Anxiety is natural, common, and nothing to be ashamed of. But still, there are times where you want to control how you're perceived, and anxiety gets in the way. And while some symptoms of anxiety, like hyperventilating and shaking, are easier to spot, some tend to sneak up on you. Luckily, when you know what the signs are, they're easier to regulate.
There are some situations where you simply want to feel like you're in the driver's seat, and anxiety can take that away from you. And whether you're at the office, or a party, other people are constantly taking in the information you're giving them. And, in turn, you can always use the people around you as cues as well. "It's always OK to be anxious!" licensed marriage and family therapist, Sara Stanizai, tells Bustle. "If you're not sure — read the people around you. It has a contagious effect and your anxiety can drift onto others. But conversely, seeing others being nervous can also reduce your stress about hiding your own."
Once you're able to identify your own anxiety, and the symptoms it presents, you are likely a step closer to helping yourself feel better. "When you understand that it's a real thing, with a real name, real causes, is often predictable, and happens in a pattern, it starts to be more manageable," Stanizai says. To begin, you can unpack a handful of little things you do that others might be noticing before you.
Here are seven ways you didn't realize your anxiety shows to other people, and what you can do about it.
1Your Body Language Is Giving It Away
Do you ever feel yourself pulling inwards, away from your environment, or the people around you? When this is the case, it may tip others off that you are having a hard time in that moment.
"One of the most obvious signs of social anxiety is avoiding eye contact with others," Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "In general, eye contact demonstrates a concrete sense of confidence and intimacy, two things which anxious people [may] lack." A little grounding exercise or focusing on your breathing can help bring you out of your anxious bubble, and back into the room. Try actively seeking out eye contact, too, and monitoring how that makes you feel.
2You're A Little Sweaty
Not everyone with anxiety is drenched in sweat, just like sweating doesn't always mean you're experiencing anxiety. But it may indicate to others that you are having a stressful moment.
This is a tricky one, and experts know it. "Nervous sweating is one of the toughest symptoms of social anxiety because it’s self-perpetuating. Most people who sweat excessively are well aware of it and know that others notice it too, which only exacerbates their anxiety. As your stress and anxiety go up, so does your body temperature, which triggers your body cool down by sweating," Backe says. Seeking counseling to help mitigate anxiety around this, and carrying blotting paper and deodorant in your bag is a sure-fire way to feel a bit better about this symptom.
3You Can't Quite Get The Groove In Conversation
When you're in a group setting feeling anxious, your anxiety symptoms can hijack the conversation. So it's best to know how it works, and what to do about it. "[Examples of anxiety in conversation include] forgetting someone's name that you just met at a party. You might not realize you're anxious, but if your mind isn't present, you [might] forget their name," Stanizai explains.
And when you're with people you already know, they might be able to tell you're anxious by the way the rhythm of the conversation changes. "Besides for knowing when to chime into conversations, [anxious people] have trouble coming up with appropriate and interesting talking points," Backe says.
If you know you're going to be in an overwhelming situation like this, Backe suggests doing your homework. "One of the best ways to make it easier is to check what’s trending on social media. Knowing what’s going on in the world and what people are interested in talking about can help [you] be more engaging in their everyday social interactions," Backe adds. You've got this.
4You're Showing Your Feelings With Your Posture
Just like your eye contact, your posture can indicate that you're focusing inwards, not outwards, in social settings. Luckily, mitigating this can also help you feel less anxious.
"Anxious people tend to invert their body inwards, effectively making their body seem small and reflecting their inner feelings," Backe says. "For example, many people hunch their shoulders, tuck their chin, and interlock their feet when sitting." Adjusting your posture can help shift the way others perceive you in a room, and even help reduce your nerves a little. "I recommend simple posture exercises which will enable you to sit up straight and stand tall, ultimately boosting your image and overall confidence," Backe says. So try one, and you may feel more confident next time around.
5You Aren't Speaking Up As Often
If you're normally a very talkative person, but in high-stress situations you get really quiet, people around you might be noticing.
"It is important not to keep that fact that you have anxiety a secret. The more we keep things like this a secret, the more likely you are to become self-conscious and avoid people and places who you really don’t want to avoid. Let them know what your anxiety feels like and looks like and let them know how they can be helpful to you in moments when you are feeling anxious," Dr. Danielle Forshee, a psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, tells Bustle.. Then, next time they notice you getting quiet, they can come help and see what might be wrong.
6You Aren't Concentrating
When you're anxious, it's hard to keep focused. "You may feel restless, on edge, fatigued, like your mind is going blank," Dr. Forshee tells Bustle. And while all of this swirls around your head, other people might start to take note, whether you're being unproductive at work, or not really hearing what they're saying to you in conversation.
This is a cognitive sign of anxiety, according to Stanizai. That means it's likely well-treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, a psychologist favorite for anxiety. If your boss is receptive, ask them if you can take a 10-minute walk. And if your friend is a good one, tell them you need to talk about what's bothering you for a few minutes.
7You Aren't Laughing As Much As Usual
While it may be an urban legend that children laugh hundreds of times a day and adults don't, you definitely laugh less as a grown-up. But you should still be laughing some. And if you're not, people might be noticing that your anxiety is getting in the way.
If you've noticed that you're too anxious in social situations to laugh, then it's probably time to really work on your symptoms with a professional. If you're already getting help, but need an extra nudge, sometimes you can help yourself by flipping the whole thing on it's head: laugh at your anxiety.
"A sense of humor is ideal," Primary Therapist at Seasons in Malibu, Dr. Nancy Irwin, tells Bustle. "Using the symptom in a self-effacing manner can disarm others and empower the anxious one, alleviating the pain usually instantly, as again you can garner the support or compassion you need in that moment." Bonus points: when you're laughing at your anxiety, you're also fighting mental health stigma.
Whether you have an anxiety disorder or not, keeping track of your symptoms should be empowering, not terrifying. "Accept these symptoms without judging them, and they will begin to dissipate," Dr. Irwin says. And increasingly, even the people around you who are noticing your anxiety are willing to talk about anxiety and what it really means. So even when you're anxious at a party, it can be a good teaching moment for everyone.