You might have a few quirks. Most people do.
Some of your quirky behaviors may have started innocently when you were younger to give you comfort from your worries. They probably worked for you, providing you with some degree of relief or control. Over time, they may have become nervous habits fueled by a compulsion to feel better. You could have even developed anxiety.
The classic signs of anxiety are restlessness, fatigue, muscle tension, and irritability. Sometimes worry can present as sweating, upset stomach, headaches, or jumpiness. Other times nervousness can manifest in small behaviors — so small that you may not even notice until someone points them out to you.
This TikTok video from psychologist Dr. Julie Smith highlights this point and it has resonated with thousands of viewers who now recognize all of the little things anxiety makes them do.
These idiosyncrasies might show up when you’re extra stressed, or they may help you cope on a more regular basis.
Here are 13 quirky things that anxiety makes you do (that you might not even realize):
1. Twirling your hair.
Twirling your hair can feel great, especially after a fresh wash. You might flick your hair, flip it, put it into coils, or brush it lightly against your cheek. Sometimes this crops up when you’re overwhelmed, or your mind is working overtime.
If you can’t stop playing with your hair or you’ve graduated to pulling your hair so hard you’re removing it, you might have trichotillomania, a more serious condition. Otherwise, pull your hair back or wear a hat to resist the urge!
2. Going to the bathroom a lot.
Anxiety can cause you to make frequent trips to the bathroom. You might find yourself going several times while you’re out, or before a nerve-wracking event such as a demanding presentation or interview. Uneasiness could also prompt you to make a washroom trip the very last thing you do before your head hits the pillow at night.
3. Proofreading an email several times.
Apprehensive about how an email or text will land? This might prompt you to read it repeatedly until you’ve retyped it a few times, exhausted every possible way to send your message, and grammar-checking it – just to be sure.
Perfectionism and approval could be at the heart of this anxious habit.
4. Repeating a phrase when you say good-bye.
To prevent something bad from happening, anxiety might cause you to say a phrase when you hang up the phone or hug a loved one goodbye.
Insisting on saying, “I love you” or “good luck” are soothing behaviors that will assure you that nothing has gone unsaid, and everything will be all right.
5. Checking, and rechecking.
If you’re worried that you’ve left the stove on or you’ve forgotten to lock the front door, you might check it, again and again, to be sure. This behavior might stem from a past incident or an underlying fear.
6. Replaying a conversation over and over.
Reliving exchanges with a family member, friend or colleague is another little way that anxiety rears its head. You can’t go back; you have to have confidence that you said what you needed to and move forward. Letting go can be hard when you have anxiety.
7. Arriving extra early.
If you fret about being late, your anxiety might cause you to build in 2 times the contingency that you might need. This can stem from an urge to control the uncontrollable like traffic and weather, apprehension about embarrassing yourself noisily walking into a quiet auditorium, or letting someone else down.
Alternatively, you might simply have a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).
8. Biting your nails.
Nail biting, otherwise known as pathological grooming, is a coping mechanism to deal with uneasiness, although it can also be inherited.
It might seem like a little thing at first, but it can lead to health issues if you don’t find a way to keep your hands busy and your mind calm.
9. Chewing on your lip.
While this might appear endearing or even flirtatious, biting or chewing your lip is another body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) brought to you by anxiety, and provides temporary relief from difficult emotions.
10. Pulling the covers over your head.
Do you wake up in the morning, press snooze, and wonder why you just can’t get out of bed? Staying in bed underneath a cozy duvet is the ultimate form of anxious avoidance.
11. Scrolling on social media.
Another thing anxiety makes you do is endless scrolling through social media. This can take the form of doom scrolling negative information — which ultimately can make your anxiety worse, or seeking a dopamine hit from a funny video or uplifting post.
12. Rejecting social invitations.
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Declining opportunities to meet up or go out is something anxiety can make you do. This is especially true if commuting, meeting new people, or having small talk stresses you out.
The rub is the fewer invitations you get, the more anxious you might be when you do get them, feeding into any worries about being excluded.
13. Sitting near the exit.
Anxiety might compel you to sit at the end of the row in a movie theatre, at the edge of a restaurant booth, or at the back of a conference room. After all, you might need to leave to go to the bathroom, or just leave. Because.
The good news is that with greater awareness of your little anxious habits you can begin to break them.
Here are a few tips to stop your anxious behaviors in their tracks:
- Breathe. Try this simple exercise: Put a hand on your stomach. Say to yourself, “I breathe in calm” and breathe deeply into your abdomen. Let yourself experience your breath before you say, “I breathe out stress.” Repeat this several times.
- Use aromatherapy. Put a drop on a tissue, roll on using a rollerball or diffuse it in the air. Lavender, bergamot, rose, and ylang-ylang are all popular choices to reduce nervous tension. Always check with your doctor to review any risks or interactions with medications.
- Take a sip of water. This can slow down breathing and allow you to focus on your drink rather than your anxiety.
- Trace your hand. Dr. Julie Smith demonstrates a technique on TikTok to slow yourself down while you watch your finger trace your hand.
- Get busy. Distract yourself with some chores, a good book, or a funny movie. Move your body.
- Name it to tame it. Say, “This is just my worry. I am OK. I can do this.”
- Use your voice. Interrupt your behavior with, “Stop, stop, stop!” or confirm you’ve locked your door by verbalizing it out loud with a reassuring, “The door is locked.”
Anxious behaviors can come and go with higher levels of stress. If you’re displaying more than a few of them regularly, or if you’ve attempted some of the above tips and these behaviors habits are still present most days or interfering with your daily functioning, you may have Generalized Anxiety Disorder that should be addressed with the help of a therapist.
Otherwise, the best approach to quell your anxious habits is prevention.
Make sure you get adequate sleep, good nutrition, and regular exercise, maintain a mindfulness practice, write in a journal to process your feelings. Anticipate your triggers, challenge and reframe your thoughts about your situation, and even compassionately laugh at yourself.
Adopting these strategies will help you to replace your anxious habits — even small ones — with some more empowering ones.
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Lisa Petsinis is an ICF-certified life and career transformation coach who works with women to ditch overwhelm, take back control of their lives, and reclaim their joy.