20 Do-Not-Ignore Signs Of Anxiety You May Not Recognize Right Away

Anxiety can be as subtle as a whisper.

Subtle signs of anxiety evrymmnt | Shutterstock

Many people think of anxiety as something that only shows up along with major unexpected adversity or change. This can be navigating crises, intense shifts, personal “earthquakes,” loss, and other seismic shifts in life that spike numerous fears and concerns. But the truth is that there are many signs of anxiety and some you may not recognize. While for some people, anxiety is a sudden spike, for others it can come in a much more subtle way that creeps up on you. Anxiety doesn’t always yell at you. Anxiety can also whisper to you.


The quieter, often hidden signs of anxiety are more subtle, yet just as important to pay attention to. You might be anxious about something and not even realize why. Anxiety’s job — regardless of whether it’s yelling at you or whispering to you — is to alert you to something that isn’t quite right. I think of anxiety as the experience that arises from conflict about future unavoidable pain as well as the perceived threat to something you care about. At one end of the spectrum is yelling anxiety. It can’t be ignored and insists on taking over just about anything else you might be thinking about or trying to do. It's relentless and exhausting. At the other end of the spectrum is whisper anxiety. The hidden signs of whisper anxiety can seem almost normal despite being uncomfortable and therefore easier to ignore than yelling anxiety. Yet these hidden signs of anxiety are still nudging us to notice them and pay attention — even though their messages do not clearly identify themselves as anxiety. 


RELATED: 5 Things You're Doing To 'Fix' Your Anxiety That Might Be Making It Worse

Here are 20 signs of anxiety you may not recognize right away:

1. Difficulty sleeping

2. Strange dreams

3. Using anxiety-based vocabulary

4. Over apologizing

5. Nail biting, nail picking, skin picking, hair twirling

6. Not being able to sit still

7. Boredom

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8. Irritability

9. Alcohol, drugs, comfort food, gaming, physical intimacy

10. Distraction seeking

11. Repetitive thoughts

12. Devoted planning

13. Perfectionism

14. Procrastination

15. Escalated emotions

RELATED: The One Key Difference Between Anxiety And An Anxiety Disorder


16. Uncomfortable saying no (people pleasing)

@arynjones_ Reasons why you’re a people pleaser 👇🏻 1: You were only appreciated when you were obeying and quiet. 2: The love you received was conditional. 3: You were taught you only get love when you meet other’s needs. I’m a psychology student and aspiring clinical therapist 🤓 Follow my page if you want to discover more about yourself and become your BEST you 🧠🫶🏻 #peoplepleasing #peoplepleaser #lifecoach #therapist ♬ Pieces (Solo Piano Version) - Danilo Stankovic

17. “Catching” stress and anxiety from others

18. Social avoidance

19. Risk aversion

20. Intimacy challenges

Taking note of odd habits, strange behavior, or compulsive thoughts can help clue you into your discomfort, and often point you in the direction of your anxiety. Anxiety, especially the whispering kind, is always about being uncomfortable, but not in a way that’s overwhelming. These are the kinds of worries and internal conflicts that can be put on the backburner simmering, but not completely out of mind until addressed head-on. The discomfort you feel isn’t a bad thing.

Discomfort can be considered a superpower. Whisper anxiety is your early detection mechanism that something isn't quite right, that there's something or someone you care about that needs your attention. The challenge is to pay attention to the hidden signs of anxiety, instead of brushing them off as unimportant or simply ignoring them. Anxiety always carries an important message for you. When you're able to notice, listen to, and address your whispering anxiety, you can prevent it from escalating. By channeling its motivation into solutions, you can “fix” the issue your anxiety is alerting you to. By tending to low-grade anxiety and being aware of the hidden signs of anxiety to which you're most susceptible, you can move through your life feeling more in control and thus more comfortable.


If you or somebody that you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, there is a way to get help. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or text "HELLO" to 741741 to be connected with the Crisis Text Line.

RELATED: The Scariest Symptom Of Anxiety, According To 5,000 People

Dr. Alicia Clark has been a practicing psychologist for over 25 years and has been named one of Washington’s Top Doctors by Washingtonian Magazine. She is the author of Hack Your Anxiety: How to Make Anxiety Work for You In Life, Love, and All That You Do.