According to the American Psychological Association (2013), anxiety is defined as a future-oriented fear that leads people to avoid certain situations that may trigger or worsen their distress. The National Institute of Mental Health (2017) reports that approximately 40 million people all over the globe suffer from anxiety and more emerging with each year. This makes it the most widespread mental illness in the world.
Anxiety disorders are very common and highly treatable, but recent surveys show that only 36.9% of those suffering from it seek treatment. This might be because most people with anxiety worry about the judgment of others and how the stigma against mental illness might negatively affect them and their lives, so they choose to suffer in silence instead of reaching out to others. They feel uncomfortable opening up about their struggles and try very hard to mask their anxiety from those around them.
There are also those who suffer from what is known as “high-functioning anxiety”. These are likely to be high-achieving and successful individuals who seem calm and collected on the outside because they’ve developed ways to compensate for their anxiety and turn it into something productive – but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need treatment, either.
Does this sound like you? Do you worry you might be suffering from anxiety and just don’t realize it? Here are 10 telltale signs of hidden anxiety you need to look out for:
1. You don’t like talking to people face-to-face
It’s fun to talk to people online and you can easily keep a conversation going for hours when you’re texting or chatting with a friend. But talking to someone in person? Now that’s an entirely different story. Even if you already know them well or talked to them a lot over the phone or the internet, you still get tense and nervous talking to them. You have trouble making eye contact or finding the words to respond, and you want to end face-to-face conversations as soon as they begin.
2. You’re always self-conscious
You walk into a room and immediately feel like everyone is staring at you. You can’t help but feel like everyone is silently judging you whenever you walk by or say something. You’re conscious of the way you walk, the way you eat, the way you sit, the sound of your voice when you talk, and so on. Does this sound like you? All of these things are very common, every day struggles of someone living with anxiety.
3. You’re easily upset or irritated
Has anyone ever told you you’re “too sensitive”? Do you find your feelings getting hurt easily? Are you quick to get angry or upset with others over the littlest things? This kind of emotional volatility may be a sign that you have high-functioning anxiety, as anxiety can often make us easily overwhelmed and emotionally imbalanced. Frequent mood swings, temper tantrums, and irritability can be expected when you’re overly anxious (Bowen, Clark, & Baetz, 2004).
4. You’re panicky and easily startled
Anxiety makes you want to be in control and on top of everything all the time. An unexpected phone call, a random knock on the door, an email with no subject, or a forgotten task you can easily finish – any one of these things is enough to send you reeling with panic. You go into a tailspin whenever something catches you off guard and you find it hard to relax when even the smallest things don’t go exactly as planned.
5. You’re too indecisive
Do you have trouble making even the simplest of choice? Are you afraid of making up your mind about something because you’re so sure that whatever decision you make is going to be the wrong one? Oftentimes anxiety can manifest as perfectionist tendencies, fear of failure, and distrust in oneself, so if you can’t make your own choices without thinking about it for hours and hours first or consulting with all your friends and family, you might be harbouring some hidden anxiety.
6. You overthink past conversations
You have a tendency to get hung up on past conversations, no matter how much time has passed since then. You analyze the other person’s body language, facial expressions, choice of words, and even the tone of their voice. You can’t help but think about what you should have said or done instead that it drives you crazy and keeps you on edge every time you remember it.
7. You’re always making yourself busy
It’s common for people with anxiety to have a strong need to keep themselves busy all the time. They like to occupy themselves with simple tasks and do as many things as possible in a day, because sitting still and doing nothing for a long time can make them feel restless and on edge. In fact, studies show that those with anxiety disorders have shorter attention spans, less focus, and poorer time-management skills, so this might be why (Calvo, Gutierrez, & Fernandez-Martin, 2012).
8. You talk yourself down all the time
Life isn’t always kind to us, and self-love and self-compassion don’t come easy. Living with anxiety, even if it is hidden or suppressed, can make it hard for us to feel good about ourselves and let ourselves feel happy. It makes us believe that we don’t deserve it and traps us in a vicious cycle of negative self-talk and constant pressure to be perfect. It can result in a lot of self-directed anger, self-sabotage, and low self-esteem.
9. You have a lot of negative thoughts
Are you a pessimist who’s quick to find the downsides in every situation? Do you find yourself getting upset or stressing out over even the most minor inconveniences? Is every day a constant battle with yourself against the spiral of panicked and irrational thoughts you have? Famed psychologist and cognitive therapist Aaron Beck (1997) termed this kind of thought pattern as “catastrophic thinking”, which he often observed in his patients who suffered from anxiety.
10. You experience physical symptoms
Sometimes anxiety can be entirely physical because while your conscious mind may not always be aware of your anxiety, it will definitely make itself known to your body. Things like erratic heartbeats, chest palpitations, muscle tension, a clenched jaw, shaky hands, and profuse sweating are all indicative of anxiety or an anxiety attack. Your body may be trying to let your mind know that you’re feeling anxious and stop it before it gets any worse.
Living with anxiety is no easy feat, but no matter how bad it can get, there are some of us who really don’t want other people to see what we’re going through. Even when you feel like you’re already spinning out of control, you do your best to seem okay and hide your symptoms because you feel embarrassed about your anxiety. But having mental health issues is nothing to be ashamed of.
Do you relate to any of the problems listed here? If you are suffering from serious anxiety, reach out to a mental healthcare professional today and get the help you need to get better.
- American Psychological Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Washington, DC, USA; APA Publishing.
- National Institute of Mental Health (2017). What Are Anxiety Disorders? Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/anxiety-disorders.shtml
- National Alliance Against Mental Illness (2018). Mental Health by The Numbers. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers
- Calvo, M. G., Gutiérrez, A., & Fernández-Martín, A. (2012). Anxiety and deficient inhibition of threat distractors: Spatial attention span and time course. Journal of cognitive psychology, 24(1), 66-78.
- Bowen, R., Clark, M., & Baetz, M. (2004). Mood swings in patients with anxiety disorders compared with normal controls. Journal of affective disorders, 78(3), 185-192.
- Steer, R. A., & Beck, A. T. (1997). Beck Anxiety Inventory.