These 7 Habits Can Make Your Anxiety Worse

by Carina Wolff

Anyone who suffers from anxiety knows that the feeling can creep up at any moment. Although you can't always stop it when the sensation strikes, you can try to eliminate any habits that can make your anxiety worse. Unfortunately, you can't avoid all situations that make you feel uncomfortable, but a number of everyday habits can worsen your anxiety longterm, and you can work to avoid these.

"Feeling less anxious is all about maintaining lower levels of cortisol in our system," says Jennifer Weaver, LMHC, CRC over email. "Sometimes, certain events (i.e., making a major presentation at work) will spike our cortisol and leave us with anxiety leading up to the event and residual anxiety after. Other times, though, we slowly build up cortisol throughout our day."

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, with over 40 million people affected, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Finding ways to treat anxiety is important, and adapting healthy habits can help you naturally fight off those negative side effects. Even if you don't have a full-blown anxiety disorder, avoiding these activities can help keep your stress levels and mood in check.

If you want to reduce your anxiety symptoms, try to avoid these seven habits that can actually make your anxiety worse.

1. Sitting On The Couch All Day

You might not believe there is a connection between your mood and your physical activity, but research shows that exercise plays a role in your mental health. Even just 10 minutes of exercise can temporarily alleviate your mood, and regular vigorous exercise can reduce your likeliness of developing anxiety and depression by 25 percent, according to the ADAA.

2. Skipping Meals

"Skipping meals actually causes anxiety," says Martinez. "It is not only about eating healthy, it is about eating at all. People probably don't know that skipping meals or eating late cause blood sugar drops that give anxiety-like sensations." Certain foods also contain essential nutrients that help to combat anxiety and depression, such as selenium, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and serotonin.

3. Drinking Too Much Coffee

Many of us have had a cup of coffee, only to feel the unfortunate side effects of feeling jittery and anxious afterwards. "Caffeine raises your heart rate and causes us to have that nervous feelings and to feel agitation," says Martinez. And for people who are already prone to anxiety, caffeine can exacerbate those effects. According to WebMD, caffeine can lead to sweaty palms, a pounding heart, ringing in the ears, and even a full-blown panic attack.

4. Spending Too Much Time On Social Media

"If you spend your life 24/7 on technology at work and at home, this actually causes anxiety," says Martinez. One study from the Pew Research Center found that the use of social media, particularly Facebook, increases anxiety and stress in people. Other research from the Australian Psychological Society found that 50 percent of teens experience elevated levels of anxiety from FOMO, or fear of missing out.

5. Staying Up Late

"Getting enough sleep has a significant impact on mood," says Martinez. "When we are not getting enough sleep, it puts pressure on all systems of the body. Our mental and immune system chemicals are not replenished." Research from the Journal of Neuroscience found that when people are sleep-deprived, they experience a surge of anticipatory anxiety, as lack of sleep triggers the areas in your brain responsible for emotional processing. The study also found that people who are already prone to anxiety experience are likely to develop full-blown anxiety disorder from lack of sleep.

6. Procrastinating

Sometimes it is anxiety itself that causes procrastination, but putting things off can make your anxiety worse, as you always feel like there is a task looming. If something is overwhelming, break it up into smaller projects, and get rid of distractions that are holding you back. Reaching a goal releases dopamine in the brain, the chemical responsible for experiencing pleasure and reward, so accomplishing your tasks head on can help quell your anxiety.

7. Staying Home Alone

Your anxiety may lead you to want to spend time by yourself, but spending time around other people — as awful as it can seem — can actually help make you feel better. According to research in the journal PLoS One, social support helps individuals experience less anxiety and stress, helps them with better social functioning, and improves their overall health. Maintaining close relationships is key to experiencing less anxiety, so try to get yourself out there whenever you're feeling up to it.

Not all of these activities are triggers for everyone, but try cutting out some of these habits to see if they help with your overall anxiety levels.

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