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Can anxiety make you act weird?

Anxiety is a common condition that affects millions of people. It involves feelings of worry, nervousness, and unease. While anxiety is a normal emotion that everyone experiences at times, some people have more severe, long-lasting anxiety that can negatively impact their daily life. When anxiety becomes excessive, it can indeed cause people to act in strange or eccentric ways.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety refers to apprehension or fear about what might happen in the future. Everyone gets anxious sometimes, like when giving a speech, taking a test, or making an important decision. However, anxiety becomes a disorder when these feelings are intense, last for longer than six months, and interfere with normal life activities.

There are several types of anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder – excessive worry about many everyday situations and events
  • Social anxiety disorder – extreme fear of being embarrassed in social situations
  • Panic disorder – sudden episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical symptoms
  • Phobias – irrational fear of specific objects or situations
  • Separation anxiety – excessive fear about being away from home or close attachments
  • Agoraphobia – avoiding places where it’s hard to escape or get help if panic symptoms occur

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses in the United States, affecting over 19% of adults each year. They can occur at any age but often begin in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood.

How can anxiety cause weird behavior?

When someone is experiencing anxiety, especially in severe forms, their thoughts, feelings and behaviors can seem odd or eccentric to others. There are several ways that anxiety leads to atypical actions:


Avoidance of feared situations or objects is a common symptom of anxiety disorders. Phobias, social anxiety, separation anxiety and agoraphobia all involve avoiding the things that trigger anxiety. This avoidance can appear strange when taken to extremes. For example, someone with a dog phobia may cross the street or turn around if they see a dog approaching at a distance.

Safety behaviors

People with anxiety often engage in rituals or habits aimed at reducing their anxiety and preventing feared consequences. These “safety behaviors” include things like always carrying certain items, repeating a specific phrase, needing to sit in the same spot, asking for reassurance, and avoiding physical contact. While these behaviors make the person feel better in the moment, they reinforce the anxiety over the long term.

Freezing and immobility

A “deer in headlights” response is common with anxiety. When faced with a threatening or stressful situation, some people freeze and find themselves unable to think clearly or act. An observer may perceive this immobility as peculiar.

Fidgeting and restlessness

Anxious individuals often feel wound up, tense or on edge. This can lead to constant fidgeting, foot tapping, hair twirling and difficulty sitting still. Others may interpret this restless behavior as odd.


People with high anxiety tend to be hyper-alert to any potential threat or danger in the environment. They may scan for exits, obsessively check locks, watch strangers warily or startle easily at noises. This hypervigilance and heightened reactivity can seem paranoid.

Difficulty concentrating

Anxiety can cause distraction, confusion and difficulty concentrating. At times, this may interfere with the ability to follow conversations or respond appropriately. The person may also seem spacey or in their own world.

Social awkwardness

Anxiety leads to self-consciousness and heightened worries about appearing strange or embarrassing oneself. This can cause stilted conversation, avoidance of eye contact, and awkward body language. The anxious person may give the impression of being aloof, withdrawn or indifferent.

Can anxiety cause impulsive behavior?

In some cases, anxiety leads to increased impulsivity instead of avoidance or restraint. There are two explanations for this phenomenon:

Distraction from worries

Acting on impulse provides distraction from anxious thoughts. Engaging in impulsive actions like eating, shopping, substance use, or high risk behaviors can serve to calm anxiety temporarily.


Flooding refers to intentionally exposing oneself to a feared situation in order to speed up the process of overcoming anxiety. A person with social anxiety may impulsively act very talkative and forward in an attempt to desensitize themselves to the situation.

How are anxiety and eccentricity connected?

Research has found some links between anxiety and eccentric or odd traits and behaviors:

  • Highly creative people tend to score higher on measures of anxiety compared to general population. There appears to be an association between anxiety and original or divergent thinking.
  • Studies show that socially eccentric or withdrawn youth are more likely to develop anxiety disorders and depression later in life. Early social isolation may be both a risk factor for and a result of anxiety.
  • Camouflaging behaviors are common in girls and women with autism spectrum disorder, who consciously try to mask social difficulties through imitation and compensation. This leads to anxiety from constantly monitoring oneself.
  • OCD and social anxiety disorder carry the strongest risk of odd behaviors taken to the extreme. People with these conditions are most likely to become “statistical outliers” due to severe avoidance, repetitive rituals or intrusive thoughts.

In essence, anxiety forces the person to focus inward as they closely monitor potential threats. This hyper self-focus breeds eccentric thinking and actions as the anxious individual relies on private rituals and reasoning.

When does anxiety-related behavior indicate a disorder?

It’s important to note that everyone acts in an anxious, awkward or unconventional way at times. Behavior is only considered indicative of an anxiety disorder when it:

  • Causes significant distress
  • Interferes with work, school or relationships
  • Persists for longer than 6 months
  • Feels uncontrollable

Acting in an odd, anxious way occasionally does not necessarily constitute a mental health condition. The frequency and impact of the behavior are important to consider.

Examples of how anxiety can cause weird behavior

Here are some examples of how the various types of anxiety disorders can lead to atypical actions:

Social anxiety disorder

  • Standing frozen when introduced to new people
  • Needing to drink alcohol to loosen up around others
  • Selecting the most strategic seat in a room to avoid attention
  • Rehearsing conversations to minimize rejection

Panic disorder

  • Rushing out of a store or event due to a panic attack
  • Refusing to drive on highways out of fear of panicking while driving
  • Insisting on having anti-anxiety medication available at all times
  • Excessively monitoring body sensations

Specific phobias

  • Driving an extra 20 minutes to avoid crossing a tall bridge
  • Turning down a job due to fear of enclosed spaces
  • Covering eyes and ears when insects are shown on TV
  • Bringing an umbrella inside on rainy days to avoid wet dog phobia


  • Having elaborate safety rituals before leaving home
  • Refusing to leave home unaccompanied
  • Mapping out bathrooms in advance when going out
  • Avoiding crowds and open spaces like parks


  • Arranging items in symmetrical patterns
  • Meticulously cleaning household surfaces
  • Counting floor tiles or light switches
  • Seeking constant reassurance about mistakes

Again, keep in mind these types of actions are only considered disordered if they significantly impair functioning or quality of life.

When to see a mental health professional

It’s advisable to see a psychologist, psychiatrist or therapist if anxiety is:

  • Causing trouble at work, school or in relationships
  • Interfering with participation in normal activities
  • Leading to avoidance of many situations
  • Accompanied by depression, substance abuse or other mental health concerns
  • Causing odd behaviors or intense distress

A qualified mental health professional can assess if clinical anxiety is present and provide appropriate treatment. Effective options may include therapy, medication, brain stimulation techniques, mindfulness practices or lifestyle changes.


Anxiety disorders can certainly cause individuals to act in strange, unconventional or eccentric ways. Avoidance behaviors, safety habits, hypervigilance and social difficulties are common results of uncontrolled anxiety. However, these types of behaviors usually need to be severe, persistent and impairing to constitute a true anxiety disorder. With proper treatment, the weird behavior can improve as anxiety is reduced to manageable levels.