16 Ways I Was Surprised To See Anxiety Manifesting In My Life

·13 min read

Hey, everyone! I'm Hannah, and anxiety plays a pretty significant role in my life. I've dealt with varying degrees of anxiety for my entire life, but I was formally diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder when I was 19.

cartoon of an anxious woman with thoughts swirling her head
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Before I had a diagnosis and a greater understanding of my own anxious behaviors, I really only ever understood anxiety as a state of mind that left me on constant high alert and a predisposition to bouts of panic and full-blown panic attacks. Now that I've been working with professionals (and with myself!) on coping and treatment, I've learned so much more about the ways anxiety has manifested in my life. If you also have anxiety, results may vary!!! But these are just some of the ways I never really expected to see anxiety play roles in my life.

a balloon about to be punctured by a nail
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Note: Some of the experiences I discuss are also linked to my OCD diagnosis, and I'll talk about the intersection of these two conditions in my life. My experiences, while potentially relatable to others, are my own. I am only speaking to my own personal experiences and am in no way an expert.

1.Hypersensitivity to sound:

volume dial turned up

Even as a child, I've never liked unexpected, loud noises. I may listen to loud music and sing at the top of my lungs in my car sometimes, but overall, I'm pretty sensitive to sound. Fire drills at school used to reallyyy mess with my mind. Even watching fireworks is pretty unenjoyable. I feel silly as an adult covering my ears, but it's the only way I can get through it calmly. Any random loud noise is enough to make me jump and put me on edge. Also, I'm sometimes very bothered by the sound of someone chewing. It'll make me unreasonably uncomfortable or angry. Because of this sound sensitivity, I recently started listening to some softer ASMR to see how it impacts my brain. Soft tapping and brushing sounds are very soothing, but the ASMR whispering and mouth sounds into the microphone are pretty unsettling for me.

Matthias Kulka / Getty Images

2.Tummy troubles:

woman holding her stomach in pain and lying in bed

Without giving TMI, my stomach is frequently unsettled. I've learned to carry Pepto tabs and Tums in my purse pretty much everywhere I go. When I'm upset, so is my stomach. It can manifest in many ways, such as cramping, heartburn, acid reflux, nausea, needing to use the bathroom, or in extreme cases, throwing up. I can eat all the dairy in the world and power through, but I send one risky text, and it's all over.

Alihan Usullu / Getty Images

3.Caffeine sensitivity:

a steaming cup of something warm

I'm sure this one has more to do with my body's ability to process caffeine and isn't only tied to anxiety, but having anxiety certainly doesn't help. Over the past five or so years, I realized my tolerance for caffeine has tanked. I used to be able to drink a medium or large chai tea and feel perfectly normal. Now, I have one cup of green tea and I talk a mile a minute, twitch, and tremble. Coffee has never been in the stars for me, but I love tea! So, I've had to get strategic with how I consume my tea. I will occasionally break down for a chai tea latte (my favorite), but the results are never fun. It usually leads to a racing heartbeat, shaking, headache, nausea, dizziness, and chest tightness. This can go on for hours. Mentally, I tend to get very uneasy and anxious, and the negative physical side effects only make my thoughts race more. I have to be in a good headspace if I'm gonna break down and sip a chai. I can stomach a green tea well enough, but I hate that I can no longer drink it totally symptomless.

Ke Chen / Getty Images/EyeEm

4.Intrusive thoughts:

human head with an infinity symbol in the brain and a small person running around that infinity symbol like an endless track

As both a product of my severe anxiety AND my OCD diagnosis, I deal with a lot of troubling intrusive thoughts. I want to clarify that this is not just an anxiety response — intrusive thoughts are a symptom of OCD — but people with anxiety may struggle with these thoughts as well. I believe for myself, being incredibly anxious by default only makes these thoughts worse. Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts, images, or impulses that can occur seemingly at random. At any given moment, the most unexpected, and often disturbing, idea can enter my head and send me into a pattern of anxious behavior. I'm at the point where I can't even stomach watching disturbing or violent scenes in shows or movies at all without the image being burned into my brain and entering my mind again later by way of an intrusive thought. I can have great moods or moments ruined by the sudden disturbing thought that someone I love is in immediate danger. Or I'm plagued by the nagging thought that if I don't do X, then Y (something terrible) will happen.

