Life with an anxiety disorder can be a minefield. The outside world dumps enough stress on our shoulders when we least expect it, so much so that people with anxiety disorders sometimes dread leaving the house. As emotionally exhausting as the great outdoors can be, though, we tend to forget that what goes on inside the comfort of our own homes can also be a sneaky culprit of our anxiety.
Surprisingly enough, a study at Pennsylvania State University suggests that Americans are more anxious at home than they are at the office; 122 people had samples taken from their mouths to measure the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their bodies. Researchers found that there was actually more cortisol in the subjects' bodies when they were at home compared to when they were at work, and that this was the case across all socioeconomic demographics. What's even more interesting is how people perceive their own levels of stress: Men claim they're happier at home, yet women say they're more stressed at home. One of the biggest reasons is the uneven distribution of household work, which we'll get into more below.
Clearly, our surroundings have a big impact on our mental health. Bustle spoke with Jodi Aman, a psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience and the author of You 1 Anxiety 0, who says, "Our physical context affects every part of us, especially our mood, identity, and outlook." While we may not have control over everything that goes on in the public sphere, we at least know we've got the power to change what happens in our own house — and that's where it really counts.
Here are seven ways your home life may be giving you anxiety.
1. You Watch A Lot Of Television
You may already know that stress is contagious. What you may not have realized, though, is that stress can also be transferred through a TV screen. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences at Technische Universität Dresden in Germany found that 24 percent of the study's participants experienced a large rise in cortisol levels when they watched something stressful play out on video. That means anytime we see somebody in a fictional show go through demanding situations, we mirror their experience and get more anxious ourselves.
"Watching news or disturbing, violent TV this gets our adrenaline up," Aman confirms. Whenever you can, shut off the television and enjoy the peace and quiet every once in a while. Better yet, pick up a book and get the wheels of your brain turning in a positive way.
2. Your House Is Disorganized And Cluttered
Surveys have shown that home organization causes just as much stress as unexpected expenses; 47 percent of anxious Americans say they're constantly worried about their house not being in order. Studies have shown that clutter causes your cortisol levels to spike, and it even results in decreased productivity at the office; the stress and anxiety of having a messy house is said to follow you around nearly all day long.
If this sounds familiar, start small. Start by organizing your closet or by cleaning out your fridge when you've got an hour to spare. "Organizing the house gives you something to think about other than the anxiety. It stimulates part of the brain that decreases anxiety, settles the mind, and it builds confidence," Aman says. All it takes is a little bit of effort at a time to get your nest back in order, and once you reach some level of organization, research suggests you're much less likely to fall back into bad habits of throwing things all over the floor and leaving a mess. Your brain is programmed to maintain the cleanliness, once it exists.
3. You Don't Split Chores Evenly With Your Partner
The Huffington Post released studies showing that 87 percent of women experience significant anxiety over the state of their home. It's not surprising, when you see how many of us are clocking in the majority of the hours of domestic work compared to our partners, at least in heterosexual relationships. In 2014, 65 percent of men say they do some housework, while 83 percent of women said the same. Yet in four out of every 10 households with children, it's the woman who is also the primary breadwinner.
Naturally, knowing we have to put in extra hours at home after we've wrapped up a hard day of work puts anxiety on our shoulders. If you feel like household duties aren't evenly distributed, speak to your partner and ask them to help you out. This might also apply to roommates; lazy roommates can do just as much damage as a lazy SO.
4. You Don't Have Good Relationships With The People You Live With
Two years ago, NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health conducted several surveys to figure out what exactly it was that stresses out Americans. Out of all the people who admit they deal with chronic stress and anxiety, 32 percent of them say their worries primarily come from problems with family members at home. If there's a lot of tension with the individuals you live with, you could be setting yourself up for much more anxiety, the kind that will weigh on you long after you leave the house in the morning. Whether it's your roommate, SO, or family members, relationships with the people you cohabit with are crucial to feeling comfortable and relaxed at home.
Aman says it's just as important to organize your relationships as it is to organize your house. You can do that by "setting limits with difficult family members and surrounding yourself with positive people and thoughts." If you need to address anything specific that's been bothering you at home, do so in a calm and collected way. As soon as you get everything out into the open, you'll be on your way to a more healthful living space.
5. You Just Laze Around
Inactivity is not your friend when you have an anxiety disorder, and it's easy to get caught up in the worrisome reel of anxious thoughts when we're just sitting on the couch. Aman encourages people who wrestle with anxiety to keep themselves busy when they're at home. "Organize your time by filling it with creative, purposeful projects and adventures," she says. When you have a hobby or enjoyable task to do, like baking or coloring, you're less likely to fall into the clutch of anxiety.
Exercise of any capacity will also send endorphins through your system, help you sleep better, and lower anxiety levels. Merely taking a walk in your neighborhood after you eat dinner can help you feel much better at the end of your day. Plus, when you work out or spend some time outside, you'll find that relaxing at home afterwards is much more rewarding.
6. You Keep Mostly Processed Foods In Your Kitchen
Nutrition plays a big role in our mental health. What we eat doesn't cause anxiety, but it can certainly exacerbate it in certain situations. Things like fried food, coffee, excess sugar, and dairy products have the potential to make us feel more jittery and fatigued. They also make us feel lazier than usual, and give us a foggy brain. Ultimately, your anxiety could worsen if you eat these foods on a regular basis.
Thirty-three percent of Americans admit to getting acutely worried about getting a full dinner on the table at the end of the day, which may be one of the reasons why they're reaching for unhealthy food in a rush. If you're someone who constantly orders takeout or exclusively eats things that come out of a crinkly wrapper, though, you might be adding unnecessary anxiety to your life. Aman recommends you focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods, as those are the things that will give you energy and clarity. You don't have to empty out your kitchen and pantry right away in an attempt to completely turn things around. Start by making gradual changes; maybe cook one or two meals at home a week rather than eating out, or begin packing lunch to take to work.
7. You Live Alone And Hardly Ever Have Anyone Over
When our anxiety is strong, it makes us want to be alone, tucked away from the world. But answering that urge only makes us feel more anxious than ever before, because we've placed ourselves in a confined space where our thoughts can run wild without anything to harness them back into place. While big, social settings may not be the best idea, a lot of good can come out of having a couple good friends over to your house every now and then. When you spend quality time with those who are closest to you, you'll remind yourself that there are folks out there who care deeply for you, and that feeling will carry over and give you a boost of confidence when you're feeling dangerously anxious.
Aman reminds us that it's not likely you'll change your home life immediately — and that's perfectly OK. Take one step at a time and be gentle with yourself along the way. Remember, your home is supposed to be your safe haven, not a place that induces anxiety.
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