The 7 most annoying social aspects of life with anxiety.
Over-defensiveness, having to have the last word, exaggeration, there are many annoying aspects of anxiety.
They’re much worse to live with as the person suffering anxiety than for those around us.
Why is it that the anxious often cause so much social annoyance? Where does it come from?
The most important thing to know is that the feelings of anxiety are 100% real. The thing triggering them may not be, it might even be imagined, but our mind and body gear up as if we are in real danger when anxiety strikes. No one is at their best when in the grip of fear. That reality drives so many behaviours and actions.
So, here are 7 common ways anxiety can irritate those around us and what might be driving those behaviours.
Overly defensive – No matter what is said it’s rounded on as if it’s an attack. A simple comment is enough to spark anger, shouting, and accusations of being attacked. Nothing is ever their own fault, someone is always to blame for everything.
For the anxious person it genuinely does feel like an attack. The emotion is huge. That’s the nature of anxiety – we feel massive, real emotions and they push behaviour. No matter how annoying it is for others, it’s nothing compared to living in a feeling of constantly being under attack. Everything feels like someone is having-a-go at us. The worst-case scenario seems real and is usually thrown to mind. This pushes emotions up big time.
Hard as it can be, the answer is to remain calm when someone responds this way. Reassure them and don’t allow their high emotions to bring us into a place of anger too.  No one wins when we both get angry and things escalate. It’s not a case of winning. It’s a case of making things worse for everyone.
Talking too much – We all know that person who can’t stop talking. Often, it’s frantic and giggly. No pause can be endured without more babbling. Will they every shut up and let the quieter people get a word in?
Again, irritating as it can be to be around it’s nothing compared to living in it. For some the anxiety seeks to control situations. That can blow up into feeling that the conversation must be maintained so it doesn’t have awkward silences. Odd as it can sound, the fear of silence, or being seen to have nothing to say, can feel as strong as any other fear. Anxiety is not reasonable in terms of how much fear it delivers for a situation. Tiny things can feel worse than real crisis.
A good way to deal with this is with humour. Kind humour.
Laughter can reduce fear reactions in the brain. Also, questions that make us think can reduce the pattern of absentminded talking and may involve more recently evolved areas of the neocortex which can reduce the activation of the anxiety driven areas of the brain. However, there’s no easy win here. Patience and understanding may help to reduce any annoyance it can bring.
Always promising, never delivering – “He said he would and as always, it never happened!” This can be one of the most destructive patterns of anxiety. It can create huge frustration and anger and cost friendships.
How can someone constantly do that? Here’s how: Imagine if every time we’re asked to do something we feet that saying no was not an option. That we feel we’re letting people down, that we’re were not good enough, that it was a terrible thing to say no or not to be able to deliver.
Anxiety can make that feeling huge and real. In the moment it’s the lesser evil than wins. Saying yes, making the promise, seeing the person happy is like a stay of execution. We hugely regret it soon after, and will be tortured by it, but whenever the promise comes up, the feeling of panic comes back. That feeling is pushed away each time the promise of made, each time yes is said.
Panic will make is do foolish things. It’s pure survival instinct. It wins too often.
Try to be kind in your thoughts to anyone who does this and simply accept they can’t always be relied upon. Don’t expect
change. It’s only going to change when they do something to reduce their anxiety. Pointing out their failures drives them further into bad feeling and re-enforces the problem.
Hard as it is, if we can recognise that this is their anxiety not who they are, the easier it is to deal with.
Irritable – Every little thing kicks off a row or tantrum. A delay in traffic and its anger, something not done perfectly and its pure frustration. Little things kick-off out of proportion responses.
As in the above examples it’s the disproportionate level of feeling to what’s happening that pushes this. Imagine if a little thing felt like a big thing. How would we know what level of response was right? If everything feels big, then it is big – on the inside. And that feeling is 100% real.
Calmness and compassion will make our lives easier dealing with it. It will feel appropriate to blow-up right back at them, but that only reinforces the feelings and drags us into the same anger and bad feeling.
What’s a win? Less anger or more? Hard as it is, and if can feel like ‘letting them off the hook’ or ‘giving them a free pass’, we don’t make things better for ourselves of we get upset too.
