Can Other People Tell If You Are Feeling Anxious?

If you are feeling anxious or nervous then one of the things that can exacerbate how you feel is the worry that others will notice it. Having others point out that you look anxious or uncomfortable, or that you are sweating or a bit shaky, can send your anxiety up another level. 

You may worry that your anxious thoughts, feelings and sensations are apparent to others, which can make you feel even more anxious and mean that you think that your new, higher level of anxiety is then even more obvious to everyone else. 

However, whilst you may think that the anxiety inside of you is leaking out and noticeable by others, the research shows that people tend to overestimate the extent to which others can read how you feel.

In the video below I've covered the research that shows that we overestimate the extent to which our feelings and emotions are apparent to those around us.

 I've also written more about the research into this in a previous article that you can check out here:  Can Other People Tell How You Feel? Anxiety About Looking Anxious.

This is the video edition of that research where I cover how your internal state is far less apparent to others than you think it is. Click on the image and have a watch now: 

Can other people tell how you feel anxiety hypnotherapy ely newmarket

 Watch on You Tube

And so there is this 'illusion of transparency' which is the tendency for people to overestimate the extent to which others can discern their internal states. We overestimate the extent to which our thoughts, feelings and sensations 'leak out' and are available to others.

"It thus appears that the illusion of transparency is a robust phenomenon that applies to a host of different internal states…When individuals attempt to determine how apparent their internal states are to others, they begin the process of judgment from their own subjective experience. The adjustments they make from this anchor--adjustments that stem from the recognition that others are not as privy to their internal states as they are themselves--tend to be insufficient…and a feeling that one's internal states are more apparent to others than is actually the case" (Gilovich, Savitsky and Medvec (The illusion of transparency: biased assessments of others' ability to read one's emotional states, 1998). 

You are very aware of how you are feeling and the sorts of thoughts, feelings and sensations you are experiencing. You focus wlll be very strongly focussed on these things. And although you know other people can't be as aware as you are, and you try and take that into account here, you will still overestimate how much of that inner stuff is being picked up by other people. 

And so with your anxiety, you will be really focused on your anxious thoughts, feelings and sensations. To you they seem so strong and prevalent that it seems inconceivable that others won't pick up on your anxiety. You know they won't know the full extent of what is going on inside your awareness yet your assessment of how much of your anxiety they perceive will be exaggerated and often misplaced. 

As with your external actions and appearance (where the research shows that we also overestimate how much these are noticed by others: Why You Should Probably Worry Less About What Other People Think About You - The Research on Fear of Failure and Being Judged), we make the same thinking error when judging how much of our feelings and emotions leak out.

All of which adds up to the fact that whether in your internal emotions, your behaviours or your appearance, other people pick up on what you are feeling, thinking and doing far less than you expect. And when it comes to anxious feelings that means that you can dismiss worries about other people noticing you are anxious and you can end your anxiety about appearing anxious. 

To your success,

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket 


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Gilovich, T., Medvec, V.H. and Savitsky, K., 2000. The spotlight effect in social judgment: An egocentric bias in estimates of the salience of one's own actions and appearance. Journal of personality and social psychology, 78(2), p.211.

Savitsky, Kenneth, Nicholas Epley, and Thomas Gilovich. "Do others judge us as harshly as we think? Overestimating the impact of our failures, shortcomings, and mishaps." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81, no. 1 (2001): 44.

Gilovich, Thomas, Kenneth Savitsky, and Victoria Husted Medvec. "The illusion of transparency: biased assessments of others' ability to read one's emotional states." Journal of personality and social psychology 75, no. 2 (1998): 332.

Savitsky, K. and Gilovich, T., 2003. The illusion of transparency and the alleviation of speech anxiety. Journal of experimental social psychology, 39(6), pp.618-625.