7 Anxiety Symptoms People Often Mistake For Personality Traits, According To Therapists
Even in the age of increased rates of anxiety and online diagnoses, therapists still find people in their office who had no idea they were experiencing an anxiety disorder. Often, that's because anxiety disorders and personality overlap, meaning people are surprised that their personality quirks are actually a sign that they've been suffering from anxiety.
These personality traits associated with anxiety disorders aren't always "bad" or negative traits to the person experiencing them. “I often hear from clients that they've 'dealt' with their symptoms or personality quirks (obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, perfectionistic tendencies [... even] somatic symptoms like racing heartbeats, feelings of panic and jitters) for as long as they could remember and have seen many of the symptoms or traits as positive," owner and clinical director of Elevate Counseling Jamie Dana, MC, LPC, tells Bustle. "They didn't correlate it with anxiety until they were specifically asked about the symptoms or, more commonly, until the symptoms became worse." Having symptoms that disrupt your life, or make it more difficult, is actually what differentiates having an anxiety disorder from occasionally feeling anxious.
"Diagnostically, anxiety cannot be a disorder and less it disrupts and interferes with somebody’s life in their occupational social or personal lives into marked impairment and every day functioning for at least six months," psychotherapist Emily Roberts, MA., LPC, tells Bustle. This means that, while some anxiety disorder symptoms may feel positive (like perfectionism helping you do well on tests or in meetings), these 'quirks' have to be holding patients back in some way to constitute an anxiety disorder. Still, there is often a gray area.
Here are seven anxiety symptoms people often mistake for personality traits, according to therapists.
Perfectionism is a relatively loaded word. If you have considered yourself a perfectionist but are motivated by stress or fear, you might have an anxiety disorder.
"You might describe yourself as a perfectionist, but it’s possible your anxiety is telling you that unless you’re doing things perfectly you will be judged by others, seen as unworthy or you’ll be showing the world how imperfect you are," licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC) Elizabeth Cush, MA, tells Bustle. "If you often worry about making mistakes, you’re re- doing things over and over again, or re-checking the things you’ve done for mistakes, or maybe you don’t even try to do something new because of your fear of failure or being judged by others, then you’re probably anxious." You can decide whether or not to work on these symptoms based on how harmful they feel to you, but they might be worth looking into.
2Shyness Or Introversion
Whether you consider yourself shy, or an introvert, if you're operating primarily out of fear for social situations, you might actually be living with an underlying social anxiety disorder. "If you label yourself as an introvert, you might actually have social anxiety," Cush says. "Experiencing social anxiety can make it hard for to put yourself in social situations where you might feel judged or discomfort because of all the unknowns." These symptoms could make you feel like avoiding socialization is the best option.
On the flip side, introversion itself is not a clinical issue. "Commonly there is a tendency to find out that people who are introverts and are trying to manage a life in a very extroverted world tend to mistake their need for down time and decompression as feelings of anxiety," Dr. Lisa Strohman, clinical psychologist, author, and founder of the Digital Citizen Academy, tells Bustle. The key to this personality trait being an anxiety symptom is whether there's a level of distress involved.
If you struggle to keep plans, or have had people tell you that you're flaky, you might want to think about why you tend to behave this way. If the answer is that you're stressed or nervous about following through, an anxiety disorder might be the culprit.
"Another anxiety trait that may be mistaken for personality is someone who is 'flaky' or the friend who always backs out of plans at the last minute," licensed clinical social worker Ameshia Arthur, tells Bustle, "[M]any people with anxiety make plans with legitimate intention to follow through but as the commitment approaches the level of anxiety increases to an unbearable level, in many circumstances the person dealing with anxiety cancels plans to lessen worry and discomfort." If this sort of building worry is your reason for being flaky, it may be time to look into it more.
If you find yourself on-edge, to the point that you struggle with anger or temper, you may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety. If you believe this might be the case, examining the roots of your anger might provide some insight.
"Being irritable is often a symptom of anxiety," Cush says. "If you are snippy with the people in your life at home or at work when life isn’t going as planned, it might be you’re experiencing anxiety. ... Feeling anxiety creates discomfort. The discomfort is your body telling you that you’re worried or fearful about something. And because we’re uncomfortable it can makes us very irritable, snap at loved ones or become easily frustrated." If you're ready to get to a place where you feel on more solid ground, finding some professional support might be a good bet.
5Being A People-Pleaser
If you feel like you're constantly looking to entertain, or to make people happy, there's a chance you're experiencing an anxiety disorder. If so, you likely — deep down — fear what will happen if you don't always aim to please.
"People with anxiety want others to be happy and will always try to lift them up, sometimes this is overwhelming and exhausting as they get taken advantage of and become anxious when they feel they may be at fault," Cali Estes, PhD., therapist and founder of The Addictions Academy, tells Bustle. If the idea of someone thinking negatively of you causes you a lot of stress, you may have an anxiety disorder.
6Having A Rigid Routine
You may joke about how you like things a certain way, but if you cannot handle straying from these patterns, you may have an anxiety disorder.
"Not being able to change your routine [can be a symptom of anxiety]," Dr. Estes says. "[With this,] any small change like a work schedule being altered or job duties changing will cause anxiety.” If you like your routine, but it isn't a necessity, then you may just have a personality more geared towards organization. If anything outside your routine makes you feel stressed or upset, it's worth checking in with yourself about why.
If you're the kind of person who can't do a task until the deadline is fast-approaching (or already passed), then it's important to examining the thoughts you have along with this trait. If you're procrastinating because you're dealing with negative thought patterns, or a feeling you can't cope with, you may have an anxiety disorder.
"I have many clients who tell me that they’re procrastinators," Cush says. "They share it as a personality trait, 'This is just who I am and I’ve always been this way.' But when we explore the thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations that come before they start procrastinating, it’s usually their anxiety that’s getting in the way of approaching a task." if your fear of being 'good enough' means you push off a task, or you get a rush deciding to skip out on something, only for the stress to build later, you may actually be dealing with a symptom of anxiety.
Regardless of how you view your own personality, if you find you have certain 'quirks' that happen to make you upset, or are driven by negative feelings, it's worth it to take the time and energy to explore these traits and see what's causing them. You do not need to write off anything that's upsetting you, even if you think it's no big deal.