We all have habits — generally, some good, some that you maybe wish you could get rid of. Maybe you’re great at fixing healthy lunches that keep you going during the work day, and you chew your nails. Or maybe you’ve taught yourself to reach out when you need support for your mental health, and you tend to stay up way too late scrolling social media. And no habits are more ingrained than the ones we do each morning; half-asleep, we brush our teeth, shower, grab a breakfast bar, and head out the door without so much as a second thought (or some variation on the above). But some seemingly small morning habits can actually be signs of high-functioning anxiety, which is why it’s so important to actually pay attention to them.
Dr. Gin Love Thompson, a psychotherapist, recently told another Bustler that high-functioning anxiety is a “pop-psychology term used by people who experience more than moderate levels of anxiety symptoms, but have either not attempted to seek treatment or have not been properly diagnosed by a mental health professional as having a diagnosable anxiety disorder.” Thompson also said that, “The danger here is that just because you are ‘functioning,’ even with a high level of success, while experiencing moderate to high levels of anxiety does not mean it is a healthy state of living. And beyond potentially endangering your health, it is most probably reducing the quality of your daily life, work and relationships.”
If you have habits related to high-functioning anxiety, you may be totally unaware you even have anxiety at all. Like with many other mental illnesses, anxiety can present itself differently in each person, but the habits below are some common signs that anxiety may be more involved in your daily life than you think.
1Waking Up Before Your Alarm
We all do this occasionally (and experience that joyous moment when we realize we still have a while left to sleep), but your body and brain rousing you before your alarm on the regular may indicate you’re anxious about your everyday life. According to Harvard Women’s Health Watch, this consistent early awakening is called sleep-maintenance insomnia, and though it can strike people who simply naturally need less sleep, it can also indicate “times of psychological stress” when “life events are distressing you,” Harvard reports.
This particular habit also applies to you if you consistently get up much, much earlier than needed to for something in the morning. Say your bus is coming at 9 a.m., and you find yourself wanting to get up at 5 or 6 a.m. just to be sure you won’t miss it — that’s a sign of anxiety, too.
2Thinking About What You Need To Get Done That Day
I have generalized anxiety disorder, and this is one of the habits I noticed in myself when I was in high school and college. If you wake up with a to-do list practically written on the backs of your eyes, and you’re constantly watching the clock as you’re getting ready, parsing out how much time your tasks are going to take, it’s a sign that you’re not only not relaxed in the morning, but that you were probably fixated on your to-do list at night, as well. If you experience this, try making each day’s to-do list in the middle of the previous day rather than at night or in the morning, and make sure you’re treating yourself as you check off completed items.
3Not Paying Attention To Your Family
Even if you’re a morning grump, you probably hang out a little with your family in the morning. (This also includes roommates and pets!) If you find yourself laser-focusing on your morning routine and shutting out those around you, it could be a sign you’re experiencing anxiety. Consider giving yourself an extra 15 minutes in the morning so you can refresh yourself with family time before heading out for your day.
4Having An Unbreakable Ritual
Bad mornings happen to us all. Breaking a coffee mug, running out of deodorant, bringing the wrong set of keys to work… these things happen, and it’s totally normal to be in a bad mood when they do. But if you have an ironclad morning ritual from which you absolutely cannot deviate, or you risk ruining your mood for the entire day, that can be a sign of anxiety. To help ease out of that ritual, purposefully change things up, starting on days when you don’t have to go to work or school, so you can take some time for yourself if changing your routine puts you in a funk.
5Eating The Same Breakfast Every Morning
As someone with a spouse who does this and is not anxious, I want to say that for some people, this is completely normal. Rituals can be comforting, especially if you’re on a time crunch in the morning and a granola bar and juice is a familiar go-to that helps you get your day off right. But if you’re purposefully constricting yourself to a certain breakfast and get nervous at the idea of switching it up, even (especially) if you don’t really enjoy your breakfast anymore, that’s a sign you’re stressing in the a.m.
Check out some quick, easy breakfast recipes, and if the idea of eating new foods is really upsetting to you, try starting with breakfasts related to what you currently eat. If you eat a granola bar, try granola with yogurt and fruit; if you eat a boiled egg, try a morning wrap with scrambled eggs and cheese.
6Checking Things Multiple Times
Re-checking things may be a habit many people associate with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but those of us who have anxiety do it, too. Whether you’re triple-checking your locks or unpacking and repacking your work bag because you’re just not sure your lunch is in there, these repeated steps show you could have anxiety that interferes with your daily life.
7Needing To Talk To Someone
Again, like many of these habits, talking to people in the morning is normal. It’s when you absolutely need to talk to someone, particularly if you find yourself chattering away and recognizing that you literally can’t make yourself disengage from conversation, that this becomes concerning. If you’re noticing this, try free-writing in the morning to let all those anxious thoughts out of your head — having them on paper may help you see what your brain is getting fixated on.
8Not Noticing Time Passing
This habit also involves hyperfixation. I have a bad habit of getting completely wrapped up in doing my hair, making sure it’s perfect from every angle. In college, I was consistently late to class because after walking from my dorm to my classroom building, I had to go to the bathroom to check that my hair hadn’t gotten out of place, and spent just as long fixing it when it inevitably had. Fixating on your morning routine and not noticing that big chunks of time have passed indicate you’re channeling anxiety in getting ready — and chances are you experience even more anxiety upon realizing you’re late.
9Going Back Home
This habit may also sound like it’s caused by obsessive-compulsive disorder, and there is an element of compulsion to it as well: If you’re consistently ending up in situations where you have to go home and double-check whether your dog’s crate is properly locked, your stove or hair straightener is off, or your fridge is closed, you’re experiencing anxiety.
The key to figuring out if this is forgetfulness versus anxiety is the brain spiral. If you think, “I might have left my fridge open,” but are able to shrug it off, chances are you’re forgetful. But if you think about your fridge being open and your brain starts to spiral toward the worst possibilities, like your pets getting into it and getting sick, or mold growing, that fixation can be a sign of anxiety.
If you have any of these morning habits and are concerned you might have high-functioning anxiety, the best course of action is to speak to a mental health professional who can diagnose and treat you, and help you keep your mornings bright.