You feel your heart is thumping inside your chest. You experience armpits sweating while waiting for an online interview for your first job application. Oftentimes, we tend to think, “Oh, this is nothing. Just small quirks of mine.” Little did you know, these can actually be less obvious signs of anxiety, which come in the form of a “whisper” instead of “flashing the red light and honking excessively” at you.
So, Psych2goers, let’s take a look at what are the little habits that can actually be signs of anxiety, shall we?
- You excessively play with your hair
You are having a conversation with your coworker. You notice that she is fiddling, fluffing, twiddling, and swinging her hair in the middle of the conversation. You start to get annoyed by this attitude, you wonder, “Why does she use her hair like a fidget spinner?” because it distracts you from engaging in the conversation wholly.
Psych2goers, have you ever heard of an old theory where people say when a person is touching one’s hair, it’s a sign of flirting? Perhaps somewhere on the internet, you have encountered a random comment giving dating advice, “When a lady is playing with her hair (stroking, smoothing, twirling, pulling back, throwing back), it is known as preening. When she exhibits a combination of multiple preening gestures, there is a high chance the lady is showing interest.”
Well, yes, indeed there can be a truth in this. It depends on the situation, the psychological state of the lady, and who the lady is interacting with. When we touch our hair, we can feel some sort of harmless relief when we feel nervous, but on the more harmful side, it can lead to body-focused repetitive behaviours (BFRBs), which consists of a set of disorders, like trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling), onychophagia (compulsive nail biting), and dermatillomania (compulsive skin picking, also known as excoriation disorder) (Psychology Today, n.d.).
2. You create multiple to-do lists
Psych2goers, now let’s talk about your to-do list.
Hmm, where do I start? Okay, let’s scan it. How many items are there on your to-do list? Do you categorize them into work-related and personal or can’t-afford-to-forget family events? Perhaps your intention of creating this list is virtuous. You are that overthinker who learns that writing down what to do (even the minuscule things) helps you to remember what to do and reduce your anxiety.
Indeed, this all-embracing approach is not really effective, since all tasks look similar with no prioritization. More important things like “Send assignment by 12 o’clock today” are there together with less prioritized things like “Pick-up suits from the laundry” (But if you need to wear the suits today, then it is important) (Burkus, 2018).
According to a study done by a senior doctoral student in Carleton University, it is indeed effective using to-do lists to plan your day, however, their use depends to some extent, to how much you like structurization and organization (Pychyl, 2020).
3. You are not able to sleep through the night
You toss and turn on the bed. It is already past midnight and you are still unable to fall asleep. You seem to be unable to quiet down your thoughts. Your mind is plagued with many worries.
When facing stress, people with anxiety disorders tend to have a state of mental hyperarousal, frequently marked by worry; which leads to higher sleep reactivity. Research also found connections between anxiety disorders and changes in a person’s sleep cycles. When you are anxious and ruminate before sleep, this affects rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which may induce more unsettling dreams and result in a higher likelihood of sleep disruptions. When you have nightmares during sleep, there will be reinforcement of negative association and dread around going to sleep (Suni & Dimitriu, 2020).
4. You use “fear language”
Your daughter has just entered her first year of university. She often calls you during the weekends. However, after several months, you start to notice a shift in her choice of words. In the conversation, she often uses the phrases, “I’m concerned that”, “I’m afraid that”, “I’m worried that”.
According to a licensed clinical psychologist, Alicia H. Clark, PsyD, PLLC, the regular use of such phrases indicate a deeper problem. Even though it may sound “normal”, sometimes this “fear language” can be a sign of anxiety that is most often brushed off.
5. You are not able to sit still
You are a waiter in a coffee shop. Today is a slow day. Currently there is only one customer inside the shop. Since you have nothing to do, you observe the customer. You notice he seems restless; he is tapping his foot and squirming in his chair. “Is he on his first date? An important informal business meeting? What makes him so nervous?” you think to yourself.
According to Dr. Clark, when you are unable to sit still, it can actually be you are restless which appears as this subtle sign of anxiety. However, being unable to sit still can also be a classic example of a person with a hyperactive Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The reason is because by sitting down, it’s considered to be an understimulating task which is unrewarding to the brain. How to differentiate between a person with ADHD or an anxious person? Actually ADHD will have other criteria to look out for like signs of inattentiveness and impulsiveness (NHS, n.d.).
6. You apologize excessively
A person bumps into you, who is standing in the subway. “I’m sorry,” you say to him.
Psych2goers, another sign of anxiety is when a word of apology comes too often and easily. Even though the thing is not our fault or out of our own control, an anxious person may find oneself to be over-apologizing. Oftentimes when they are hurt by another person’s offense, or when they are being over-sensitive, their lips would always utter that “magic word”. According to an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rhode Island, Dr. Juliana Breines, when a person is being too hard on oneself and tends to beat oneself for things, that person will tend to over-apologize.
7. You forget important details
Your mind is churning out thoughts after thoughts after thoughts. You have multiple possibilities on how this decision can go awry, so there is not enough space to concentrate on what is happening currently around you and what needs to be accomplished.
Psych2goers, indeed it is common for our memory to slip once in a while, for instance you may perhaps forget to return a call. However, there are instances that forgetting can cause a more dire outcome; like when you forget crucial details about a crime. When you have anxiety, there is a probability that you will forget important details in your life because your mind is cluttered with so many thoughts.
Psych2goers, above are some of your little habits that may indicate that you have anxiety. Anxiety does exist on a continuum, so if you find that you have the above signs and start to have a loss in your everyday function, it would be advisable for you to seek help from licensed mental health providers.
Burkus, D. (2018, September 13). Here’s what’s wrong with your to do list. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/creative-leadership/201809/heres-what-s-wrong-your-do-list.
NHS. (n.d.). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Nhs choices. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/symptoms/.
Pychyl, T. A. (2020, February 26). Do to-do lists work? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dont-delay/202002/do-do-lists-work.
Rakshit, D. (2020, September 25). Why some people over-apologize, and others never do. The Swaddle. https://theswaddle.com/why-some-people-over-apologize-and-others-never-do/.
Steber, C. (2018, September 26). 15 little habits you won’t believe are signs of anxiety. Bustle. https://www.bustle.com/p/15-little-habits-you-wont-believe-are-signs-of-anxiety-12016423.
Suni, E., &; Dimitriu, A. (2020, December 10). Anxiety and sleep. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health/anxiety-and-sleep.
Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). Body-Focused repetitive behaviors. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/body-focused-repetitive-behaviors.