Anxiety is a normal state of being for humans, and we all experience it to some degree now and then. It’s the body’s early warning system, designed to prepare us for danger. But sometimes this early warning system can go into overdrive, switching on when it’s not really necessary.
Anxiety is a function of a normal, healthy brain that’s simply being too overprotective. It’s not troubled or ill, just overprotective. And just like an overprotective parent, anxiety can intrude on your daily life and even be exhausting and confusing.
Some people don’t exhibit any outward signs of anxiety at all. They manage it well and it has minimal impact on their daily lives. But for many, the symptoms of anxiety can become overwhelming and even debilitating.
Anxiety is extremely common, and even if you’re not experiencing it yourself, you probably know someone who is. When anxiety is ignored, unnoticed, or misunderstood, it can do a lot of damage. Learning the subtle and passive signs of anxiety can help you recognize what’s going on so you can deal with it before it becomes a major issue.
None of the symptoms below are major red flags if they’re controllable and only happen occasionally. But being aware of what’s going on can help you move through whatever is causing your anxiety and prevent it from taking control of your life.
10 Subtle Signs of Anxiety To Be Aware Of
You can be anxious without even realizing it. Sometimes anxiety arises from conflict, other times from a perceived threat. Sometimes it can’t be ignored. It can be relentless and exhausting. Or, you might feel mostly normal, with just a whisper that something’s not right in the back of your mind.
According to integrative medicine specialists, the more subtle signs are easy to ignore, but it’s important to acknowledge them. Paying attention to these cues can help you understand the underlying cause of your anxiety so you can work through it appropriately and keep it from turning into a debilitating condition.
Whether it’s a project for work, a paper for school, doing the dishes, or creating a social media post, everything has to be perfect. “Good enough” is never acceptable. While this can be chalked up to attention to detail, for someone with anxiety, perfectionism is often more about a fear of disappointing someone else by doing it wrong.
People with anxiety often feel uncomfortable in their environment or have a sense of being on edge. They may demonstrate outward signs of being anxious, such as pacing or constantly tapping a foot. These feelings of restlessness often occur when a person with anxiety experiences a disruption of their routine or is facing an unknown element.
Avoiding Social Situations
A person with anxiety usually avoids social situations. They might say they’re tired, not in the mood, or use the excuse that they’re an introvert who simply prefers to stay home. Acknowledging the signs of social anxiety and how it guides your choices can prevent it from escalating or becoming serious.
Constantly Planning Ahead
A person with anxiety leaves very little to chance. For example, if they’re driving somewhere, they think ahead and try to avoid any issues that may come up, such as finding a place to park, a busy intersection, or potential traffic delays.
Or, before they enter a conversation, they spend a lot of time and energy planning what they’re going to say and how the other person will respond. It may seem like they just like to plan ahead, but in reality, they have an underlying fear of something going wrong that they didn’t plan for.
Similarly, a person with anxiety disorder prefers predictability in all areas of their life, from their schedule to meals and even interactions with other people. While following a routine can be comforting and normal for many, it’s easy for someone with anxiety to fall into a comfort zone rut and miss out on many joys in life.
When worry becomes your typical response to everyday events, it can be a sign of anxiety. Worry that occurs out of nowhere is also a red flag. Sometimes, the worry becomes so intrusive that it’s difficult to focus on tasks throughout the day. It may also keep you awake at night.
Worry without an obvious trigger, or a lingering feeling of worry that you can’t put your finger on, is also a subtle sign of anxiety that often goes overlooked.
Looking for Distractions
A person with anxiety will look for ways to distract themselves when they have downtime. They’ll immediately pull out their phone, turn on the TV, or find something to read. This is often done as an unconscious effort to quiet an anxious mind.
Reluctance to Delegate Tasks
When a person with anxiety is in charge of a task, they feel like they have to supervise the whole task closely, even when they don’t have to. They have a hard time giving up control of any aspect of the project because they worry that someone else won’t do it as well as they would. When they do delegate a task, they worry about it getting done correctly and often end up micromanaging the process.
For many people, anxiety shows up as tension in the muscles. They may tell themselves they don’t feel anxious, but their body is telling a different story. Their shoulders are tense, their jaw is tight, and their stomach is in knots. Sometimes, they may not feel anxiety emotionally, which makes it even more difficult to recognize.
Trouble Falling Asleep Or Staying Asleep
Insomnia is a common symptom of anxiety because when you are anxious, your mind goes into overdrive. This can put your body in a state of nervousness that makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Your adrenaline levels are also increased, further contributing to your insomnia.
If you recognize yourself or someone you love in some of these subtle signs of anxiety, it’s not something to feel bad about. Anxiety is extremely common and it’s not always a bad thing. In fact, it can be an excellent motivator.
But if anxiety is taking over your life, even in a subtle way, it is limiting your opportunities to enjoy your life. Acknowledge the things that are causing your anxiety and look for ways to move through that discomfort, rather than avoiding it.
It’s okay to move forward in baby steps, as long as you are moving forward. With repeated practice and awareness, working through your anxiety will get easier. Eventually, you’ll find that you’re no longer defined by your anxiety, but by the things that matter to you.