People who are calm on the surface but anxious underneath often display these 7 subtle behaviors

Did you know that nearly 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. grapple with an anxiety disorder at some point? 

This staggering statistic makes it the most prevalent mental health issue in the country. The figures are even more startling among young people aged 18-24, with nearly 50% reporting anxiety or depressive disorders. 

But why am I telling you this?

Well, because these numbers suggest most of us know someone who is suffering from anxiety, even if it’s not immediately apparent. You see, it can often be a hidden struggle, with many of those affected maintaining a calm exterior while battling intense inner turmoil. 

With this in mind, we dive into seven subtle behaviors exhibited by those who manage to keep their anxiety under wraps. 

Recognizing these signs can be the key to understanding and supporting the important people in our lives who might be suffering in silence.

Let’s get to it. 

1) They struggle to make decisions (even small ones)

Do you know someone who takes what feels like an age to make a decision? 

Maybe they even overanalyze seemingly insignificant choices like what to eat for dinner or whether to attend a work party or not. 

Experts, like those at Cleveland Clinic, say overthinking like this is a common sign of anxiety

But it’s not always apparent. On the surface, someone might seem relaxed, but inside, they’re struggling with choices.

A survey by Psych Tests involving over 12,000 people showed that 80% of people who doubt themselves think too much about every choice, suggesting that “overthinking” is often about being scared of making mistakes.

When someone is afraid of choosing wrong, even small decisions can feel huge. They worry a lot about what might happen if they make a mistake, which makes it hard for them to decide.

 As recommended by Psychologist Mark Travers, to help someone like this, you could consider: 

  • reminding them not to wait too long to decide. 
  • encouraging them not to look at too many options. 
  • helping them make sure their choices match what’s important to them. 

2) They often seek reassurance

“Does that look good?”  “Are you sure it’s okay?” “I just wanted a second opinion on this.”

Sound familiar?

While it might seem harmless, this sort of reassurance-seeking could be a sign of hidden anxiety. A 2015 study highlighted this, with researchers stating: 

“Seeking reassurance is a universal experience but individuals with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive (OCD) disorders experience a greater unease and need for reassurance over time than do healthy controls.” 

Put simply, while everyone seeks validation at times, those grappling with anxiety might find themselves in a loop of needing more constant affirmation from others. This repeated behavior is not always noticeable at first glance but becomes more evident with closer observation.

How do we help?

Well, encouraging self-reliance and fostering a mindset where mistakes are seen as learning opportunities can gradually help reduce the need for constant reassurance. 

3) They are subtly dependent on substances

This is a big one. 

But of course, these can be hard to notice as people tend to hide them well or brush them off.  

For example, they might excuse drinking a bit too much with  “I was just letting my hair down” or something like that. Maybe they binge eat behind closed doors. Maybe they self-medicate to get through the day.

These can be hard to spot, but we really need to pay attention as such dependencies indicate a potentially serious underlying issue. As noted by UK Addiction Treatment Centres, studies have shown “there is a very strong link between addiction and anxiety disorders.” 

And turning to substances as a coping mechanism is a “particularly destructive” form of avoidance, as pointed out by Choosing Therapy. It’s a deceptive slope, where the reliance on alcohol, drugs, or even behaviors like engaging excessively in sex, pornography, or overeating becomes a way to numb discomfort. 

When it comes to offering support, the key is compassion and understanding. 

Mind emphasizes the importance of making individuals feel supported, which can play a significant role in their recovery process. By offering a supportive and understanding approach, we can help them confront their anxieties and embark on a path toward healing and recovery.

4) They always want to keep the peace

pic2166 People who are calm on the surface but anxious underneath often display these 7 subtle behaviors

This one might sound a bit counterintuitive. 

When we think of anxiety, we often picture someone overreacting to minor issues, and this is a sign of anxiety, albeit a pretty obvious one. However, for many people, the prospect of conflict is deeply anxiety-inducing, leading those who are already anxious to go out of their way to avoid it. 

This avoidance can turn them into peacemakers in every situation, always striving to keep the peace at any cost. 

