Some amount of anxiety is normal, and nearly everyone experiences it. If you have anxiety, you may feel nervous, jumpy, irritable, or have a sense of impending doom.
However, even those without a diagnosable anxiety disorder experience anxiety from time to time as a response to stressful situations. Sometimes, your anxious behaviors may keep emerging as a response to past trauma.
What is trauma?
Trauma isn’t always caused by an extremely violent experience, such as going to war or witnessing a mass shooting. Many situations can cause deep emotional distress, such as physical or sexual abuse, a car or workplace accident, a natural disaster, or losing someone close to you. Sometimes trauma can be ongoing rather than a one-time event.
Even after the initial reactions to a traumatic event pass, the trauma can still have a lasting effect. Sometimes trauma leads to recurring anxiety. Trauma doesn’t always lead to diagnosable post-traumatic stress disorder, but it can still have an effect on how you behave when you’re anxious.
Anxiety disorders can have larger effects on your health, such as causing gastrointestinal problems and raising your cortisol levels. It’s important to learn to cope with your anxiety, and sometimes understanding your trauma will help with that. Here are some behaviors that might hint at something you should seek therapy for.
Avoiding unexpected interactions
Often, anxious behaviors that are a result of trauma show up as avoidance techniques. For example, you may be too anxious to answer an unexpected phone call or you avoid making important phone calls altogether. Or you may avoid answering the door and become stressed when someone knocks.
These avoidance behaviors can be a result of childhood trauma, which caused you to feel a loss of control. When something unexpected intrudes in your life, you may shut down and avoid dealing with the situation.
Sitting in certain places during social events
Perhaps your experience of a traumatic event left you trapped in a room or upsetting situation. When going to a restaurant or other social event, you might feel a need to sit with your back against the wall or stand with an eye always on the exit.
This hyper-vigilance has you ready to escape a perceived threat, even when the threat isn’t anywhere near.
Shutting down conversations
You may also feel nervous, distressed, and/or overstimulated when someone is too close to you. Maybe this is a response to a past event where your bodily autonomy was violated. This could cause you to shut down in social situations and affect relationships with friends and family.
If you find yourself constantly checking your phone, not engaging in conversations, needing to go to the bathroom to be alone, or avoiding social events altogether, you may want to investigate the source of this anxious behavior.
You may find yourself constantly apologizing to people. Even when something isn’t your fault or is outside of anyone’s control, you might feel the need to say sorry more than is necessary.
This could be a result of physical or emotional abuse as a child. Apologizing back then might have been a way of fending off an angry parent or guardian.
When to seek therapy
Interrogate your body language and listen to your gut. Have you experienced past traumatic events? Ask yourself if that might be affecting you in ways you didn’t expect. It’s important to know when these behaviors might be impacting your daily life. It’s best to talk these things through with a therapist so you can safely confront your trauma and learn techniques for coping with your anxiety.