making eye contact (if I was making it in the first place), and usually end up just staring at the wall/ceiling. I also pick at my fingers or over-play with my hair.” — Melissa V.
- “I crack my knuckles all the time. Over and over again non-stop all day. It’s just a physical manifestation of my anxiety and I can’t stop it. Sometimes I worry it’s loud and annoying, but I can’t help it.” — Rebecca W.