Anxiety affects millions every year. Even with this disorder being as common as it is, people are still unaware that the way they think, react, and behave is all influenced by anxiousness. Whether we assume these bad habits are normal, harmless, or beyond our control, it’s important to be able to tell when anxiety shows up and how. This awareness could be a giant step in helping to seek guidance for ourselves or helping a loved one who may be in need of emotional support. Curious as to what these habits are and what they look like?
1. People Pleasing
Do you consider yourself a people pleaser? Someone who goes out of their way to be overly accommodating, friendly, or shower people with praise? Experts like Jenny Jinhee Lee, a creative arts therapist based in NYC, agree that this is actually a consequence of anxiety. People who have social anxiety tend to go out of their way to please people because:
- They’re afraid of causing conflict or friction.
- Or they have low self-esteem and are afraid that they won’t be liked or accepted.
To avoid this fear, they’ll usually do things like overpraising or being extremely kind and reassuring. If you find yourself being excessively friendly or laying compliments on thick, ask yourself why. Are you being genuine, or are you reacting to fear? If you relax and just be yourself, you may find that you’ll be able to form genuine connections with people who accept you for who you are, not someone you think you have to be.
Are you someone who constantly feels the need to explain themselves, even when you’re not asked? Do you overload people with details or feel obligated to give additional info unsatisfied with just one-word answers or responses? This bad habit is a consequence of low confidence, a side effect of anxiety. People who tend to over-explain do so out of a desire to please people (see above).
When you’re speaking to someone, ask yourself if a thorough explanation is absolutely necessary or if you’re just doing it to satisfy your own discomfort. If it’s the latter, practice answering questions generally and concisely. Hold off on unpacking the juicy deets unless you’re asked. Before you know it, you’ll be delivering one-word answers with confidence.
Are you the kind of person who picks everything apart? Do you find yourself hesitating to make decisions? Do you examine every detail until you think yourself into mental oblivion? This stems from a few branches of anxiety:
- Fear of failure (ex: Ugh, what should I do!? I don’t want to make the wrong decision)
- Social anxiety (ex: OMG! I could’ve said this instead. GREAT! Now I look stupid)
- Panicking (ex: Did I forget to turn the water off? I hope I turned the water off. It would be so bad if I didn’t turn the water off…)
- Lack of confidence (ex: Wait, is that how you spell this word? Let me Google it. Then let me Google its synonyms and the textbook definition to make sure I’m using it in the right context…)
When you find yourself constantly replaying conversations or going down a rabbit hole of research just to make a simple decision, see if you can catch yourself. Remind yourself that none of these decisions will mean the end of the world, and it’s OK not to be perfect.
4. Constantly Being ‘Productive’
Are you someone who is always on “go”? Do you bully yourself into staying occupied or busy? Do you convince yourself that you’re running out of time to accomplish things, so everything needs to be done now? That’s anxiety, my friend. According to Creative Arts therapist Jenny Lee, anxiety is usually accompanied by a sense of restlessness, making it hard to stay in one place. At the same time, someone feeling anxious may obsess over the concept of time and spend a lot of their present moments worrying about the future. This can cause us to kick our productivity into overhaul and push ourselves past our physical and mental limits.
Although it may feel like you’re maximizing your potential, what you’re actually doing is putting your mind and body at risk of burnout. If you find yourself constantly bouncing from task to task without breaks, step back. During an anxious episode, you may convince yourself that you don’t have time to slow down, but the reality is that you’re not a robot. Your mind and body need to rest and recharge if you really want to accomplish anything.
5. Isolating/Avoiding Crowds
Are you uncomfortable at parties, even on social media? When you’re in a group setting, do you tend to hang on the outskirts looking for an excuse to leave or avoid talking? To be clear, isolating yourself is not the same as being an introvert. The difference? Fear. If you’re keeping to yourself out of fear, panic, or worry, that’s more closely linked to social anxiety than it is to being an introvert which is defined as someone who feels “more comfortable focusing on their inner thoughts and ideas, rather than what’s happening externally. “-WebMD.
