You can never fully know what people do behind closed doors, since our time at home is when we get to fully relax and be our truest selves — away from the prying eyes of the public. But for
people with high-functioning anxiety, this alone time is often rife with ways of dealing with stress.
The thing is, not everyone knows these habits are a side effect of anxiety. "Typically, those with high-functioning anxiety have multiple symptoms of chronic anxiety but can carry out their daily functions, often without coming across as anxious to friends, co-workers, and family,"
Dr. Jeff Nalin, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. "In reality, they suffer in secret from chronic stress." And knowing what that might look like can be the first step in getting treatment.
While some coping skills are helpful — and may even push an anxiety sufferer towards success — others can be a sign the
anxiety has officially gotten out of hand. "Without treatment, high-functioning anxiety can have detrimental effects on mental and physical health, as the body and mind suffer from a chronic, constant level of stress," Dr. Nalin says.
The good news is, there are plenty of ways to be successful
and get things done, without pushing yourself to the edge, or experiencing an undo amount of anxiety. So if any of the habits below sound familiar — or are holding you back in life — it may help to let a therapist know.
Hair Pulling And Skin Picking
While this habit might sound uncommon, it's actually a fairly typical
side effect of anxiety, as well as one compulsion that can reveal just how much anxiety you're actually experiencing.
"People with high-functioning anxiety may partake in such nervous habits as biting one's nails, picking of skin around the nails, cracking knuckles, hair pulling and/or pacing, among others," Dr. Nalin says.
These are all nervous habits that are used as a way of reducing anxiety, so definitely don't brush them off. "Compulsive behaviors like these are intended to relieve stress (although people who do this may not realize it),"
counselor GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC, tell Bustle. "People with anxiety may [even do things] like pick at wallpaper or chip away at flaked paint."
Many people with high-functioning anxiety find that they
have trouble relaxing at night. And as a result, "often have a difficult time shutting off their minds and often have a hard time falling asleep," Dr. Nalin says. "They, therefore, may have many a restless or sleepless night."
If this is something that affects you, let a doctor know. While it's OK to have one or two sleepless night — especially if you're going through a stressful time in life — it shouldn't be an ongoing problem.
Experiencing Racing Thoughts
have racing thoughts, especially once you get home after a busy day, you're definitely not alone.
This is another common side effect many folks with high-functioning anxiety experience behind closed doors. And it normally plays out in the form of overthinking.
"People with anxiety may [...] do things like try to solve problems in their heads, think far into the future, and go through several different scenarios in their minds," Guarino says.
Another way your racing and anxious thoughts might reveal themselves, is in the form of over-planning. "Behind closed doors people with anxiety [over-prepare] for new experiences,"
Rachel Dash-Dougherty, LCSW, tells Bustle.
Your evenings might consist of writing detailed to-do lists, researching and planning your week, and overpacking for even the simplest excursions.
If this helps you to feel organized, that's one thing. But if it's taking over your life, it may be time to
speak to a therapist, so you can learn a few healthier coping skills.
Some people with high-functioning anxiety take to counting as a way of calming down, "or to distract their brain from feeling anxious,"
therapist Kryss Shane, MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW, tells Bustle.
For example, you might catch yourself counting things as you try to relax, such as the number of lights in the ceiling, or tiles on the kitchen floor.
"This may appear to onlookers as the person being distracted or uninterested, but really it is them working to remain tuned in and to remain on task by preventing feelings of anxiety from taking over," Shane says. If it becomes a problem though,
let a therapist know.
Similar to counting, you may also engage in a few rituals or compulsions as a
way of relieving your anxiety, such as "touching things a certain amount of times, for instance," Dr. Nalin says. "These types of behaviors are a typical way to ease feelings of distress or anxiety."
The thing is, since it doesn't
actually alleviate anxiety, you may still struggle to relax at night, even after completing your rituals. Again, seeing a therapist is a great place to start, as you begin to rein in your anxiety.
Another big one for anxiety sufferers is the ongoing habit of procrastination, which can take many forms behind closed doors. You might not feel motivated to do chores, get ready for the day, or begin a project — among other things.
"Because those with high-functioning anxiety tend to be perfectionists, they often procrastinate as they may feel that they are not up to the challenge and may not be successful, so they put things off," Dr. Nalin says. "Then they pull everything together at the last minute." But not without a huge amount of stress, as a result.
While it's fine to write a to-do list or two as a way of staying organized, if you have high-functioning anxiety, you might feel the need to write down
everything, possibly to the point your apartment is positively covered in reminders and sticky notes.
In some ways, that can be a good thing. "Getting information out of your head and onto paper helps increase bandwidth for higher performance,"
Lauren L. Rigney, MS, LMHC, NCC, tells Bustle. So if you find that it helps, have at it.
But if you really think about it, and the habit seems to be stemming from an abundance of anxiety, remember there are ways to gain back control.
"Creating systems to increase predicability, decreases anxiety," Rigney says, which is why many people with high-functioning anxiety spend their time at home organizing — and then organizing some more.
If you know exactly where everything is, and exactly how your schedule will pan out, you might feel more in control. But bear in mind how easy it is for
high-functioning anxiety to get out of hand.
Sometimes, a little bit of stress or anxiety can push you through a busy day, and lead to success. But try to be honest with yourself, when it comes to whether or not this anxiety is serving you.
It's fine to have a few habits or quirks you only do behind closed doors, but it never hurts to
find healthier coping skills, and deal with this type of anxiety in a less stressful way.