There are so many different types of anxiety, and even more ways its symptoms can play out. But it doesn’t seem to matter if you have generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or social anxiety — there are definitely a few habits all people with anxiety have in common.
For example, many sufferers have obsessive thoughts, and rituals to go with them, as a way of coping. “Obsessive habits give an individual a false sense of control,” NYC-based therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, tells Bustle. “Anxiety often makes someone feel out of control, so by thinking the same thoughts over and over the individual feels they can control things.” Same goes for performing certain rituals, staying “on guard” 24/7, and over-preparing for your day. These habits are all a desperate attempt to regain some control.
While you may be in good company with the 40 million other people who suffer from an anxiety disorder, it doesn’t mean you need to live with unhealthy habits. “It’s important to not give in to the negative thoughts and focus your attention elsewhere,” Hershenson says. “Meditation, calling a friend to see how they are doing, volunteering, or engaging in a hobby are all healthy coping skills to help you get out of your head.” Same goes for taking care of yourself, and maybe even seeing a therapist.
Do you have anxiety? Then there’s a pretty big chance you have one (or all) of the habits below.
1. You Let Self Care Fall To The Wayside
For countless reasons, people with anxiety tend to put their own self care on the back burner. “Anxious people tend to care too much about what others are thinking, and they put lots of effort into making sure everyone likes them,” says therapist Jill Howell MA, ATR-BC, LPC, author of Color, Draw, Collage: Create Your Way to a Less Stressful Life, in an email to Bustle. “What they really need is to spend more time liking themselves! Everyone, especially people suffering from anxiety, needs to have downtime where they focus just on their own needs, instead of worrying about everyone else.”
2. You Stress Out About Losing Control
Again, anxiety is all about fearing a loss of control, which is why many sufferers go out of their way to prepare. “That can develop counterproductive behaviors, like obsessive over-preparing or guardedness,” Dr. Seda Gragossian, clinical director at Talk Therapy Psychology, tells Bustle. “This is commonly seen in people with social anxieties who will avoid putting themselves entirely in situations where they have no control of an outcome.”
3. You’re Almost Addicted To Worrying
Since overthinking is pretty much the definition of anxiety, it can become a pattern for your brain. “An initial worry oftentimes feeds on itself as people play the same worrying thought through their heads over and over again,” Gragossian says. “This, in and of itself, can become a habit to the point where one becomes almost addicted to worrying.” Sound familiar?
4. You’re Quite The Ruminator
Overthinking brings me to rumination, which is another habit common among anxiety sufferers. “When you ruminate, your thoughts go in circles and you obsess about the same things over and over again,” Hershenson says. It can feel like your brain gets stuck, and you can’t think of anything else.
5. You Don’t Trust Your Own Opinion
If you have anxiety, then you aren’t likely to be someone who can confidently make a decision, and then stick with it. As Hershenson says, “You don’t trust your own judgment or the fact that things will work out, so you are constantly trying to get other people’s input.”
6. You’re Always “On Guard”
As psychotherapist Marc Zola, LMFT, LPC says, “In my practice, I find that most people struggling with anxiety are very bright, thoughtful, capable people who struggle with noticing when their normal vigilance crosses the chasm to hyper-vigilance.”
If you think everything will go wrong, you might be on guard 24/7 as a way of standing at the proverbial gates, waiting for problems to occur. And it can be pretty damn exhausting.
7. You’re A Magical Thinker
This is a big one for people with obsessive compulsive disorder, magical thinking is the belief that your anxiety is protecting you and your loved ones in some way; that, if you were to calm down, something bad might happen, therapist Thai-An Truong tells me. This can lead to rituals, which are performed as a way of warding off something horrible.
8. You Avoid Certain Situations
Another classic habit of anxiety sufferers? Avoiding situations that seem threatening, or ones that might induce an anxiety attack — such as a busy party, or a big networking event. (A major issue for those with social anxiety, btw.)
As Truong says, “They are often avoiding something they need to face because initially it’ll increase the anxiety even more even, though it’ll help them in the long run.” But when you have anxiety, it can be tough to see the difference.
9. You Sweep Your Feelings Under The Rug
Truong tells me many anxious people sweep their feelings under the rug, often by hiding anger towards a friend, or keeping their goals for the future a secret — all because the thought of sharing causes incredible distress.
10. You Jump To Conclusions Like It’s Your Job
Anxiety can make it incredibly easy to jump to conclusions, “e.g., I’m going to flunk my exam, I’m going to ruin my child, I’m not going to get better,” Truong says. Do you feel like you can predict the future? Do you always assume the worst? That’s your anxiety talking.
11. You Have Several Nervous Tics
Pretty much every anxiety sufferer has a nervous tic or two, like trichotillomania, finger tapping, or nail biting. “Some people gnaw at their nails until their cuticles bleed, while others chip at the polish until they’ve scratched them clean,” Truong says. “Nail biting, like many habits, can develop as a response to triggers in the environment, initially as a way of regulating emotions and alleviating anxiety.”
Anxiety can rear its ugly head in a variety of ways. But remember, none of the above — or any of your other anxious habits — have to define your life. If you want to learn how to better cope with your anxiety, or better cope with your stress, it is possible to do so with some lifestyle changes, or by seeing a therapist.