5 More Habits That Make Your Anxiety Worse
Are You Making Your Anxiety Worse by Cultivating Bad Habits?
This article is a follow-up to one of my very earliest articles, 4 Habits That Make Your Anxiety Worse.
1) TRYING TO HANDLE EVERYTHING ON YOUR OWN
Most mental health disorders, anxiety and depression being good examples, are surrounded by a veil of stigma. We suffer alone because of the shame and fear we associate with our disorders.
However, the act of not opening up, of not talking freely about mental health, is the reason why the stigma exists to begin with. Everyone stumbles around in silence unable to reach out to anyone, even their closest, about their burdens.
The natural consequence is a society in which everyone feels like they can’t function, yet believes that everyone else functions perfectly fine. No wonder we are afraid to open up!
In “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” Edmund J. Bourne writes the following:
“Taking responsibility for overcoming your condition does not mean that you have to do
it all alone. In fact, the opposite is true: you are more likely to be willing to change and to
take risks when you feel adequately supported. A most important prerequisite for undertaking
your own program for recovery is to have an adequate support system.”
Not talking openly and freely about our mental health is not only hurting society. We are directly hurting ourselves!
You are directly hurting yourself!
We hold the power to break the stigma, right now. We have to scream our burdens from the rooftops if we must. Potentially we can settle for just keeping our loved ones in the loop, and let them be our support network.
2) MAINTAINING A NEGATIVE PERSPECTIVE
When bad things happen to us, we are given a choice. We can choose to consider ourselves a helpless victim who is repeatedly screwed over by this cold and harsh world.
- “Nothing good ever happens to me, this proves it.”
- “Just my luck, always pulling the shortest straw.”
We can also choose to put things into perspective, to view the bigger picture. Is it really true that you are always screwed over? Maybe sometimes you are, and sometimes you are not?
A little more “You can’t always get what you want” and a bit less “I can’t get no satisfaction”, if I may.
The truth is that the perspective we entertain is the single greatest factor in how we end up feeling. We have very little control over what happens to us, so we need to control what we can, namely our thoughts and perspectives.
It can be summed up very briefly. Choose to view the world through a filter skewed by pessimism, and negative feelings will grow and multiply.
Choose to judge your surroundings realistically, and you will see a shift towards positive feelings.
3) YOU’RE NOT RELAXING PROPERLY
What comes to mind when you hear relaxation? Chilling in front of the TV or computer screen? Practicing your favorite hobby? Spending time with friends and family?
According to Edmund Jacobson, the inventor of progressive muscle relaxation, these actions are not helping you relax at all. They may be a great way to disconnect from the stresses of daily life, but they do not help you let go. Once we end our pseudo-relaxation, we are not one bit less stressed and tense than we were when we started.
What Edmund noticed in his research and practice was that we always carry with us physical tension that easily translates into stress and mental fatigue.
His efforts to help patients reduce physical tension is what caused him to invent PMR. A technique that teaches us how to achieve true relaxation.
True relaxation is the exact opposite of physical tension
It is achieved by doing absolutely nothing. When you practice PMR, you don’t try to relax. If you try to relax, you are making an effort, you’re causing tension. Trying to relax is the complete opposite of relaxation.
It is complicated, I know.
What I can tell you is that once you learn how to completely relax, you’ll see a majority of your stress wither away. This article by PsychCentral has a good recipe to follow. Note that this is a watered down version of the programme Jacobson outlines in his book on the subject, called “You Must Relax”. But I won’t link to it here, because frankly I don’t advise getting it.
Jacobson’s programme is very time consuming, and very complicated to follow. That’s why I believe 99% of people are better off practicing the simplified version.
4) NOT HAVING CLEAR PLANS AND GOALS
The idea of keeping your schedule nice and tidy should resonate with everyone, but especially those of us with anxiety. A cluttered mind makes for a more anxious mind after all.
I assume you know how it feels to end up lost in worry and rumination. Making specific plans for the future, and actually sticking to them, is one part of the antidote.
If you have already planned out the where, when, and how, there is less room left over to worry. When you make this a habit, not only does your productivity increase, but you get through your days with less anxiety.
You can start right now by writing down, and it is recommended to write it down, a couple of things you want to get done tomorrow. They can be simple and menial tasks, it doesn’t really matter. The idea is simply to introduce the positive habit of scheduling your time, and to always have a list of daily goals handy.
There are a couple of very obvious positive effects from this:
- Day-to-day worry will decrease as there is rarely any confusion about what you are supposed to do next
- Self-confidence builds as you see yourself achieving the goals that you have set for yourself, even if they are small in the beginning.
- You’ll be far less likely to procrastinate or do nothing for longer periods of time.
It is not only great for anxiety, but also depression.
As David D. Burns explains in his book “Feeling Good”, planning your activities can be a very simple, but effective way to target what he calls do-nothingism. Do-nothingism is typical in depression, and it turns out that the cure for feeling unmotivated is to do literally anything other than nothing.
5) NOT BREAKING TASKS INTO SMALLER PIECES
Feel free to consider this a continuation of the last point, they are often two sides of the same coin. Here’s an example. Sometimes I feel particularly unmotivated, and no matter how many goals or tasks I have written down, I can’t get out of bed.
In these kind of situations, the issue might not be that we are confused about what to do, but rather we are overwhelmed by what we know we have to do. Imagine you have a big essay due in a week. You’d need the self-discipline of a Shaolin monk to not feel overwhelmed if your idea of scheduling is to write down “Write ten-thousand word essay” on a piece of paper.
So what I do, and what I want you to do is to take every task that feels daunting, and break them into as many small pieces as you possibly can. Without losing focus of the bigger picture that is. It would be equally ridiculous to write down “Write one word of ten thousand word essay” ten thousand times, and expect good results.
Maybe a more practical way to handle a ten thousand word essay could be to write down a list like this:
- Find a topic
- Come up with a decent title for first draft
- Outline with subheadings
- Write a 150 word introduction
And on we go.
You can break down any task in a very similar manner. Maybe the act of getting out of bed to face the day is daunting. But what about checking your messages? Then maybe sitting up in bed while doing so. Then getting a glass of water or a snack, planning to go back to bed. Soon enough, you’re out of bed, and chances are you don’t really feel like going back.
As always, thanks for spending some of your time here with me. Feel free to leave questions and/or remarks below. I love reading your feedback!