Aleutie / Getty Images/iStockphoto


silhouette of a person with a rain cloud in their head

Symptoms of a panic attack are no joke, and yes, can even feel like a heart attack. Even after years of experiencing varying levels of panic attacks, any time one starts to come on, my mind races with worst-case scenarios, only making the attack more distressing. It's a vicious cycle. And whenever I experience other unusual pains in my body, the fear creeps back in that something is gravely wrong. I've trained myself to stay off Google and WebMD in those moments and I try to find ways to distract myself until the feeling passes. This, of course, can lead to denial when something is actually wrong. It's hard to find that balance.

Malte Mueller / Getty Images/fStop

6.Food allergy fears:

an x over an avocado, then an x over watermelon

Oh yeah, this one's fun (and related to the hypochondria a bit). Because I have developed genuine food allergies throughout my life (melon when I was 10 and avocado when I was 18), my brain sometimes likes to interrupt me while I'm eating to remind me that allergies can sneak up on you. This can be very distressing while I'm just trying to enjoy a normal meal. My brain can trick me into thinking I am experiencing some of the symptoms associated with an allergic reaction, particularly tightness in the throat, trouble swallowing, and trouble breathing. Luckily, I am pretty good at combatting the intrusive thoughts and you'd never know these ideas were racing through my brain as I take a bite. A way I've learned to ground myself and dismiss the fear is by assessing whether or not I feel excessive itchiness in my lips, mouth, throat, hands, or feet. If that's not present, I can assure myself I'm probably all good.

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7.Chronic earliness:

a clock that reads 10:40

If I'm exactly on time to meet up with you, just know that I am SO comfortable being around you. For most things in my life, I can't help but be ridiculously early. Doctors appointments, flights, dates — you name it. I love to budget in a lot of extra time in case of disaster. I feel a lot calmer when I know I have plenty of time. If I even doubt that I'm going to be anything less than perfectly punctual, cue the increased heart rate, trembling, racing thoughts, and an unsettled stomach. Oh, and probably a nervous bladder.

Erik Von Weber / Getty Images

8.A bladder that just won't quit:

stalls in a public bathroom

Before you tell me to see a doctor in the comments, nothing is wrong! A lot of it is mental. It's not always that I have to pee; it's often that my brain reminds me I'm going to have to at some point, so I better be ready. Allow me to try and explain. I will pee at the very last second before getting on a plane because there's nothing I hate more than peeing while suspended in the air. But I'm still going to be stressed during the flight that I'm gonna have to pee. And I'll probably think about it so much that I'll have to get up and pee at some point. All pee, no peace.

Milea / Getty Images/iStockphoto

9.Driving stress:

cars on a road

Though I'm not driving now that I live in New York City (uh, thank god), driving has always been tough for me. I have no problem driving around town or on familiar routes. But hitting the highway to drive a couple hours is barely in my wheelhouse. I've done it a few times, but only headed to areas I've traveled many times before — no uncharted territory for me. At the height of my driving anxiety, I would sometimes have to pull over in a random parking lot and just take a second because I'd feel like my eyes were losing the ability to focus and see.

Jung Getty / Getty Images


close-up of an eye

Living with severe anxiety has many obstacles and challenges, but strangely enough, it has also brought me some unusual gifts along the way. My love of performance can be traced back to anxiety. In my adolescence, I learned about the magical feeling of stepping into someone else's shoes and performing — whether it be a song or a full-fledged production. I love the idea of entering another world and living fearlessly, if only for a moment. I can bring pieces of myself into that world, but for a bit of time, I am more than myself. You'd think being on stage in front of people would be my biggest fear (and sure, I get nervous), but I actually find to be very freeing. My own personal anxieties and problems don't cross that threshold. I can live and breathe as someone beyond myself and tell a new story, and it's such a beautiful thing.

Guido Mieth / Getty Images

11.Overachiever/perfectionist syndrome:

hands holding up five stars

I am my own worst critic. Anything less than the best gives me STRESS. Even as a kid, I had a hard time accepting imperfection. When I was in kindergarten and the teacher would give us words to sound out and spell, I would outright refuse unless I already knew how to spell the words. I wouldn't accept being wrong. All throughout school, I stressed myself out and had many breakdowns in order to fight to maintain straight A's and a high GPA. I've always been one to overwork myself, and when things aren't exactly perfect, I feel a lot of shame and frustration. I think I'm better at cutting myself a break from time to time than I was eight years ago, but the self-inflicted pressure is still there.

