We all have a few quirks that make us who we are, as well as a habits we like to stick to in order to get through the day. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s only when these habits are fueled by anxiety that you may want to pause and take a second look.
This is especially true when it comes to high-functioning anxiety, because the symptoms are so easy to ignore, and overlook. Thoughts and habits that may result from high-functioning anxiety might propel you through the day, and can even help you achieve tasks. But that doesn’t mean the underlying anxiety should go untreated. “What makes it high-functioning is that people appear to have it together — they may be successful in their career and are able to maintain relationships — but this comes at a great internal cost,” Dr. Helen Odessky, licensed clinical psychologist and author of Stop Anxiety From Stopping You, tells Bustle.
In many ways, anxiety can still take a toll on your well-being. “If you struggle with high-functioning anxiety talking to a qualified mental health specialist that specializes in CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) can help you understand and alleviate your symptoms,” Dr. Odessky says. And this can bring all sorts of relief, even if your anxiety didn’t initially feel like a big deal. Here are a few surprising habits that may be a sign of it, according to experts.
1 Having A Rigid Evening Routine
While it’s great to have an evening routine, as a way of getting comfy and preparing for bed, having one that’s too strict and structured could be a sign of high-functioning anxiety.
“Very often people with anxiety will cope or mask their anxiety by creating as much certainty in their lives as possible,” Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. “This can get worse at night as the day is coming to an end. Thoughts of having to ‘finish tasks,’ getting everything done, or getting ready for the next day all can peak at night.”
To figure out if your routine is trigged by anxiety, think about how you feel if/when it gets disrupted. Do you get really upset, or even more anxious? As Dr. Klapow says, “For people with high-functioning anxiety, any push away from their routine can cause arguments, push back, or digging in.” It’s not uncommon to feel really upset, if your routine doesn’t go as planned.
2 Lying Awake All Night
Even after preparing for bed, do you usually struggle to get to sleep? While there are dozens of reasons why it can be difficult to fall asleep, a low level of anxiety can definitely be one of them.
“Often individuals with anxiety have sleep problems, as they find it difficult to calm their thoughts,” Dr. Klapow says. So, if you’ve gotten into the habit of lying awake long into the night, this may explain why.
3 Biting Your Nails
Gnawing on your nails, twirling your hair, biting your lip, and other fidgety behaviors — when done excessively — can point to low levels of anxiety, too.
“These are signs because they all allow our bodies to exert some physical energy and release tension,” licensed psychologist Dr. Danielle Forshee, tells Bustle. “Anxiety is ridden with feelings of tension and needs to be released. Those who are engaging in these behaviors are oftentimes not conscious of these behaviors, and when they are conscious of these behaviors, they have difficulty discontinuing the behaviors because of the function they provide.”
That’s why, until you address the underlying anxiety — possibly by going to therapy — you may not be able to break these bad habits.
4 Making To-Do Lists
As with most things, making to-do lists is a perfectly healthy habit, if you do it in moderation. But if you need a list to get through the day, or find yourself creating ones that just aren’t necessary, take note.
“Lists can be helpful but if you find yourself constantly making checklists, crossing things off, and adding more this may be a sign of anxiety,” therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW, tells Bustle.
As mentioned, many people try to relieve their anxiety by controlling their surroundings. And since making lists is one of the easiest ways to feel organized, it may mean it’s your go-to way of coping.
5 Asking Everyone For Advice
While it’s fine to turn to family and friends for advice when it comes to major life decisions, if you call them about every little thing, there may be something more going on.
You may have high-functioning anxiety, “if your family and friends are on speed dial and called constantly for you to vent or complain to,” Hershenson says. It may also mean you don’t trust yourself to make decisions, which can be another sign of anxiety.
6 Researching Everything
It’s always a good idea to do research and get informed if you have an abnormal health symptom going on, or want to know more about a particular problem you’re experiencing. But if you have anxiety, it’ll be so easy to go overboard.
As Hershenon says, you may “find yourself researching on specific issues, such as health ailments or relationship problems.” And this may happen long into the night.
By going to therapist, though, you may be able to find healthier ways of coping with your low level anxiety, so you no longer feel the need to scour the internet.
7 Taking The Same Route To Work
“Sometimes it’s just that there is clearly one path that is significantly shorter than any others,” therapist Jessica Tappana MSW, LCSW, tells Bustle. But if you feel like you can’t shake it up and try a new route, it may be a sign you have anxiety.
“Try asking yourself what would happen if you took a different route,” Tappana says. “If you’re hesitating because ‘this is just the way I always do it’ or feel at all uncomfortable with the idea of taking a different (but similar in length/time) route, then it might be a sign your habit is actually a way of controlling a tiny bit of anxiety.”
8 Trying On Multiple Outfits Each Morning
It’s totally fine to change a few times as you get ready for work. But you may want to ask yourself a few questions if you try on multiple outfits each morning, for seemingly no reason.
As Tappana says, “Is there underlying anxiety about what people will think? Are you concerned that things won’t perfectly match or that you won’t convey the exact message you’d like to send?”
If the answer is yes, there is a way to break this anxious habit. “The best way to confront anxiety is simply to stop avoiding what makes you anxious,” Tappana says. “If you notice yourself wanting to engage in those same old habits to avoid feeling uncomfortable, take a deep breathe and try going about it a different way […] take a moment to label the anxiety for what it is. Say to yourself, ‘That’s an anxious thought.’ Even the simple act of labeling can help reduce your anxiety.”
While everyone procrastinates occasionally, it can easily become a habit for folks with anxiety.
“People with high-functioning anxiety love to procrastinate and often think that organizing/strategizing is the thing getting in their way,” Nancy Jane Smith, MSEd, a licensed professional counselor, tells Bustle. “However, it really stems from a fear of doing it wrong. They give themselves extra challenges and set extra bars, so they can accomplish more and make a competition out of it. Having goals that they can win at decreases their anxiety temporarily and allows them to stay ‘hopped up’ and distracted from what is really happening in their lives.”
10 Scrolling Through Old Texts
If you find yourself nervously scrolling through old texts, or taking forever to send emails, there’s a good chance you have some level of high-functioning anxiety going on.
As Dr. Odessky says, you may find yourself “checking emails several times for errors before sending them out [or] taking a lot of extra time composing emails in an effort for them to be perfect.”
It may not be a habit that holds you back in life, but that’s precisely why it’s a sign of high-functioning anxiety. And it can still be annoying to deal with.
11 Sitting Close To The Exits
Always sitting next to the door might allow you “to be able to be in public settings without feeling overwhelmed,” licensed psychotherapist Patrice N. Douglas, LMFT, tells Bustle. And that’s fine. But do bear in mind that doing so is a sign of anxiety, and one that can easily slip into a full-on anxiety disorder, if you’re not careful.
“High-functioning anxiety is when anxiety affects you but it does not stop you from completing daily life tasks as you can manage to get through,” she says. But if you’re feeling so nervous in public that you need to keep a constant eyeball on the exit signs, it may be time to speak with a therapist.
12 Talking To Yourself
While everyone has an internal dialogue going through their head, it may be a sign of high-functioning anxiety if yours does a lot of reassuring throughout the day. As Douglas says, you might tell yourself “it’s OK” or “it’ll be fine,” as a way of calming your nerves.
As long as you don’t feel anxious to the point where you’re being held back in life, then these symptoms aren’t necessarily a sign of a problem. And, in some ways, they can actually be healthy ways of coping.
But if you feel like your high-functioning anxiety is causing a lot of stress, or if you’d simply like to feel better, don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist for advice, as well as ways to feel less anxious.