If you fall into the habit of holing up, avoiding social settings, and separating yourself from crowds, ask yourself why. Are you reacting from fear or panic? If so, what are you afraid of? Keep yourself open to building new connections with people. There’s a whole world outside your bubble that you’ll miss out on if you continue to live in fear.
Are you always in a rush to get where you’re going? Do you speed through work in record time? Do you skim through text, skipping ahead just to get to the parts you feel are important? It may be because you’re feeling anxious. When we’re feeling anxious, a few things may be happening:
- You may be rushing to hurry up and get to your future
- Your mind may be overwhelmed with thoughts
- You may feel like you need to hurry up because you’re running out of time, and if you do, something bad will happen
Getting results faster isn’t always the best approach. Rushing influences how we think, work, and behave. It causes a lack of awareness, frequent mistakes, and poor decision-making. Rushing out of anxiousness can look like:
- Speed talking.
- Speed walking.
- Skimming through reading/work.
- Pressuring someone into answering you/responding right away.
- Hasty replies to messages.
Stop and breathe the next time you notice yourself breezing through work or a conversation. Ask yourself if rushing is really necessary and if getting to the finish line quicker will result in any added benefits. Feel free to take your time. You’ll have a higher success rate, make fewer mistakes, and understand things a lot better.
When you’re sitting, do you find yourself shaking your leg or foot? Do you bite or pick your nails? Have you ever caught yourself chewing on the inside of your cheek? Restlessness can be triggered by discomfort, unease, or nervousness and may result in habits like:
- Hair biting or chewing
- Playing or messing with your hair
- Picking or biting your lip
- Chewing on your tongue
Fidgeting is a habit that may seem impossible to break. However, awareness is the first step in addressing a problem. If you find yourself fidgeting, try a breathing exercise to help you come down from feeling anxious and to help put your body at ease. If you find yourself fidgeting in your chair or standing in place, try getting into a position that is the most comfortable for you. They say the best way to get over a bad habit is to replace it with a good one.
Are you the kind of person who juggles several tasks at a time, seeming to get nowhere fast? Do you toggle between tabs, text messages, and house chores? Do you fall behind in your work because you’re trying to do too much at once? Although some people may feel multi-tasking is normal, it’s a bad habit that makes it impossible to focus. Doing too many things at once may leave you feeling scatterbrained and overwhelmed, causing you to be forgetful, lost, and easily agitated.
Sometimes we convince ourselves that tackling several things at once is our only option. However, the more we divide our time and energy, the harder it is to concentrate and mistakes can be made. Are you multi-tasking out of fear that you won’t get all your work done in time? If so, take a minute to catch your breath. Slow down and complete your work one task at a time. Doing work one task at a time is not only a proven time management strategy, but it is a healthier approach to productivity.
9. Assuming The Worst/Negative Thinking
Do you find yourself going from 0 to panic? When making plans, do you usually think of the worst possible outcome? Do you convince yourself that you shouldn’t do something because of all the things that may go wrong? People who feel an overwhelming sense of fear or panic may feel like thinking the worst-case scenario is playing it safe or that they’re being strategic by thinking ten steps ahead. However, what we’re actually doing is feeding into our mind’s sense of fear and panic, which convinces us that what we’re thinking is true even though it hasn’t happened yet.
This bad habit can lead us into a downward spiral, trapping us in a cycle of negative thoughts. At worst, negative thinking can bring on full-fledged panic attacks. Ask yourself if the things you’re assuming are true at the moment or if you’re convincing yourself it’s true because of fear or worry. Stop, take a moment to relax, and instead of filling your mind with “what ifs,” focus on what’s actively happening. You may find that the worst-case scenario you created started and ended with your mind.
Familiarity is key in recognizing these habits in ourselves. We can achieve this by practicing self-awareness to easily identify when we’re feeling anxious and take the necessary steps to change it. Lee says letting go of anxiety is how we find peace; “I wonder if being aware and trying to change anxiety can open us up to finding out ‘what else is out there for me?’ and open our eyes so that we can let go of what we know and engage in new experiences.”