If You're Doing These 11 Things At Night, It Could Be A Sign Of High-Functioning Anxiety
If you're able to get through your day with relative ease, and only feel stressed and anxious once you get home at night, it might take you a while to recognize the signs of a high-functioning anxiety disorder. After all, you're able to go to work, see a few friends, and maintain a healthy routine — all things someone with an anxiety disorder might struggle to do. But if your days end with you stressing out, lying awake, or ruminating on catastrophic thoughts, don't brush it off.
"During the day, you have school or work to keep your mind preoccupied," Dr. Crystal I. Lee, licensed psychologist and owner of LA Concierge Psychologist, tells Bustle. "But at night, there's lots of free time to let your mind wander or reflect on the day. That's when those pesky anxious thoughts and anxious habits kick into high gear." You might be tempted to chock them up to residual stress from the day. But if they're distressing or time-consuming, these worries may be drifting towards anxiety territory.
There are things you can do, however, to feel better. "Besides going to a therapist, you can cope by engaging in mindfulness to keep you present-minded," Dr. Lee says. "Anxiety is often about future-oriented or past-oriented worries. Mindfulness helps keep you fully in the present, which is often antithetical to anxiety." If you have anxiety, here are a few things you might catch yourself doing or worrying about at night, according experts.
1. Over-Preparing For The Day Ahead
While it's perfectly fine to plan out what your day might look like, it is possible to go overboard — especially if you have anxiety. "There is a fine line between being organized and over-preparing," Dr. Helen Odessky, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of Stop Anxiety From Stopping You, tells Bustle. "If you tend to skimp on sleep or social time to over-prepare, you probably have high-functioning anxiety."
Meticulously planning each day down to the minute, for example, may be your way of coping, calming down, or feeling in control. As Dr. Odessky says, "People who are anxious may use the over preparation to quell anxiety." If you recognize this symptom in yourself — and if you find it distressing — it may be a good idea to speak with a therapist.
2. Replaying The Events From The Day Over & Over Again
If you have high-functioning anxiety, don't be surprised if you spend most of your evening replaying the events of the day. "People with anxiety will often use the quiet and relative stillness of night time to review all the things that happened that day," Dr. Lee says. "You may ... [think] about all the decisions you made that day and wonder if they were the 'right' decisions. Or you may replay a certain social interaction over and over again, thinking about how you might have done it differently." It can feel like it's impossible to turn your brain off, or get to sleep.
3. Distracting Yourself With Your Phone
While it's fine to watch TV or scroll through social media for a while before bed, it could be a sign of high-functioning anxiety if you just can't stop, or find yourself doing it as a way of calming down.
"Sometimes a coping skill is to ... distract or self-soothe, which takes the form of browsing social media, [or] mindlessly perusing your phone or tablet rather than getting the much needed sleep that actually helps to reduce anxiety," David A. Songco, PsyD, CGP, a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle.
4. Staying Up Late Cleaning
Due to nervous energy, you might feel the need to stay up late cleaning — possibly for hours on end. "Instead of just sitting around with your anxious thoughts, you take all of your fidgety, anxious energy and clean and organize your apartment like nobody's business," Dr. Lee says. "It gives you a productive outlet for all your anxiety, and it also gives you a sense of control."
This habit can be a good one, to a degree. But if it becomes time consuming or super distressing, don't be afraid to reach out to a therapist for help, which might include other ways of channeling this energy.
5. Tossing & Turning For Hours
If you have a hard time falling asleep, it can be due to any number of things. If you drank too much coffee, that can keep you up. If you're thinking about a big project at work, your mind might not easily shut off. But if you have high-functioning anxiety, that can do it too.
"Chronic tossing, turning, inability to get comfortable, and difficulty falling asleep within the first 25 minutes of laying in bed are usual signs of early anxiety (high-functioning or otherwise)," Songco says.
6. Working Into The Night
If you can't stop working late into the night, take it as a sign. You might check emails, even though it's midnight, or you work on projects, even though you should be getting some sleep — again, all as a way to cope.
As Dr. Lee says, "Because you don't want to be alone with your thoughts, you've developed the habit of never being not busy. People might think of you as hard working or a workaholic, but you're really just trying to distract yourself from having to be alone with your thoughts."
7. Grinding Your Teeth
It may sound weird, but many folks with high-functioning anxiety grind their teeth at night, once they're in bed. As licensed clinical psychologist Liz Witmer, PhD, tells Bustle, "Grinding one's teeth can be a sign of worry from the day that is unresolved. It is best to check with a dentist to confirm that this is happening because they know the signs on teeth. One can also get a sense of whether you are grinding your teeth if you have frequent jaw pain."
8. Having Catastrophic Thoughts
Anxiety can cause you to ruminate on "worst case scenarios," which is why you may spend a great deal of your evenings worrying about all the things that could possibly go wrong with your life.
"Clinicians who train in CBT-I (cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia) teach their clients strategies for dealing with rumination," Witmer says. "They recommend doing 'constructive worry time' earlier in the evening, which can include setting aside 30 minutes to think about the problems you have left to solve or are on your mind. You take time to create short lists of [one to five] steps or solutions you can think of to take actions on those problems at a later time (like the next day)." And it really does help.
9. Talking In Your Sleep
If your partner or roommate says you talk or yell in your sleep, take note. "Talking in one's sleep is often a sign of anxiety," Witmer says. "This is hard to notice in oneself unless you wake yourself up from talking (or even yelling aloud). But bed partners can identify this and share it with you."
10. Following A Rigid Routine
While it's fine to create a routine that works for you, it may be a sign of anxiety if you have one you need to stick to at all costs. "Very often people with anxiety will cope or mask the anxiety by creating as much certainty in their lives as possible," Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "This can get worse at night as the day is coming to an end. Thoughts of having to 'finish tasks,' getting everything done, getting ready for the next day all can peak at night."
11. Sleeping With The TV On
It's one thing to watch some TV or a movie before sleep. But if you positively need to do so in order to get to sleep, it may be a sign of anxiety.
"The most common habit I see in my clients who have anxiety is they fall asleep with either a TV show, a podcast, or the radio playing in the background," clinical psychologist Elizabeth Cohen, PhD, tells Bustle. "So many people use this maladaptive coping strategy that I even added this question to my intake form. The aim with this strategy is to quiet the anxious thoughts that naturally surface as we end our day."
Instead of lying in a quiet space, being with your thoughts, and falling into a deep sleep, you choose the background noise instead. "The distraction allows one to avoid or numb out their anxious thoughts," Dr. Cohen says. "Clients often play the same episode each night because the familiarity soothes them."
If you recognize these habits in yourself, it may be a sign of a high-functioning anxiety disorder, or even a generalized anxiety disorder. To find out for sure, and to learn how to better cope with your symptoms, it may be a good idea to reach out to a therapist for help.