Life’s awkward and sometimes socially intimidating moments can trigger our most self-destructive behaviors to try and calm the mental and physical toll anxiety creates. These harmless habits can lead to fidgeting and fussing, and potentially become hazardous to our health as they become compulsive. From the incessant nail biting to the hair twirling and pulling, these subconscious series of behaviors not only undermine our self-confidence, but also hurt our health in many unexpected ways.
I have see many people with anxiety in my practice. Most of them are coming out with a similar ways of expressing their nervous behaviour and worries. These are most common habits.
1. Pulling your hair out – Trichotillomania
This seems like a good one to start with, because it’s the one I was struggle with. Whether I’m was in a stressful situation, working on a deadline, or sitting in stop-and-go traffic, I`ve staredt to unconsciously tear my hair out. It’s gross, by the way, though not overly noticeable because most people just assume I`M PLAYING WITH MY HAIR. And once I start, it’s hard to stop my hands from going through the motions.
While some do pull their hair to lower anxiety, many also pull out of boredom, sadness, anger, frustration, loneliness, or excitement.
Maria, 23, experienced severe anxiety throughout most her adolescence. She developed a habit of playing with her long hair, completely unaware that she was doing so, when feeling anxious and stressed. Over time, she began to pull some of her hair out. The development of this habit was very slow, and she was unaware that she was losing most of her longer hair as a result. Maria was afraid that she had a dangerous physiological disease, but then her doctor helped her realize she was experiencing a form of trichotillomania. My client was referred to met by a family friend, and came to realize this behavior had been present for almost three years. Hypnotherapy has helped her learn how to cope with anxiety and how to recognize circumstances and conditions that triggered hair pulling. Maria still struggles with the urge to play with her hair from time to time, but is better equipped to cope with the emotions that cause the compulsion.
2. Avoiding eye contact
Whether it’s because you’re nervous in social situations, or are just generally shy, it’s easy to avoid eye contact during a greeting or a good bye.
Many people have a difficult time looking others in the eyes when they have social anxiety. They are already feeling vulnerable and then on top of that to look someone in the eyes is like the ultimate vulnerability. Eyes are the window to the soul. So, people with social anxiety will have a difficult time maintaining eye contact.
A lot of social anxiety is rooted in the fear that people are constantly starting at and judging you. Looking into the eyes of another is a very scary thing.
These are definitely not all the reasons, but I know that I was affected by these reasons before I decided to start making eye contact. One of the best decisions of my life! You feel so much more connected with the person, you look more confident, and it helps with communication. Try it today!
3. Biting your nails
It’s different for everyone: Some people gnaw at their nails until their cuticles bleed, while others chip at the polish until they’ve scratched them clean.
Nail biting is a nervous habit, and most people who bite their nails learnt to do so as children. Many sufferers become very self-conscious about their raw, bitten nails, but feel that a habit that’s so ingrained will be impossible to correct. There are many products on the market designed to address the problem, including a bitter-tasting solution to be painted on the nails, but these rarely work as they don’t address the root of the issue.
Nail biting, like many habits, can develop as a response to triggers in the environment, initially as a way of regulating emotions and alleviating anxiety. It then persists because the brain has learned to associate it as a response to stress. The behaviour change method we have found to be the most successful is “do something different”.
Habits exists in chains, and shaking up other everyday routines – such as where you sit or the radio station you listen to – will result in the person being less likely to engage in the unwanted behaviour.
It could happen…
4. Grinding your teeth – Bruxism
As the brain approaches deep sleep, all the muscles in the body have to fully let go and relax. This easily causes trouble for the airway — the jaw is heavy and easily blocks the airway and the tongue, when fully relaxed, expands to almost twice its size to block the airway as well.
While grinding is effective at saving us at night, there are consequences to having interrupted sleep every night.
You’re not sleeping well if you grind your teeth. Even with slight sleep apnea, you’re waking up in a damaged state. Tensing up the muscles to grind bounces the body out of deep sleep, and all the health benefits of sleep you read about come from deep sleep.
