When I first speak to potential clients, I like to ask about ‘anxiety markers’. These can range from physical symptoms to tiny behaviour traits that are linked to stress. Often, they are so ingrained that you barely notice them and seeing the link they have to your stress and anxiety levels can come as a surprise. But it’s important to catch the signs early to manage your mental health. So, let’s have a look at the most common examples of nervous habits!
Already know your tell? Then check out my post about how to stop your nervous habits!
1. Migraine & tension headaches
Increased blood pressure brought on by stress (the fight-or-flight response) means that the blood supply to your head changes. It tenses up the muscles around your neck and shoulders which in turn can lead to migraines and headaches.
With easy access to painkillers, we often pop a few aspirins and forget about it. But if you want to manage your mental health, don’t dismiss them. If you’re getting regular headaches, see your GP and check if it’s related to stress.
2. Biting your nails
This, or picking at your cuticles, is a typical nervous habit. When under stress your brain latches on to something to do. The repetitive behaviour can be either comforting or a distraction from the perceived ‘danger’.
In these cases, people often look for remedies such as bitter nail polishes or distraction methods. But if it’s related to stress then the only thing that helps is to address the underlying cause. You’ll get much better in the long term.
3. Rechecking things
Keep checking your phone for no reason? Making sure you’ve locked the door and that all switches are off over and over again? It’s natural to be somewhat careful and double-check things. But constantly rechecking things is a typical example of a nervous habit.
You are trying to feel in control by keeping a check on your ‘polar bear’ (aka the perceived danger). It also means that you were distracted or not very present when you first locked the door or switched off the coffee machine.
Behaviour like this is coming from the primitive part of your brain which is highly active under stress-related conditions. It’s from this part of the brain that OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorders) develop.
If you find it difficult to sit still it’s a sign that your brain is under stress and wants to keep you vigilant. Constantly fidgeting is a sure sign that your muscles are active and ready, which is great for running away from a polar bear but not so good for everyday life.
Constantly tapping your foot or jigging your knee while sitting down is a sign you are subconsciously feeling under threat or anxious. It’s a sign easy to notice in others, too. Look out for it!
5. Grinding your teeth
When it comes to typical examples of nervous habits this one is a bit harder to pick up yourself. Teeth grinding or bruxism can give you a very tight jaw first thing in the morning. But more often than not this is being picked up by your dentist who can see your teeth being ground down, especially in the back of your mouth.
A mouth guard does help but just like with the nail-biting, it’s better to treat the cause than the symptom. Don’t ‘apply the bandage’ and hope for the best. Assessing and managing your subconscious stress levels should do a much better job at making sure you keep your teeth intact.
6. Drinking and smoking
In comparison, these specific examples of nervous habits can have a serious impact on your physical and mental health. And they can creep up on you, especially if you smoke or drink regularly anyway, it may be more difficult to notice an increase in these habits.
For example, if your weekend drinks creep into the week it may be a sign that you are relying too much on alcohol to manage your stress levels. Same with smoking, if you’re going for more ‘fag breaks’ than normally and really rely on those breaks to get through your day, then you need to be aware of how your stress is affecting you.
Identify & act
Whatever your nervous habits, they all have one thing in common: They seem innocuous at first but can slowly and gradually creep up on you. It’s why it’s important to step back, assess where you are right now and where you’d like to be to manage your level of stress.
Your body and mind are great at giving you the signs; make sure you pick up on them. Empty your stress bucket and these behaviours disappear. Catch the signs early before it takes over your life completely.