15 Things People With Anxiety Shouldn't Feel Ashamed To Do Behind Closed Doors
If you have a few habits caused by anxiety — things you might only do while home alone, such as talking to yourself, pacing around, or avoiding looking at your phone — know that you're not the only one who has these quirks. And you're definitely not "weird," either.
"These are not habits that someone with anxiety may feel comfortable displaying publicly, but they are ways that people with anxiety can help themselves to cope, to regulate their emotions, and to be healthy," Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle.
So as long as you're able to function, and these habits aren't negatively impacting you, you shouldn't feel bad about them. "It’s OK to be embarrassed of the process but not ashamed," Dr. Klapow says. "They are the mechanisms to be healthy and while they may not be what you want on display for the world, they are your ways of managing your mental health condition."
It's important, though, to reach out for help if you feel like you're not coping well with your anxiety. "Some signs that it might be time to speak with a therapist is if your anxiety is interfering with your daily functioning (such as your ability to perform at work, etc.), [or if] you've lost enjoyment in things you once used to enjoy," Julie Williamson, LPC, NCC, RPT, a therapist at Abundant Life Counseling, tells Bustle. With that in mind, here are a few things many people with anxiety do behind closed doors that are completely common, according to experts.
1. Giving Yourself A Pep Talk
If you have anxiety, you might catch yourself looking in the mirror and saying aloud a few words of encouragement. And that's OK. "Being your own cheerleader is the most important way to help self-motivate when you are feeling anxious or worried," NYC-based psychotherapist Mia Rosenberg, LMSW, tells Bustle. "Having positive affirmations and a few go-to sayings that help 'pep' you up can help change your mindset and self-motivate [you] for the event or task at hand."
Journaling is another habit you might not feel comfortable talking about, for a variety of reasons. And yet it's so beneficial, many therapists recommend it to their patients as a way of dealing with anxiety.
"Journaling is a very common coping skill that many people with anxiety do each day, either in the morning or at night before bed," Rosenberg says. "Many people who have anxiety find journaling [an easy] way of letting go of their anxiety in order to start fresh."
3. Deep Breathing
In order to release the stressors of the day, you might be in the habit of sitting down for a while and focusing on your breath. And that's great. As Rosenberg says, "Deep breathing is the most common coping skill to do anywhere, at any time."
It's not something you might do in public, since "the breathing can get intense," she says. But keep in mind that it's important to use whatever coping skills work best for you, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
4. Engaging In Compulsive Behaviors
"Compulsive behaviors of all stripes are ... usually done behind closed doors," licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, PsyD, PLLC, tells Bustle. "Nail biting, skin picking, hair-pulling ... and other compulsive behavior aimed at alleviating anxiety, are generally confined to privacy."
These things aren't generally accepted in a social setting, and may feel embarrassing. While the occasional nail biting may not do any harm, speak with a loved one or a therapist if these compulsions become persistent and hard to ignore.
If you have anxiety, you might find that you procrastinate for hours while at home — even though you're generally able to get things done at work, or while out with friends.
"Everything is easier behind closed doors, where others can’t see and judge," Dr. Clark says. So you might find yourself putting off chores, or letting important tasks go undone, if you're anxiety is too intense. While this can be important for self-care, reach out to a specialist or someone you trust if you are finding it difficult to motivate yourself to do anything.
6. Flaking Out On Plans
If you've ever flaked out on plans due to your anxiety, you're definitely not alone. Many "socially anxious people may ... 'hide' at home and [make] excuses for not being able to attend a social event or keep plans," Dr. Clark says. And that's because it can be tough to admit you have anxiety.
Keep in mind, though, that it may be helpful to open up about your feelings, and share them with friends. More importantly, though, if you feel like your anxiety is holding you back and keeping you from doing things you once enjoyed, it may be a good idea to talk to a therapist.
Is your brain constantly running a mile a minute? "People with anxiety think all of the time," Julie Williamson, LPC, NCC, RPT, a therapist at Abundant Life Counseling, tells Bustle. "Their minds often go at a very fast pace that they don't feel in control of or able to stop."
This might play out with you sitting at home alone, going over everything you said and did during the day — or worrying excessively about things you have to do tomorrow. While it's common to have some level of stress, do speak with a therapist if it feels like it's getting out of hand.
