When thinking about anxiety, we usually think of the most obvious signs: nervousness, sweating, rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, an agitated feeling, and nonstop worrying. Anxiety, however, can appear in much more subtle signs of which we ourselves might not even be aware. While these signs by themselves probably don't constitute a "disorder' they can still interfere in our lives in ways we might not even realize.
Many of us prefer not to think of ourselves as anxious because we don't want to consider ourselves as weak or we think of it as some sort of personal failure. But, of course, it's neither of those things. All of us at some time or another feel anxious; the more we recognize our own anxieties, the better control we can have over them and our own lives. Here are some of the signs that we can look out for.
1. Constantly planning ahead
If in most situations you leave as little as possible to chance. For example, if driving somewhere, you start to think of any problems that might come up and how to avoid them: traffic delays, difficult intersections, trouble finding parking. Or before initiating any conversation, you start investing energy into thinking about what you want to say and thinking about whatever they might respond to. While you might tell yourself that you like to plan ahead, this is ultimately driven by the fear that something might go wrong, and you want to make sure that you continue to have a feeling of control over all aspects of your life.
2. Avoiding Spontaneity
Similarly, you might avoid any spontaneous actions to seek predictability to continue to maintain the facade of control over all the aspects of your life. You schedule all your meals, meetings with people, and actions in life. While seeking out routine is normal, we must not let these routines turn into ruts that trap us due to our perceived "comfort zone." As a result, you miss out on the surprising joys you'll find when off your well-worn path.
3. Always Seeking Direction
Whenever you find yourself with downtime, you fill it with some form of entertainment or other distractions. You immediately reach for your phone, turn on the television, check emails, or start reading through the news. These behaviors are often unconsciously done to stop any agitation that comes from the unoccupied mind.
Whether it's household cleaning, writing an email, creating a post on social media, the thought of "good enough" just doesn't cut it. It has to be perfect. While it may be just attention to detail, more often the strive is to have every 't' crossed, and "i" dotted is about the fear that you've gotten something wrong or, in the eyes of others, it will never be enough.
5. Avoiding Social Situations
You often turn down opportunities to go out and socialize or meet new people, and when you do decide to go out, you spend time preparing yourself for any interaction that may occur. You might brush this off as just "not being up for it" or "not in the mood" or you may be telling yourself that you're just introverted and staying home by yourself is just a preference which is often what we tell ourselves (I know I have). But once you realize your social anxiety, You start to see how it's guiding your choices and how it can cause us to miss out on experiences we may enjoy and form stronger relationships with the people we hold dear to us.
6. Carrying Physical Tension
Anxiety often manifests itself as muscular tension. Although we may not quite feel anxious, our body is letting us know otherwise. We find our shoulders tight, our stomach in knots, or clenching our jaws and grinding our teeth. Carrying anxiety in our body can make it less likely to feel it emotionally, making it harder for us to realize that the source of the physical problems is anxiety induced.
7. Difficulty Delegating with Others
When in charge, you find it hard not to supervise the entire process even when doing so isn't required or feasible, and doing so just causes you more stress. It can be hard to give up control and worry that others may let you down or mess up by not doing things as well as you might. When you do delegate, the fear of giving up control leads you to micromanage others.
8. Using Alcohol and Drugs to Cope
It's hard to imagine ourselves at a party without a drink in our hands. Do you grab a drink or light up a joint the instant you find yourself becoming unnerved? Alcohol is such a staple at social gatherings it can be hard for us to realize that we are dependent on them for its anxiety-reducing effects. While the use of drugs and alcohol may have anxiety-reducing effects in the short term, in the long term, it often leads to more anxiety and a dependency on them in order for us to not feel constant anxiety in our daily lives.
Contrary to popular belief, procrastination is often not a form of laziness but usually stems from anxiety and depression. In anxiety, it often stems from the fears that either you'll hate doing the task or that you'll do the task poorly. These fears lead to us delaying tasks in order to delay the discomfort we get from being afraid.
Finishing tasks as soon as possible, even long before they may be due, can also be a sign of anxiety, what psychologists have dubbed "pre-crastination". An unfinished task may cause a feeling of tension and uneasiness, which you rush to resolve as quickly as possible. As psychologist Adam Grant has pointed out, one potential cost is missing out on more creative solutions.
11. Always Apologizing
Anxiety about offending others can lead us to apologize constantly out of the fear that their opinions of us may change at the drop of a hat. Saying "I'm sorry" may form as a reflex as a way to smooth over the possibility of any tensions in our relationships. You may have even apologized for apologizing so much if someone pointed your habit out to you.
12. Playing it safe
You're very averse to any form of risk, whether with investing, your work, or your relationships. You habitually shy away from any possibility of failure, which can lead you to not pursue your goals and dreams, like writing that book you've long had in mind or starting the business you've dreamed of. You also play it safe in your relationships, keeping distant and being careful not to get hurt. Behind all these hesitations is the fear of vulnerability—of taking a chance or putting yourself out there when your reputation or heart is on the line. As a result, you hold yourself back in ways you'll likely regret as you look back on the life you lived.