Nail biting. Foot tapping. Hair twirling. These small signs of nervousness may sound familiar for someone who has social anxiety. But social anxiety isn’t just nervousness — so for people who have social anxiety, these “nervous habits” can manifest in ways we wouldn’t expect.
To find out other “nervous habits” of people with social anxiety, we asked our mental health community to share one way their social anxiety affects them.
Here’s what they shared with us:
1. “Bite the inside of my cheeks. Run my nails through sections of my hair. Scrunch my toes up inside my shoes to the point it hurts. Count my teeth with my tongue. Pick at the sides of my fingers. Bite my lip. Count things.” — Sheri L.
2. “I stutter or saying things twice. I also cannot control how loud or soft some things come out. I also tend to say things like, ‘I know,’ and ‘uh huh,’ even when I haven’t heard what someone has said. My heart races and makes it difficult for me to hear and think straight, and sometimes I don’t answer right away and have to have someone repeat what they said.” — Victoria E L.
3. “I constantly ask for reassurance. If I’m out in public and someone is with me, I always ask if I look OK or if the cashier will think I’m silly if I buy something. If I’m by myself, I’m constantly texting someone.” — Megan E.
4. “I talk. Not just casually but literally striking up a conversation about anything and everything just to keep noise happening. Nervous chatter isn’t something you expect from someone with social anxiety, but for me the most anxious part of being involved or socializing with people is the fear of standing in awkward silence with someone and worrying what they are thinking.” — Allie M.
5. “I have a weird one. I yawn. Like a lot. Instinctively when I see anyone coming towards me or I feel like someone is going to say something to me I will start yawning to avoid conversations. I just recently started realizing I do it.” — Jessica F.
6. “Biting the inside of my lip/cheeks (or I’ll chew gum), tapping my foot/fidgeting, sometimes zoning out despite how hard I’m trying to pay attention, or sometimes if it’s really bad my hands will get shaky.” — Annah-Rae W.
7. “I smile and laugh at inappropriate times. In my mind I’m trying to put everyone at ease, unfortunately, however, a lot of times it just makes things awkward.” — Emily Jo.
8. “Constantly leaving unnecessarily early to get to places or events. And then wandering around the area. Really I’m looking for a home base or a safe place I can retreat to to feel comfortable. I’m also noting all the exits. I am also hyper-aware of people entering and leaving a room or gathering. So I frequently glance toward the door, even during conversations. I’m not trying to be distracted, my anxiety makes me very sensitive to any changes in a social situation.” — Clara B.
9. “I don’t make eye contact because I worry people will think I’m creepily staring at them. But when I do make eye contact I find myself questioning it. ‘Is that too much? Am I being weird? No one locks eyes for this long right?’” — Jessica W.
10. “Tapping my fingers on the table, bouncing my leg up and down, biting my nails, scratching my head, or anything repetitive like that. Getting angry or upset seemingly out of nowhere, or feeling sick and dizzy, or really tired too.” — Lauren G.
11. “I use my husband as a shield. I stand almost behind him so I can pull his arm against my chest and hold his hand. It puts him ahead of me and gives me the distance away from other people. It looks innocent enough, but in reality I keep squeezing his hand harder and pulling his arm closer. I focus my attention on his face and let him do the talking.” — Samantha B.
12. “I will hold a ballpoint pen and click it open and closed continuously. If someone complains about the noise I will start taking the pen apart and putting it back together because it’s quieter. I also will cross my legs and shake my foot continuously. I always sit near the the back of the room but not the very last row because people there get singled out sometimes. I prefer an aisle seat so I can escape if needed.” — Brian L.
13. “I am constantly grinding my teeth and clenching my jaw, without even realizing. I chew my lip until it bleeds. I am always twisting and messing with the rings on my fingers, cause I can never not do something. I annoy my friends because I bounce my leg excessively and can’t stop moving, especially in public.” — Ashley R.
14. “My phone is my social crutch. Any time I talk to someone I have to scroll through the nothingness on my phone. When I hangout with people I avoid awkward silences by getting really interested in it.” — Carry K.
15. “I constantly fidget, always twitching my leg up and down, or I’m always ringing my hands. Sometimes I constantly play with my hair. Anything to take my mind off being anxious.” — Becky U.
16. “Zoning out. Acting like I’m not listening. I’m not really, I guess. I’m trying to focus on my breath and practice mindfulness. I want to listen.” — Katie B.
17. “Confessing everything, even things that don’t need sharing. If it pops in my head I have to share it there, and then, even if the topic has moved on I still have to say what I felt I had to share. It can be as simple as ‘I tried this lovely recipe and it was a great meal.’ If I don’t say it I can’t relax. I have OCD and anxiety.” — Alice B.
18. “Narrating all of my actions. ‘This goes here, this goes there, I’ll put this here, I’m going to grab this. I need this, this, and this.’ I do it every time I start to panic to try ground myself to what I’m doing physically, rather than how I’m crumbling mentally.” — Avalon L.1
19. “I look into a compact mirror, repeatedly, to make sure I don’t have any boogers, smeared makeup or food stuck in my teeth.” — Allisa A.
20. “My hands shake uncontrollably. I am a photographer, and when I first meet clients, it’s so embarrassing. It doesn’t last, but it keeps me from finding new clients because I am so self-conscious about it.” — Whitney R.
21. “I always take off my glasses when I talk to people. If I can’t see people properly, then I feel way less nervous.” — Rebekah S.
This story was published on The Mighty, a platform for people facing health challenges to share their stories and connect.