Years of grinding and clenching can damage your teeth, cause tooth decay and tooth sensitivity, and lead to permanent jaw pain and damage to the jaw point.
Teeth grinding can occur as a side effect of medications or psychiatric conditions such as depression or anxiety. There are also links between antidepressants and recreational drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy.
5. Not sleeping through the night
While insomnia is always hard to cope with, it is especially draining when you suffer from anxiety. Anxiety sufferers who spend many of their waking hours in states of mental and physical distress often simply cannot afford to lose sleep to anxiety-related insomnia. To give your body a chance to recover from the extra stresses you are at risk for having to deal with every day it is very important for you as an anxious person to learn to manage your insomnia.
One of the problems with insomnia is that it often feels like it’s something out of your control. Certainly there are going to be times in life when you simply can’t sleep – if you’re uncomfortable, or you feel sick, etc., then you may not fall asleep for reasons that are not necessarily anxiety related.
But most insomnia can be controlled with the right strategies, and if you reduce your anxiety and stress during the day you can actually get some relief at night as well.
6. Chewing on pen caps (or other random household objects)
“I like to chew on my pens, my sweaters, plastic bottle caps, paper, etc. I heard that freud said it was due to sexual frustration, is this true? any other ideas?” – said Tom, who came to see me not long ago.
Why do we chew when under stress? Well, when we are stressed, we tend to tighten our muscles, including those that help us breathe, so we take in less oxygen. When we take in less oxygen our bodies have less glucose. Chewing on anything tricks our glands. The chomping action of our jaws makes our mouths water, and fools our glands in expecting the next meal, and they release a surge of insulin. The increase in heartbeat increases oxygen and glucose to our brain. The greater the oxygen the better we feel. Basically, chewing charges us up and makes us feel better under stress.
This is another bad habit that may have started in your early childhood and may be hard to break when you’re an adult. Pen and pencil chewing and sucking may seem harmless but there are reasons why you need to learn how to curb this bad habit. It’s unhygienic:
If you are used to grabbing a pen and putting it in your mouth, you may, one day grab someone else’s pen (and you don’t know where that’s been). Always remember that germs quickly spread from hands to mouths. This bad habit is one that not only harms your teeth but also your reputation in the long run. You don’t want to be known as the person in the office that you can’t let borrow a pen.
7. Apologizing preemptively
It’s a seemingly sincere sentiment that can easily lose its meaning when overused. However, people often subconsciously implement over-apologizing as a means of managing their anxiety and reducing outside criticism of their self-perceived flaws. It can be a form of self-deprecation, as an individual apologizing for his or her appearance or skills typically signifies a lack of confidence in that area. Though not typically used with malintent, it can also be a form of manipulation to avoid confrontation by preemptively assuming responsibility for mistakes or inconveniences that are not the apologizer’s fault.
Over-apologizers are often people-pleasers or perfectionists. They do not want to ruffle any feathers so, at the first sign of trouble ahead, they pull out the “I’m sorry” card. However, this card holds much less weight when used so liberally, often when the apologizer is the one who has been wronged. It is common for over-apologizers to apologize when someone lets them down, bumps into them or hurts their feelings.
There are alternatives to over-apologizing that can reduce anxiety and improve self-awareness. Being mindful of apologies and thinking before saying those two little words can help individuals determine when an apology is genuinely warranted. For instance, if someone drives to a friend’s side of town to meet for coffee and ends up hitting traffic on the way, the friend can thank him or her for making the drive instead of apologizing for the traffic, which was in no way either person’s fault.
8. Making yourself nauseous
If you have acid reflux, you understand this one all too well. You get nervous, and it creates acid in your stomach, which makes your stomach hurt, which makes you more anxious, which makes the stomach ache worsen. It’s a never-ending cycle.
Generally, nausea comes from the release of epinephrine, more commonly known as “adrenaline.” This disrupts the acids, enzymes, and functions of your stomach and intestine, which leads to nausea-related symptoms. Anxiety can also make it more difficult for your body to process food. That’s why many people with anxiety have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which also causes nausea.