But here’s the catch: as you may know, such conflict avoidance isn’t a healthy solution. Psychologist Dr. Bruce Wilson, in a post for Psychology Today, sheds light on this issue. He tells us that avoiding conflicts means we’re also avoiding facing our anxieties or the fears that are holding us back. Instead of confronting and overcoming these fears, avoidance allows them to grow, making anxiety and fear even more prominent in our lives.

Encouraging open and honest communication, even when it’s uncomfortable, can help those struggling with anxiety to confront their fears directly, leading to more meaningful resolutions and personal development.

5) They often appear tired

Have you ever noticed someone who always seems worn out, even when they look calm and collected on the outside? 

This constant state of fatigue might actually be a subtle sign of their internal struggle with anxiety, as sleep disturbances, especially insomnia, are commonly linked to anxiety disorders

Helping someone break free from this cycle involves practical and supportive steps. Here are a few suggestions based on guidance from Harvard Health:

  • Establish a regular bedtime: Encourage them to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to help set their body’s internal clock and enhance sleep quality.
  • Limit caffeine intake: Advising them to reduce caffeine consumption, particularly in the latter part of the day, can help minimize its impact on sleep.
  • Encourage physical activity: Regular exercise can significantly improve sleep quality. However, it’s best to avoid vigorous workouts close to bedtime. 
  • Promote a pre-sleep routine: Suggest establishing a relaxing routine before bed, such as reading or a warm bath, to signal to their body that it’s time to wind down.

Focusing on these strategies can help someone with anxiety find more restful sleep, reducing their daytime fatigue and supporting their overall well-being.

6) They strive for nothing less than perfection

At first glance, someone’s drive for perfection might seem like a commendable trait. However, when this relentless pursuit becomes a constant behavior, it can be an indicator of hidden anxiety

Choosing Therapy, among others, has shed light on this connection, explaining that: 

“Perfectionism is often rooted in fear of failure or rejection of some kind, so the fear and anxiety are motivating the behavior.”

The quest for flawlessness isn’t always about high standards or dedication. Instead, it’s often driven by a deep-seated fear of not measuring up or being seen as inadequate.
For those who appear calm on the surface, this fear can manifest as an invisible burden, compelling them to avoid any possibility of error or criticism at all costs.

The big problem with this kind of perfectionism is that it sets an unattainable standard, leading to a cycle of stress and self-criticism that only fuels the anxiety further. The more they strive to avoid failure, the more anxious they become, trapping them in a cycle that’s hard to break.

Addressing this aspect of anxiety requires a gentle approach that encourages self-compassion and the acceptance of imperfection. It’s about helping them see that making mistakes is a natural part of growth and learning and that it’s okay not to be perfect all the time. 

By shifting the focus from perfection to progress, we can help alleviate the pressure and reduce the anxiety associated with this relentless pursuit of perfection.

This next one is very important to watch out for, as it also suggests depression. 

7) They have started to withdraw from social events

I hope you don’t mind me getting a little personal on this one. 

In university, I had a friend who gradually stopped hanging out with us. At first, we thought he was just swamped with assignments and exams, but it wasn’t just the busyness of student life; he was struggling. 

I wish I had known that social withdrawal is a common sign of anxiety and, unfortunately, depression

This shift in behavior can be subtle at first, making it hard to distinguish from the usual flow of social interaction. However, when someone consistently starts to pull away from social engagements they once enjoyed, it’s a red flag.

Really keep an eye out for this one, as early intervention can make a difference in someone’s mental health journey. Being there for them, reaching out, and offering support can help break the cycle of withdrawal and isolation, paving the way for reconnection.

The bottom line 

In a world where anxiety often hides behind a calm facade, recognizing these subtle signs is crucial. 

By staying alert to these behaviors, we can extend a compassionate hand to those silently struggling, fostering understanding and support in our communities. 

Let’s be there for each other. 

Until next time. 

Mal James

Mal James

Mal James Originally from Ireland, Mal is a content writer, entrepreneur, and teacher with a passion for self-development, productivity, relationships, and business. As an avid reader, Mal delves into a diverse range of genres, expanding his knowledge and honing his writing skills to empower readers to embark on their own transformative journeys. In his downtime, Mal can be found on the golf course or exploring the beautiful landscapes and diverse culture of Vietnam, where he is now based.

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