4 Habits That Make Your Anxiety Worse

Are you making yourself more anxious by practicing any of these 4 bad habits?

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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!

2) OVERTHINKING

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:

  1. Identify the worst possible outcome for whatever situation you are worrying about.
  2. Accept that this possibility exists, and that you might have to live it.
  3. 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.

  1. The ability to cut the unnecessary stressors from your life
  2. 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.

Therapy

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?

Well, everything.

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.

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23 thoughts on “4 Habits That Make Your Anxiety Worse”

  1. I don’t think most of us with anxiety disorders choose to overthink. That’s the problem. That trick works briefly and then the same line of questioning repeats.

    1. Tom | TheAnxietyLad

      I certainly agree, Nikki. We do not choose to overthink, it is a natural setting for the anxious mind, it happens involuntarily. My assumption in this article is that actively making it a habit to act more or less without thinking can be helpful because it gives you a whole new approach to life. I guess you could consider it a way to skip overthinking. Thank you for you comment. :)

    2. I definitely agree! However, the brain is actually that malleable, granting us the ability to interject these thought patterns on a daily basis, replace them, then build new habits in the brain. I’ve taken this approach before and it was highly effective.

  2. This was very helpful in motivating me to keep moving forward with helping myself come out of this. My fears and anxiety has grown a lot over the past year and I am working on things one day at a time. Thank you!

  3. Anxiety is all about changing the mind. Over thinkers don’t just become overthinkers over night. Once you begin to seek help with Anxiety you begin to understand that useful things like meditation, essential oils, tapping, counting, mindfulness etc can all be wonderful tools. They all help you re-train your thinking matters and make anxiety easier to handle. I have spent the last 15 years trying to find ways to handle my anxiety. The best advise I was ever given was to stick with the strategies and tools listed above. It takes patience and work. Mental illness is frustrating and can be dibilitating. We can all help each other.
    Great article!

    1. Tom | TheAnxietyLad

      Thank you for the great input, Kristen! I agree completely, these things take time, but it absolutely works if you are willing to make the correct changes.

    2. Hey Kristen! This is very true, it take perseverance and a dedication to the self. After trying multiple tactics myself I was finally able to heal for the long term by applying exercises in neuroplasticity. I built new neural pathways that were conditioned for calm and resilience effectively displacing old patterns of chronic stress in the lower brain. It was highly effective and surprisingly did not take long. Hope this helps.

  4. I get a lot of comfort from using essential oils. I knew a teacher of young children , years ago, whose room always smelled of roses. ones senses were heightened just by walking into her room.

    1. Tom | TheAnxietyLad

      No doubt essential oils can have a calming effect. Maybe I should cover that topic in case others find it calming too! Thank you!

  5. Yes i use lavender oil to help me sleep and dab it on my wrist too when I am super anxious. I too overthink too much. It has become a bad habit to say the least.

    .

    1. Lavender oil has literally saved me! I use it in my diffuser, especially at night to help with sleep, and also apply it before I leave the house. It certainly hasn’t cured my anxiety disorder, but goes such a long way in helping me cope!

  6. Exposure therapy seems difficult if your trigger is driving and the possibility of an accident and worse outcome of death. I do drive but when riding passenger or evwn if driving myself and in bad conditions or noticing others not maintaining lane, etc I get extreme anxiety and have panics. For instance if a car next to me seems to be coming into my lane I will have a panic even if they are only slightly on the line or really close to where it appears they are heading towards my lane. It becomes debilitating because in order to live a normal life you have to travel to work, events, errands, etc. Driving myself is the best resolution as I have control of the car and know my reactions but passenger for me is almost impossible.

    1. Tom | TheAnxietyLad

      Hey, Kadi!

      I have total understanding for this, and I feel you are raising a very important question (I was quite phobic about driving when I was younger). There are many scenarios in which direct exposure is not possible, for example as you mention, in traffic. Direct exposure is also a bad idea when the phobic person is not ready to handle the stress and anxiety that it causes, as this very easily can backfire and make someone more phobic.

      The answer is usually to find ways to gradually expose oneself or the patient to the phobic situation. Virtual reality is probably going to be very widely used for this in the near future. Further, it is my assumption that learning positive coping mechanisms meant for generalized anxiety will carry over and make phobias easier to handle as well.

      Good luck, and always remember you are not alone in this.
      – Tom

  7. Hi,
    Going through this article I found that I have certain fears in my mind which led to anxiety disorder last year. My own thoughts of insecurity and fears regarding future resulted into this.

  8. My mind never stops, worrying about things weeks, months and years down the line. I’ve been like this 20 plus years numerous CBT and about to start again with someone new. All my issues started with my phobia emetophobia. I will read this again and again as the brain ( given the right tools and understanding) ) can be retrained CTR>ALT>DEL
    I must start reading my book again cure emetophobia and thrive. Been some great feed back. I just don’t have faith in myself, to take that next step the leap of faith as I can’t afford to go backwards hence why I’m stuck on this irrational thoughts roundabout

    1. Hi Kelly I just saw your comment and it’s the first time I’ve heard someone with the same problem as me. I have severe anxiety and panic disorder. I have 1 – 3 panic attacks a day and suffer with severe emetophobia which means that I have almost NO triggers and they just come on when ever with no signs
      I’m losing control of who I am – I’m lost totally lost. Slowly creeping closer and closer to not wanting to live. I’m 4 months pregnant with sever morning sickness, and I’m slowly giving up. How do you cope

      1. Tom | TheAnxietyLad

        Hey, Carly! I haven’t been replying to comments lately, but I feel like I need to now. I’m sorry to hear you’re going through a very difficult time, and I wish there was more I could do to help. You probably know already, but there are therapy options available for both panic disorder and emetophobia. A complete recovery might be difficult to imagine, but a gradual decrease in severity would make things easier too, right?

        If you’ve never given professional therapy a try, please give it a chance before you lose hope. If you have bad experiences with therapy from prior, please try again, because let’s be real, shitty therapists do exist. It’s entirely possible to go through a couple of bad therapists before you find a great one who actually helps you.

        Feel free to send me an email if you wanna expand on any of these things or to just keep me updated too!

  9. Jacqueline McCarthy Leigh

    I enjoyed the article I started to become anxious when I met my narcissistic husband about 7 years ago but at the time we met I didn’t know he was a narc. I didn’t know such cruel people existed. I became emotionally drained and ended up in ER several times because I thought I was going to die from a heart attack.

    I’ve been reading about it and doing a lot of self care therapy as well as seein a therapist.

    I’m so guilty of all those bad habits listed burning trying really hard to stop.

    Thanks for your article. Please write calming stories ❤😊

  10. Pingback: 7 Mental Hacks to Lower Stress and Anxiety - TheAnxietyLad

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