Both anxiety and stress also have an effect on hormones, which regulate the acids and enzymes in your stomach and gut. Stress can also cause muscle tension in your abdomen, and that added tension may be squeezing your stomach in a way that leads to anxiety.
9. Talking too much, stammering, overusing “like”
“You think I’m super outgoing, but I’m actually talking nonstop because I’m so nervous. A lot of the time later on when I’m alone, I replay the conversation we had and hate myself for half the stuff I said. To you, the whole thing was just a ‘normal’ conversation. To me, it’s so much more complex than that.” – said Hannah
In the confidentiality of my office, many clients have complained about coworkers, romantic partners, and friends who talk too much.
When most of us think of social anxiety we think of shutting down, we think of talking very little, we think of becoming closed off, shy and unengaged. This is of course a common form anxiety takes but it also manifests on the other end of the spectrum as an almost compulsive need to fill up that threatening empty space with mindless chatter, to talk too much rather than not enough.
When we remember that anxiety is the feeling of helplessness in a world perceived as hostile we see that becoming overly talkative is a way to try to reduce those feelings of helplessness by taking control of the situation, by becoming active in some way.
10.Biting Your Lower Lip
Biting your lip is extremely common and, like hair playing, is often considered a sign of flirting. If lip biting becomes excessive it can have harmful effects. It can cause dry, chapped lips, and bleeding lips due to exposure of the lips to the mouth’s digestive enzymes.
Most likely, lip biting and other behavioral habits provide the body with some type of coping strategy. It’s the same reason that some people shake their legs when they’re nervous or blink too often. Something inside the brain wants to perform this behavior, and it may have some sort of coping component that the person is not aware of.
Nevertheless, any bad behavioral habit should be stopped if possible. If left unchecked, these habits can be hard to break and may lead to embarrassment and possibly pain. Even though your body may be using them to cope, generally they won’t cause additional anxiety if you stop the habit from occurring.
A competing response may not even be necessary. You can also practice a technique called “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is simply the act of trying to be more aware of your own anxiety symptoms. In a way, the competing reflex does this – it forces you to think about your lip biting so that it’s not a habit but a choice, and then prevents you from doing it.
Mindfulness practices allow something very similar. The more you pay attention to the habit and prevent yourself from performing the action, the less of a habit it becomes.
Everyone gets nervous or anxious from time to time—when speaking in public, for instance, or when going through financial difficulty. For some people, however, anxiety becomes so frequent, or so forceful, that it begins to take over their lives.
How can you tell if your everyday anxiety has crossed the line into a disorder? It’s not easy. Anxiety comes in many different forms—such as panic attacks, phobia, and social anxiety—and the distinction between an official diagnosis and “normal” anxiety isn’t always clear.
When you hide your anxious feelings for months or years, you perpetuate your anxiety by assuming it’s your fault. Anxiety is not your fault. There is nothing inherently wrong with who you are. You are a good, valuable, uniquely special person. You simply suffer from anxiety.
Acknowledge your anxious feelings. Share how you’re feeling with a trustworthy friend, partner, or relative. Talk to a therapist. Go to an online support group and talk with others about what you’re going through.
When you acknowledge your anxious feelings, you take an important step toward feeling better. Facing the truth can be very empowering because once you name the problem you can go about solving it. You open the door to learning how to feel better.
Lifestyle changes are simple but powerful tools in treating depression and anxiety, and they are an essential component of an integrated approach to treatment. In some cases, lifestyle changes alone can lift depression or relieve anxiety, so it makes sense to start with them right away.
Negative attitudes and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness can upset the body’s hormone balance and deplete the brain chemicals required for feelings of happiness or calm, as well as have a damaging impact on the immune system and other parts of our body.
Certain types of mental training – meditation, self-hypnosis, positive thinking, can affect our perceptions of the world and make us feel calmer, more resilient, and happier. Other researchers have identified many other helpful attitudes—such as forgiveness, gratitude, and kindness—that can be developed with practice.