From the inside, anxiety is pretty easy to identify – a tightness in the chest or stirring in the belly, overactive thoughts that tend towards the, “What if?” and an underlying sense of fear or dread.
But from the outside?
Anxiety can take many different forms, some of which may resemble a different root cause entirely.
Anxiety can look like aloofness.
When someone is anxious, they’re not living in the world; they’re living in their head. To others, it can seem like they’re withdrawn, not interested in engaging. Yet the reality is that they’re so busy battling the thoughts in their head that they don’t have the attention to spare towards those around them.
Anxiety can look like pessimism.
It’s not that those that struggle with anxiety only see the negative; it’s that they believe that they have to anticipate all of the possible outcomes so that they can be prepared for any eventuality. When good things happen (or seem about to happen), anxious people have a hard time accepting it because their brains are still telling them that things can change in an instant.
Anxiety can look like perfectionism.
Anxiety likes to have things in order. It’s a lie the anxious brain likes to use, “If you can do everything right, you’ll be okay.” And so the drive towards perfectionism is strong and the fear of falling short (which of course, is inevitable), is equally as powerful.
Anxiety can look like having trouble committing.
“Am I doing the right thing?” anxiety questions before agreeing to something. “What if there’s a better option?” the mind asks. Those that are anxious often spend substantial time researching and weighing options before making a decision. And even once a decision is made, the doubts may persist.
Anxiety can look like high achievement.
Anxiety has an energy to it and often that energy acts like a motor that drives achievement. The anxious mind has trouble relaxing, which combined with a fear of failure can lead to some impressive achievements. Not that the anxious person will ever relax and enjoy their successes.
Anxiety can look like a need for control.
An anxious brain tries to anticipate every potential outcome. And of course, those outcomes are limitless. So to improve the odds, an anxious person will often try to control the situation and steer the outcomes a certain direction.
Anxiety can look like struggling with time.
Those with anxiety often have a dysfunctional relationship with time – they either believe there is not enough or they avoid thinking about it altogether. As a result, they will either be too early late, believe they will never get it done or put it off until the last possible minute.
Anxiety can look like a failure to begin.
“Am I doing the right thing?” “Am I qualified to do this?” “What if I fail?” These thoughts mean that the anxious person can spend an inordinate amount of time on the starting block, scared of taking that first step. This can lead to unfulfilled promises of action.
Anxiety can look like an entertainer.
For some, the anxiety is channeled into performance. They are always “on,” often the center of the party. By playing a role, they are able to find some distance from their unease. And by shifting the attention towards their performance, they are able to hide their anxiety.
Anxiety can look like a calm exterior.
Many people with anxiety hide it very well. While they may be panicking inside, their demeanor doesn’t even register the slightest elevation of pulse.
Whether you experience anxiety yourself or have someone in your life that struggles with it, once you recognize its disguises, you are better prepared to handle it appropriately.