4 Habits That Make Your Anxiety Worse
Are you making yourself more anxious by practicing any of these 4 bad habits?
SOME HABITS DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD
Your brain is hard at work trying to optimise your life every second of every day. It does this through habituating actions that are often performed in succession.
You don’t need to think before you open doors, grab the pencil with your dominant hand or check Facebook every other minute. By creating habits, your brain is speeding up the time it takes to perform routine tasks.
It is supposed to make you more effective, but this process is not without its flaws.
Habituation does not distinguish between healthy and unhealthy, nor between what causes anxiety and what doesn’t.
What you end up with are some involuntary actions that do far more harm than good.
Why are habits difficult to break?
Your brain is really nothing more than a huge network; every thought, memory, action, and set of actions, a specific neural pathway.
Like a trail through a jungle, the paths that are walked often will become more prominent.
Continuing this metaphor, trying to break a habit is much like stepping off an established trail to traverse through unbeaten wilderness. You might have to brute force your way through a few bushes, vines and the occasional mountain lion.
Luckily, every time you successfully avoid a habit, it becomes less of a habit.
1) NOT HAVING A SLEEP SCHEDULE
You have probably heard it a million times before. A good sleep schedule is vital for your physical and mental health.
Let me tell you, you have not been deceived! Not giving your body the rest it necessitates is some seriously hazardous behaviour.
The list of negative symptoms is long to say the least.
Why sleep routine matters
Sleep is a crucial part of any recovery, and not having good sleep hygiene means poorer overall sleep.
This is what we should take away from noteworthy studies on the subject.
Seemingly is does not matter when you sleep. The important part is getting the right amount of sleep.
But there are certain factors that suggest a bedtime around 11 pm being ideal.
If everyone else wakes up before you, there is a chance they disturb your sleep. This might be around 6-7 am on a typical weekday.
Sunrise typically takes place around 7 am to 7:30 am. Having your bedroom flooded in light is not going to make sleeping any more ideal. We are primed to wake up when our surroundings are lit.
Alternatively, sound proof walls and blinds do exist.
How does it affect anxiety?
Finding studies that examine directly how sleep quality affects anxiety disorders can be a daunting task.
Most studies look at:
- The opposite reaction, namely how anxiety affects quality of sleep
- How sleep deprivation affects stress
In lack of concise scientific data, we have to get a bit creative to explain the relationship.
What we do know is that sleep deprivation acts as a stressor, and stressors can cause or worsen anxiety.
Trying to recover from anxiety while sleeping five hours a night is essentially like filling your shoes with stones before running a marathon.
Do not make this silly mistake!
The take away should be:
Make sure you get seven plus hours of good quality sleep every night!
The process of overthinking will quickly make a tiny insignificant issue into a monstrously huge issue. The effect this has on your anxiety cannot be overstated.
If you want to rid yourself of anxiety and worry, you must learn how to keep yourself from overthinking.
A couple of years ago, I happened upon the author Dale Carnegie and promptly filled my bookshelf with most of his works.
One of his books, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” includes a method for thwarting overthinking. It goes a little something like this:
- Identify the worst possible outcome for whatever situation you are worrying about.
- Accept that this possibility exists, and that you might have to live it.
- When you have accepted it, figure out how to improve the situation.
I believe what makes this method so successful is how it puts things in perspective.
When you accept the worst and begin to improve on it, you are not leaving any room to worry.
That leads us into another great method.
Less thinking, more action!
Every time you sit or stand around idly, you are handing yourself more worry on a silver platter.
You are literally choosing to overthink by giving yourself opportunity to!
So if overthinking is ever holding you back, do this:
Count backwards from 3, and then just act on it!
“Three, two, one”, go chat up that cute guy/girl.
“Three, two, one”, ask for the promotion.
Simple! Try it out and let me know if it works for you.
3) BAD STRESS MANAGEMENT
Stress might have a bad reputation, but it’s a completely normal and desirable reaction. What we recognise as stress is our body preparing to answer a perceived challenge or threat.
Occasional bursts of stress, or stress in small quantities is motivating, it pushes us to take action. But when stress progresses from sporadic to chronic the body and mind starts being battered.
This battering will eat away at your physical and mental health.
The secret is to identify and reduce bad stress
Although stress can be the result of an underlying disorder, it usually comes down to bad management.
What I mean with management is mainly two things.
- The ability to cut the unnecessary stressors from your life
- The ability to cope with the necessary stressors
Some stressors are compulsory and need to be dealt with, while others are wholly avoidable.
Analyse your own life. Is there anything that is causing you more stress than it is worth? Consider taking measures to reduce the influence of those factors.
As for the necessary stressors, seek healthy ways to reduce or cope with the stress involved:
- Be optimistic and look for ways to reframe bad situations into something positive. (Usually things are not as bad as you have been led to believe, either by yourself or others. See point 3 on overthinking.)
- Talk about it. Talking is a great opportunity to find new perspectives, try finding someone familiar with active listening.
- Do not procrastinate. Take action quickly. Most issues will not resolve themselves; they may however grow out of your control if ignored.
4) RUNNING AWAY FROM YOUR ANXIETY
To get a good understanding of what is meant by not running away from anxiety, let us take a look at phobias.
A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder where a specific trigger causes fear and anxiety.
Examples of phobias can be arachnophobia, ophiophobia, and acrophobia.
That’s the fear of spiders, snakes, and heights, respectively.
These three phobias have something in common. They are all founded in potentially deadly situations, making them reasonable to some degree.
What separates a phobia from any old typical fear is that the reaction involved in phobias is extreme and irrational. They are irrational to the point where a simple depiction of a trigger can cause panic attacks in some phobic individuals.
A form of treatment that has seen good results in treating phobic disorders is exposure therapy. As the name implies, the treatment involves exposing individuals to their triggers.
For arachnophobia this might entail looking at or touching spiders, while someone suffering from acrophobia might be expected to go rock climbing.
The theory is that phobias are by and large fuelled by negative expectations. When you go out of your way to avoid something, you never learn to not fear it.
What is exposure therapy:
Note that the video above is not TheAnxietyLad’s property. It is simply the most informative video on exposure therapy pulled from Youtube. For more information, look up the original creator, Kati Morton.
Think of it like this:
When faced with a phobic trigger, we feel anxiety. Running away from the phobic trigger causes that same anxiety to dissipate.
Even though the perceived danger is not real, the act of avoiding it brings very real gratification.
This becomes a positive feedback loop. Every time the phobic trigger is avoided, the delusion of danger becomes more vivid.
You are teaching yourself to have irrational fears!
Generalized Anxiety Disorder vs Phobic Disorder
What then can someone suffering from generalized anxiety disorder gain from knowing this?
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), much like individual phobias, is also characterised by irrational fears. The difference being that GAD does not rely on external triggers.
If there are no external triggers, how can exposure therapy work? I hear you asking.
Well, the exposure takes place entirely inside of your thoughts.
As part of cognitive behavioural therapy, a patient might be asked to imagine various anxiety triggering situations. Like falling ill, losing their home or getting fired.
At this point the irrational fears involved can be properly examined and chipped away at.