8 early signs I was developing an anxiety disorder
To start, this article well describes the difference between normal anxiety versus Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
I recently was looking at a list of early signs of developing an anxiety disorder. I was then inspired to write my own post about signs I showed, but never considered. They are weird to write down, and they are weird to share, but if it raises some awareness of anxiety, (and anxiety in children) then I am all for adding my voice!
When you are a kid you don’t look at your behaviors and think, “hmm I think I have an anxiety disorder.” No, instead you just know some things make you more uncomfortable than they do to others, and you have some behaviors nobody else seems to be doing.
I could write a completely different list regarding my early signs of social anxiety, but for this post I want to focus primarily on generalized anxiety.
Also note: Anxiety is normal. Some of my examples are also common childhood anxieties, it does NOT mean there is a disorder present. These are just 8 scenarios which had contributed to something more for me.
I remember being in gym class in elementary school. There wasn't anything anxiety provoking about gym class then. There weren't any pacers to run, fitness tests, and exercise was considered play. I remember playing a dodgeball game of some sort. I was standing in the back holding a foam ball and pushing my fingers into the sides. I would look around the gym while picking apart the pieces of foam falling on the floor. I would do this most gym classes, and then throw the ball down to continue playing. One class, my teacher caught me ripping apart the pieces and had to speak to me. My gym teacher wasn't a "yeller" but I was a sensitive kid, so it probably felt like yelling to me. Of course I shouldn't be ripping apart the precious gym equipment the school pays for, but I didn't even realize I was doing it. It would satisfy me. When I wasn't running, my hands had to stay busy or I would become very uncomfortable and restless.
I would bite at the skin on the top of my lip. I remember this being an ongoing problem. I would have hanging skin, or a torn hole on my upper lip. Yes, it would hurt, but I would only regret it after I had done it. Once it would heal, I would only do it again and again.
In 5th grade I wanted to wear makeup. My mom didnt want her 10 year old wearing makeup, but she let me wear mascara as long as I only put on a little to where it was barely noticeable. I would sit in my desk at school, gently peeling off the mascara flakes from my lashes. Sometimes, I would be pulling out my eyelashes along with it. I would be embarrassed. I tried to be discrete. I didn't want the other kids to see me, but that fear didn't stop me from doing it. I didn't know how to sit in class without running my nails across my lashes. I felt weird. I had a lot of friends in class, though I was a quiet girl, but I thought of how I must look from an outward perspective. I compared myself to my other classmates, and to me I was "that girl who would peel off her mascara in class." My mom didn't have to worry about it being noticeable then, because it would be gone by the time I was home.
Biting my nails. I know this can be a common bad habit for kids to do, but after the lip biting, eyelash pulling, I don't think this was just a bad habit. I was looking for something else to try. I was always fidgeting with something.
Picking at my face. When I started to develop blemishes on my face I couldn't look in the mirror without running my fingers over my face and poking each imperfection. I had fairly clear skin, but because I was always irritating it, those unseen blemishes became face scabs and I couldn't hide them. Just like the nail biting habit, my family would tell me to stop, but I only continued, and my self-esteem worsened each time they pointed it out. I didn't know how to stop. I often did not recognize when I was doing it.
I was very hard on myself, never competitive, but a perfectionist. I could not let things go, or forget easily. I never took mistakes lightly. A bad grade, someone raising their voice at me, being awful at a sport- I would want to hide and I believed I wasn't good at anything. Because of this, I was always scared to try new things.
I would seek approval from others. I have always been intuitive and I know what my gut feelings are, but I would still rely on others to help me make decisions and be there for reassurance. I would always be hesitant to act. I could see every possible outcome in any situation big or small. I needed someone to tell me it would be okay, or I was doing the right thing. Always afraid of what could happen if I did or said the wrong thing.
Trouble concentrating. I hear my thoughts louder than the world at times. I would get lost in my head, space out in class, come back to it and realize I had no idea what was going on and the teacher had said my name. I had to keep busy, I couldn't just sit there and listen. If you gave me a pen, I would only draw in the pages of my notebook. I would get so deep in a thought or a worry that I could not focus on anything else. I'd be seen as a "quiet girl." You see, I had a lot to say, and a lot of energy and expression that I was holding in. I just was too absorbed in my anxious head to leave it.
I wish I was taught grounding techniques from a young age. I wish someone had seen past these "bad habits" and instead of telling me to stop, looked into why I was doing these things. It's good that I am able to reflect on them now, because I have formed an awareness and perspective with the behaviors of myself and others.