Obsessed with time – We’ve plenty time but one person is already pushing us out the door. Everyone is relaxed and happy except the anxious one who thinks we should be cleaning up before the party ends. We end up sitting outside a venue waiting for it to open because the anxious person herded us out the door too early. There are so many aspects to this but it all comes down to an inability to allow for enough time without being early.
Fear of being late is a big one. Back when I was hugely anxious myself I used to spend half an hour waiting outside before any appointment. Feeling stupid, and hoping not to be seen, but unable to time things right without panic. Panic wins. I was always allowing 30 minutes when 5 would do.
It’s the same as all the other ones above. The feeling is real. If we can be calm and reasoned about it then we can dial down a bit in most cases. But don’t expect miracles. Until I dealt with my anxiety and it reduced then time issues didn’t reduce. Now without anxiety this simply doesn’t happen anymore.
Lying – This is a big one. It can often come about as part of the always promising and never delivering issue above, but also a sense of significance can be part of it. When we’re anxious a bedrock part of this is a feeling of never being good enough. The sense of everyone else is better, more interesting, doing cooler things, living a more fun life, mattering more, is massive.
Sometimes the anxious person feels that unless they say or do something to ‘fit in’ to this imagined more significant life, that they will be overwhelmed in panic. Then the lies can come easily and with no ill will or even intent to deceive. It’s just a case of, once again, of a stay of execution. It feels like panic coming up. Self-preservation systems fire up and anything that lowers panic can be mistaken by the brain as keeping us safe. What would we not do to be safe? Wouldn’t a small lie be worth it for survival? The emotional line of reasoning can be just that.
Understanding this can save heart ache. They’re not a bad person. It’s not who they are. Its an action of anxiety. That might mean we don’t need to be upset by it and that’s a win for all. It can also allow us to protect ourselves from being taken in or from building false hope or belief. That will also take pressure off the person lying too. Not getting upset is a win for all.
Everything is negative – This is fascinating in how the mind works. We have all experienced it. Everything goes fine, but that one little thing was all the anxious person picked up on. It’s not he 99% good, but the 1% less than perfect that is obsessed on. “I’ll do it myself so” “That’s just not good enough”, “I don’t know why I ever asked for help”, the harsh replies and annoyance over little things can cut deep. Some people simply won’t be happy with anything. Nothing is ever good enough.
Imagine how torturous that is for the person themselves. They won’t ever feel they have done anything well enough.
The job of the brain’s self-preservation systems is to find danger. If anxious those systems simply don’t switch off. We’re on alert 24/7!
In that mind-set the brain looks for what is wrong, what could hurt us, what’s the closest thing to danger. It’s a great system. In a crisis it’s marvellous. We’ll see all the real danger and have so many instant options to act.
In that mind-set the brain looks for what is wrong, what could hurt us, what’s the closest thing to danger. It’s a great system. In a crisis it’s marvellous. We’ll see all the real danger and have so many instant options to act.
That system is running all the time for an anxious person and it finds what’s wrong. It doesn’t matter if it’s small. If there isn’t a bigger issue, then that’s where the energy goes. Every problem is treated as large. Every small thing wrong or less than perfect is picked out as if it’s a serious problem.
It’s more a case of the mind always putting something into the place of ‘most dangerous thing in the moment’. Whether that’s a car crash, or something left slightly untidy, if it’s the biggest thing wrong at that time it is pushed up into the feeling of ‘most dangerous thing in the moment’.
The person doesn’t mean to nit-pick. They probably don’t realise they’re doing it. It’s not a decision it’s an emotion which wins.
Compassion and understanding will not only make their life easier, but it’ll save us a lot of frustration too.
I hope this helps article someone. Feel free to share it if you think it might be of benefit. Questions and comments are welcome and I’ll do my best to answer them below.
Change is easier than you think.
Have a great week,
John Prendergast is an internationally recognised award-winning Therapist and Coach who lived decades with severe anxiety and depression before he found the help he needed to overcome those challenges and to build a happier and more successful life. He now specialises in helping others overcome anxiety and trauma. His clinic in in Athlone. 085 1313700