Anxiety can often be wrongly dismissed as simply overthinking and worrying about things too much. However, to anyone struggling with the mental ilness, the reality is far more complex and debilitating.
While many signs we hear about are often internal, there are also a number of behavioral habits that you may have failed to realise could indicate you have anxiety.
1. Obsessive Cleaning
A study published earlier this year in the journal Current Biology identified a link between temporary anxiety and obsessive cleaning.
Led by University of Connecticut anthropologist Martin Lang, the team split university students into two groups. Both groups were presented with a shiny statue and asked to come up with a speech about it. One group was required to actually give the speech to a panel while the other was not. After, they were both asked to clean the object.
The results showed that those who had to face the anxiety-inducing task of giving a speech were more repetitive in their cleaning method. Participants who reported feeling more anxious at the start, made more movements while cleaning and spent longer doing it before they were satisfied it was clean.
The researchers concluded that when stressed, people turn to repetitive behaviour like cleaning because it gives them a sense of control over an otherwise uncontrollable situation. (Watch: Mia Freedman discusses how she deals with her anxiety. Post continues after video.)
2. Nail biting
Like obsessive cleaning, nail biting and picking at ourselves can also be a telltale sign of a wider problem if it’s done frequently.
“People often use distraction as a way of managing stress or anxiety. When we are anxious we feel the need to run or fight and usually we can do neither,” says psychologist Sarah-Jane Whiston. (Post continues after gallery.)
Fidgeting is also a habit many use to distract themselves from feeling nervous or anxious.
“People do it to avoid having to experience the emotions or thoughts that make us feel discomfort,” explains Whiston.
While a distraction can sometimes be welcome, this fidgeting shouldn’t be happening any more than a moderate amount.
“Depending on the intensity, duration and frequency of the behaviour, it can be a bad thing,” she says.
4. Excessive exercise
While exercise can be a really helpful way to manage anxiety (Lena Dunham swears by Acro Yoga) it has its limits.
“We know exercise is really good for us but when we are exercising every hour of the day to mask feelings of anxiety it is a better idea to seek professional help and confront the source of your fears head on with some support,” says Whiston.
To determine whether you’ve passed that point, work out why you’re doing it.
“Ask yourself ‘What’s my intention behind this?’ for example are you exercising because it feels good or to get away from something I’m worried about?” she says. (Post continues after gallery.)
When it becomes something more…
In more severe cases, the ritual habits used to cope with anxiety can reflect symptoms characteristic of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Obviously they’re not healthy or effective coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety.
“Avoidance of anxiety-related symptoms [such as those displayed by people with OCD] are not helping to relieve their distress, in fact, they’re reinforcing the disorder,” says psychologist Francesca Harvey of Sydney’s Solution Pyschology Centre.
“Seeking professional support from a psychologist is the first step towards recovery. Psychological treatments are an effective way to treat anxiety.” These can range from cognitive behaviour therapy to mindfulness or emotional therapy.
For more information or to seek help, check out Beyond Blue.