8. Talking To Yourself
Pretty much everyone has talked to themselves at one point or another, and that's OK. But it does seem to be more common among those who have anxiety — especially in terms of how negative the conversations can get.
Anxiety sufferers often, "have deep conversations with themselves about situations they are anxious about," Patrice N. Douglas, LMFT, tells Bustle. These conversation can lead to an unhealthy spiral, so it's important to be aware of negative self-talk, and get help when necessary.
9. Taking Forever To Get Ready
Everyone requires a different amount of time to get ready before leaving their house. But if you have anxiety, it's likely you take even longer than usual — possibly because you get stuck checking and rechecking things.
"A lot of people with anxiety take a lot longer to leave the house than you might imagine, checking for keys, wallet, making sure all the lights are off, oven isn’t on, etc.," Stephanie Roth Goldberg, LCSW-R tells Bustle. "While this behavior can often be attributed to qualities of OCD, leaving the house and not forgetting something can be challenging when someone is experiencing anxiety. "
10. Looking Up Health Symptoms
Since anxiety can make you worry about your health — and hone in on little bodily symptoms others would likely ignore — there's a good chance you might spend a decent amount of time looking up health conditions online.
"Behind closed doors people may [look up] symptoms and the thoughts they are having to help them validate they are OK, or to have them feel they are not alone," Goldberg says. "A lot of times when people experience anxiety they sometimes think they are experiencing something medical."
It's perfectly fine to be your own health advocate, and to look up signs and symptoms when you're truly worried. But it may be a good idea to speak to a therapist if it feels like your worry is getting out of control.
11. Struggling To Fall Asleep
Sometimes it's tough to fall asleep, maybe because you had too much caffeine, or are worried about work. But anxiety symptoms can also make it tough to nod off, which is why many anxiety sufferers lie awake long into the night.
"Many of my clients struggling with anxiety share stories of staring at their phones or the ceiling for hours on end, sleeping on the downstairs couch away from their partner, or continuously tossing and turning," Azizi Marshall, a licensed clinical professional counselor, tells Bustle. "They then wake up, drink copious amounts of coffee, and do it all over again."
If this is you, it may be a good idea to break the cycle, especially since a lack of sleep can make anxiety worse.
12. Making Lists
Not everyone who makes lists has anxiety, but it does seem like many people with anxiety love to make lists. And there's a reason for that.
"People with anxiety constantly doubt their decisions," clinical psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Cohen tells Bustle. "They might make lists ... of reasons to do something or not. Some people doubt themselves so much they never even make a decision."
Making a list can help you figure out what's important to you, as you weigh the pros and cons of a big decision. But it also might just be a stress response.
13. Pacing Around
Anxiety can create a lot of nervous energy, and sometimes that nervous energy jus needs to escape. "Very often as the physiological arousal increases you might literally need to move," Dr. Klapow says. "You can’t stand still, so you might need pace, rub your hands or your head, swing your arms — anything to discharge some of the physiological arousal." And if that works for you, so be it!
14. Lying In Bed
As Dr. Klapow says, "If your anxiety is extremely bad, it can feel unsafe to be physically exposed to the world. Lying down, curled up in a ball in a fetal position, is a very primal way of protecting yourself and calming yourself down."
So, if you need to do this occasionally as a way of relaxing, that's perfectly fine. But again, it may be a good idea to reach out for help if it feels like your anxiety is just too intense.
15. Avoiding Texts
While it's healthy to occasionally put your phone down and just be in the present moment, anxiety can make it feel like texting and keeping up with friends is just too overwhelming — sometimes to the point where you completely ignore texts from friends and family.
"People with anxiety avoid things that make them nervous," Dr. Cohen says. "This can be avoiding texts, work, or social events." And it can start to take a toll on your life.
"These are avoidance behaviors that can become time-consuming and interfere with our daily lives," Dr. Cohen says. "I wish people understood that avoidance is the issue rather than having anxiety. Anxiety we can live with, but avoidance changes our behavior."
In other words, it's fine to occasionally flake out on friends, or put your phone down, or pace your apartment. It's only when these things become maladaptive — and start holding you back — that you may want to reach out for help. With the support of a therapist, you can learn how to better cope with anxiety.