7 Things That Might Not Look Like Anxiety, But Are
by Mia Mercado
Closeup shot of a woman drinking alcohol from a glass - stay at home concept
aire images/Moment/Getty Images

Anxiety, like most health conditions, looks different for everyone. It’s easy to write off certain symptoms as temporary work-related stress or just having an off day. However, if you notice certain symptoms lingering past the end of that difficult project or your off days are turning into off weeks, they may be signs of anxiety you’re ignoring.

Feeling anxious is a normal part of the human spectrum of emotion, like feelings of sadness or being overjoyed. So, knowing when the anxiety you’re experiencing requires medical attention can be especially difficult. As Mayo Clinic explains on their website, “people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.” If those anxious feeling are persistent or anxious episodes are repeated, then the symptoms you’re experiencing may be signs of an anxiety disorder.

There are multiple types of anxiety disorders and, like overall anxiety, they don’t all look alike. Panic disorders, for example, are associated with experiencing panic attacks caused by anxiety. Social anxiety disorder, as its name suggests, is specifically tied to social interactions or performative situations. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety gone undiagnosed or untreated can significantly impact work, school, and day-to-day life.

It can be difficult to acknowledge when you need help, even more so when those symptoms itself can easily be ignored. However, there are ways to manage anxiety so it doesn’t interfere with you feeling your best. That starts by knowing the signs. Here are seven things that might not looks like anxiety but can be.


Muscle Tension

Anxiety, while categorized as a mental health disorder, can manifest itself in physical ways. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America lists muscle tension as one form of chronic pain that can be a symptom of anxiety. Muscle soreness and pain unable to be explained by other physical causes can be a good indicator of generalized anxiety order, especially because it is so commonly associated with it.



If a restless mind keeps you up at night more often than not, it could be a sign of anxiety. The National Sleep Foundation states, “Anxiety may be associated with onset insomnia (trouble falling asleep), or maintenance insomnia (waking up during the night and not being able to return to sleep).” Having trouble putting your mind at ease and getting a good night’s sleep could be an indicator that you’re experiencing anxiety.


Chronic Indigestion

Again, anxiety can affect how we feel both mentally and physically. Digestive problems like constipation or cramping can be especially sensitive to psychological stress. Doctor of Psychology Sally Winston tells these kinds of chronic conditions are “basically an anxiety in the digestive tract." While these conditions aren’t exclusively caused by anxiety, the two can certainly make each other worse.


Drinking To “Take The Edge Off”

While alcohol is known to make people feel more relaxed, as it is a depressant, using substances as a form of self-medication is never a good idea. As psychologist Dorian Crawford has previously told Bustle, “Someone may trick themselves into thinking a few drinks every day is a normal way to relax, but it actually is a way to reduce anxious symptoms in a not-so-healthy way."


Having Flashbacks

Does your mind ever replay an embarrassing thing over and over that happened years ago? Some studies suggest that social anxiety can cause PTSD-like flashbacks for some people. Unlike flashbacks among those with PTSD, these types of flashbacks are of events that may not seem objectively “traumatic.” However, one study found that the severity of these social anxiety-driven flashbacks would have lead participants to be diagnosed with PTSD were they to have met other criteria.



When you look at the effects of obsessive perfectionism, it makes sense why it could be a form of anxiety. If part of perfectionism is wanting to appear put together to others and social anxiety impacts the way we believe others see us, the two naturally feed off of and into each other. While being an “overachiever” alone does not mean you have anxiety, multiple studies have found a relationship between common characteristics associated with perfectionism and having anxiety.


Repetitive Habits, Like Nail Biting

This one may not be a big surprise as biting your nails is often cartoonishly connected to feeling anxious. However, as Dr. Sanam Hafeez previously explained to Bustle, "You bite your nails, pick your face, chew your lip, tap your foot incessantly or have some other tic that is the release for the anxiety brewing beneath the surface.” So, if you start to recognize a pattern in these repetitive habits or you notice they become more severe in certain situations, it may be a good idea to see if you’re showing other signs of anxiety.