Paula Danià «lse / Getty Images



Remember how I said I can't watch violence on TV or in movies without unintentionally stockpiling horrible images in my brain that creep up later? Yeah, that also ties to my frequent and vivid nightmares. I sometimes wonder if my intrusive thoughts manifest as bad dreams when I'm sleeping. Anyway, I'm also the poster child for stress dreams. I have many recurring bad dreams (or many dreams with similar themes), but none seem to haunt me more than dreams about my teeth cracking or falling out. I won't lie — I'm certainly vain, and I take great pride in my smile. I have good oral hygiene (you guys need to floss DAILY), and the idea of destroying my smile in some way is upsetting. But, beyond that, there are so many interpretations for dreams about teeth falling out. One of the most common interpretations is that, plain and simple, it's a stress dream, possibly tied to feeling out of control or helpless. I get a little comfort in knowing that this is a very common dream among people, but it's still frustrating waking up in a tizzy and running to the mirror to make sure it was all in my head.

Madvector / Getty Images/iStockphoto


hands outstretched to reveal many rings

I love a good fidget! I like wearing a few rings on my fingers to have something to mess with. And though I'm not a nail biter, I am definitely a nail picker. Some other fidgets include: biting my lip, wiggling my toes, wiggling my nose, applying chapstick, touching my hair, and cracking my knuckles. We all have nervous habits, but I guess I never expected to have so many. These obsessive impulses (and other rituals I have not listed) are, of course, also linked to my OCD, but the fidgeting amps up when I am in anxious situations.

Mario Marco / Getty Images


person clutching their jaw in pain

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) operates like a sliding hinge and connects your skull and jawbone. TMJ disorders can lead to jaw pain and interruptions in jaw movement. There are many factors that can determine a TMJ disorder, such as genetics, but it can also be linked to stress and anxiety. If you're anxious, you may be more likely to clench your jaw and create tension, which can cause discomfort. Stress and anxiety may also lead to bruxing, or teeth grinding. This may also cause jaw pain. I certainly clench my jaw when I'm feeling anxious, stressed, or tense, so this often manifests in bouts of jaw pain and headaches.

Hope Connolly / Getty Images/iStockphoto


dalmatian puppy yawning

Kinda strange, right? While everyone yawns and frequent yawning does not equal anxiety, there is a pretty significant relationship between yawning and anxiety! Anxiety can really change up your breathing — shortness of breath, rapid breathing, hyperventilating, etc. Sometimes, yawning is the only way your body feels like it can get a full breath. So, when you're struggling to take a full breath and get air, your body may initiate a yawn and try to bring you some relief. I've been in many situations where panic sets in and I start to feel as though I'm not fully breathing. So, I'll start yawning so I can calmly find a way to let air in. It works wonders for me. I may look like I haven't slept in three days, but really I'm just centering my breath.

Coneyl Jay / Getty Images

16.Finally, comedy:

three laughing camels

"Oh shit, should I be joking at a time like this?" —Bo Burnham

YES! Sure, mental illness is NO joke, but the ability to make jokes and find humor in the world (and in my life) has been an unexpected lifesaver. Making others (and myself) laugh no matter how shitty the day was or how broken things are in the world feels like a superpower. Amazing comedians like Rachel Bloom, Bo Burnham, Iliza Shlesinger, and many more have given me silent strength in my darker moments and have helped me find new definitions of healing. Humor has redefined my humanity. Every chance I get to make someone smile or laugh, I'm gonna take it!

John M Lund Photography Inc / Getty Images

Thanks for taking the time to read about my angsty little brain!! Anxiety is not a "one size fits all" sorta thing, but I wanted to share my personal experiences in hopes of helping others with anxiety feel seen, or to give folks without anxiety a "peek behind the curtain" at some of the ways anxiety can impact people.

Remember to always consult with your doctor about your personal health and wellness. BuzzFeed posts are for informational purposes only and are no substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, or professional medical advice. To learn more about anxiety and resources that may help, visit: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders.

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