MenagerieGlimpse: The mannerisms of anxiety
Glimpse: The mannerisms of anxiety
July 10, 2013
July 10, 2013

There are more ways than the sophisticated utterance of a succinct “Uhh…” when faced with an attractive specimen of the opposite gender. There are more ways than the fit of convulsion (presumably the inspiration for ‘The Harlem Shake’) that increases in direct proportion to the imminence of a speech. There are more ways than the suddent amnesia that befalls one after assiduously investing a great chunk of Twitter time in studying for a test, and realizing that the lengthy exercises in the Accounting workbook could not have prepared one for the formidable first question of: “What is your name?”

There are more ways by which anxiety exhibits itself.

One of the most peculiar attributes possessed by the human mind is its vivacity in inconsequential matters and its immediate cessation in moments of exigency. Anxiety, which is a state of the human mind, is, according to The American Psychological Association, “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes.” More often than not, these feelings worm their way into the mind and reduce it, depending on one’s inclination, to either a mess chaotic enough to rival your love life or a slate empty enough to rival your love life. Thank the limbic system for making your brain an emotional wreck.

The symptoms of anxiety aren’t always as obvious as the surprise ending of a Disney movie, or as ‘subtle’ as the meaning of a Taylor Swift song. But, to a keen observer, they are. Fortunately, only a small percentage of the world’s population is gifted with such powers of observation. Unfortunately, a great percentage of that small percentage teaches SPEECOM, works in Human Resource, or happens to be the object of your desire. Knowing is half the battle, and knowing the little signs that betray anxiety may aid in knowing what not to do in delivering a mind blowing speech or in charming a favorable first impression.


According to UK-based mental research site Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, rapidly shooting out whatever you say in a fit of excitement is more often a sign of nervousness than it is of perkiness. Over-excitement can sometimes manifest in irrational speech patterns when your tongue thinks quicker than your brain (think back: anxiety should not dictate whether watching Man of Steel really is the best date idea) or when you start talking as if you were on a bridge of ideas only to end up stammering, falling as the bridge suddenly finds itself non-existent.


Hair tugging

Your seatmate is staring hard into his international law subject’s finals results when suddenly and quite inexplicably he starts pulling the primly cut locks of his Bench fix fauxhawk from his scalp. This intense, spontaneous hair-pulling phenomenon is known by its scientific name, trichotillomania. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, it is an impulsive control disorder, with most trichotillomaniacs having problems with anxiety management, if not outright depression. Trichotillomania is a lifelong disorder, cured only through behavioral therapy and habit reversal. More than just noting his anxiety, you may wish to comfort your compulsive hair tugger seatmate before he rips off his scalp.


Hands everywhere

You question your boyfriend: who was with you in Mang Inasal last night? “Oh, just my friend,” he mumbles, his fingers involuntarily touching his face: rubbing his eyes, playing with his ear lobes, covering his mouth. Friend, huh? The fingers may give him away. Touching the face involuntarily may not only be a sign of anxiety but also one of uncertainty and potential deceit. Rubbing the eyes suggests a ‘see no evil’ sentiment, as if to rub away what one had seen; the same goes for toying with the ear lobes, wherein one supposedly blots out what one has heard. If covering the mouth, then one may not have meant what one said.

Other than touching the face, the fingers and hands are very clear indicators of anxiety. Placing one’s hands in one’s pockets is an involuntary remedy for anxiety as this allows the hands to warm and sweat (the tension brought on by anxiety may trap vapors trying to exit the hands’ pores). The very fact that hands sweat involuntarily, or start to feel clammy, may by themselves be a natural way of modulating body pressure and heat. One may also gesticulate excessively to channel one’s stress mid-speech, to loosen the nerves and relieve tension.


Clutching, touching for dear life

Sometimes during the peak points of anxiety one couldn’t help but grab for an item of comfort – or any item for that matter. Tactile reprieves from anxiety may constitute symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Grabbing things to appease an irrational sensory urge constitutes a compulsion – one of many for those manifesting OCD – or urge to fulfill a certain behavior in order to reduce anxiety. This explains why one might subconsciously clutch at one’s bag while consulting with one’s irate thesis mentor in the faculty room, or why students doing RTRs would toy with their well-crumpled scripts.


Beautiful eyes

Mr. Class Gwapo just blinked at me from across the classroom. Does he like me? If he blinks at you more than 30 times, it is most probable that he does not possess any magnetic attraction; rather, he may be quite anxious with something from your direction. Brain researcher and educator H. Bernard Wechsler writes that blinking more than 30 times per minute is a sign of excessive stress in individuals, even sharing that personalities who appear on television may blink as much as 31 to 50 times under the camera. Blinking is a way of releasing tension, when nerve impulses travel from the superior colliculi in the brain to our eyes, the vision centers of the body.



Your fresh grad teacher’s leather-shoed feet are not dancing. Most likely, he is worried about how his debut lecture is turning out to be, as feet are an excellent indicator of body language and potential anxiety. According to neuropsychology magazine Cognizance, bouncing feet, pacing about or shifting your weight from foot to foot is a symptom of evident anxiety. As with all the anxious behavior described above, these pacifying behaviors are a means of stimulating nerve endings to make it possible for endorphins – those calming chemicals that make us feel happy and relaxed – into the brain, so that tensions are soothed.

Anxiety experts all over the world have long laundry lists of other symptoms for anxiety that have not been described in detail nor elaborated upon in this article. The most important factor in managing anxiety, however, is not to deny that one is anxious, but to accept the signs, prepare oneself for any eventualities, and to remember that there are always second chances for busted speeches, awkward moments and tense silences: your brain, after all, will always find a way to splatter itself silly happy with endorphins.