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Anxiety

The Many Complicated Looks of Anxiety

How it can be overlooked, and why it shouldn't be.

Key points

  • Symptoms of anxiety can manifest in different ways. The condition can be hard to identify, particularly in children and adolescents.
  • Anxiety may involve being excessively agreeable, canceling at the last minute, or struggling to communicate thoughts clearly.
  • Anxious people may be overly self-critical. Identifying and changing harmful self-talk can help address anxiety.
by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexel
this is anxiety too
Source: by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexel

When we think of anxiety or a person who is anxious, we may think of someone panicking, hyperventilating, or crying. That can be the experience of anxiety, but it’s not always that obvious for children, adolescents, or young adults. Anxiety is an internal physiological and cognitive experience that can be all-consuming and consistent. There are days when anxiety is stronger and there are days when anxiety is quieter. There are times when anxiety is triggered by a scent or a thought, and sometimes, it can be triggered by seemingly nothing at all.

The Silent Side of Anxiety

Anxiety can be an invisible disability in that it can’t be seen. It is often very difficult to look at a person and accurately assess their experience of anxiety and its intensity. It is an internal experience that can be easily misinterpreted as aloofness or disinterest. In fact, people with anxiety are not aloof or disinterested at all. Instead, they often want to be accepted and part of the group. They want to be present but are often worried about:

  • How others feel around them
  • If they have contributed to negative feelings in the social situation they’re in
  • If they can maintain a conversation well
  • If they are being judged
  • Where the exits are
  • Their safety and the safety of others
  • What to do with their hands
  • How to position their body
  • Where to stand
  • When to speak and when to stop speaking

What Anxiety Can Look Like

Although anxiety doesn’t have a particular “look,” there are ways that anxious people present that can be very easily confused.

  • Speaking excessively in social situations in order to cover awkward silence
  • Laughing at everyone’s jokes and comments
  • Not laughing at anyone’s jokes or comments
  • Being excessively agreeable
  • Saying “yes” to social plans then canceling last minute.
  • Stuttering or stammering
  • Struggling to communicate thoughts clearly
  • Repeating a thought or phrase
  • Losing one’s train of thought

How to Help Yourself or Someone Who Is Feeling Anxious

  • Wear an anxiety spinner ring and fidget with it when anxious.
  • Ask, “Are you okay?”
  • Say, “Would you like to go somewhere quieter to take a break?”
  • When you’re feeling overstimulated or overwhelmed with the situation, go to a quieter space (e.g., bathroom) and take a break. Play a game on your phone.
  • If you’re asked a question and don’t know how to respond, say “I’m not sure. Let me get back to you on that.”
  • If you don’t want to participate, say “I’m going to pass, but next time.”

Self-Care for Anxiety

As an anxious person, I am not good at knowing when to stop, take a break, or cut myself some slack. We can be overly self-critical. For example, we would never use the phrases below with another person:

  • “I’m so stupid.”
  • I can’t do this.”
  • “They hate me.”
  • “I’m an idiot.”
  • “Why did I do that?”
  • “Why did I say that?”
  • “Nobody is going to want to talk to me again.”
  • “They’re never going to invite me again.”
  • “Nobody cares about me.”
  • “How can anybody like somebody like me?”

Take a break and speak kinder words to yourself. Use phrases such as:

  • This is hard for me.
  • Who can I talk to?
  • What can I do right now to help myself?
  • I’m not dumb or an idiot.
  • I’m scared.

Anxiety is a liar and just because we have anxious thoughts doesn’t mean they’re real or true. And just because we had a thought, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. Our thoughts are not trendsetters, nor can they make things happen. They are thoughts. Recognize them as thoughts based on fears and insecurities and then show them to your emotional door. Let them go.

Anxiety is real even though it sometimes can’t be seen or measured from the outside. Recognize your behaviors and find more comforting ways of speaking to yourself. Seek therapy with a professional who specializes in cognitive behavioral techniques in order to more clearly identify your thoughts and how they impact your behavior.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: fizkes/Shutterstock

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