A Chinese colleague just told me of a Chinese idiom for anxiousness or restlessness. They will often refer to someone who is overly restless as an ant standing on a heated pot. I'm pretty sure there is at least one English idiom for restlessness/anxiousness, but for the life of me I cannot think of it right now. Is there indeed one or more common idioms for restlessness in English, or am I imagining things? :)

10 Answers 10


Someone who is anxious may be said to have ants in their pants.


As restless as a cat on a hot tin roof.

  • That is surely the closest one to the original.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 17:05
  • @Colin Fine Indeed! @cindi +1 Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 17:09

There are few choice idioms for restlessness in English, including:

  • Sitting on pins and needles

  • At sixes and sevens

  • As jumpy as a puppet

And a whole bunch of amusing ones here: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/restlessness


Butterflies in the stomach.

  • 1
    Do you have any evidence this is a Chinese idiom? Do you have any evidence it is an idiom for restlessness? Anxiousness yes, but I wouldn't have ever associated it with restlessness. Commented Sep 30, 2015 at 2:46

Another to consider, to go with the most notable ones already stated:

Champ at the bit

To show impatience at being held back or delayed.

There is also an even lesser known phrase which we can read a little about here. From which we can derive a Dutch idiom:

To have a flea in ones ear.

On the whole this sounds synonymous with 'Ants in your pants', but, if you read, it is noted that an English variation exists which essentially means something else, so I'd be careful about using this indeed.


as frantic as a cockroach in a henhouse


Nervous as a long-tailed cat in a rockin' chair factory.

Or I've heard it "Jumpy as a ...".


Be as busy as a bee

  • You could also have a bee in your bonnet.
    – Sam
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 15:35
  • 1
    @Sam That's not quite the same, it means you have an obsession about something.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 16:48
  • true, but it could certainly make you anxious and restless. So both might be applicable to the underlying cause.
    – Sam
    Commented Apr 27, 2011 at 17:51

As a child, I heard the phrase, "She has a bee in her bonnet."


Rarin' to go. It means that you're more than ready to do something, i.e., anxious.

Hot to trot. This is also anxious but only in a sexual sense. I've never heard it said any other way. As in someone craving sex.

A (real) bug up his ass. Usually I take this to mean someone driving some sort of an agenda, and he's anxious about it. As in

Look out for Bob! He's got a real bug up his ass.

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