11 "Innocent" Habits That Can Worsen Anxiety

by Carina Wolff

Learning to deal with your anxiety is a process, and you might have some habits that you have already cut out of your life. Certain behaviors are an obvious no-no, but there are a number of other seemingly innocent habits that can also make your anxiety worse. It's a pretty big bummer to find out that one of your favorite activities is actually wreaking havoc on your mental health, but you might find that once you are willing to cut back on that habit or let it go, your overall wellness will benefit significantly.

"Having a healthy routine is the key for managing anxiety," says therapist Kayce Hodos, LPC over email. "If you’re coping with negative habits, you may temporarily feel relief, but it isn’t going to help your anxiety in the longterm because your health will suffer, leading to more worry."

Of course, taking part in these activities once in awhile won't give you anxiety out of no where. But if you're already anxious and tend to indulge in these habits, you might want to start easing them out of your regular routine. Here are 11 innocent habits that can make your anxiety worse, no matter how innocent they seem.


Scrolling Through Social Media


Social media can be harmful to your mental health for a number of reasons: It can encourage unhealthy comparison to others, leave you feeling unsettled about the current political climate, or even impede on your work performance if you tend to mismanage your time. One study from the Pew Research Center found that the use of social media, particularly Facebook, increases anxiety and stress in people. "Check in with yourself when you’re on social media to assess how it leaves you feeling," says Hodos. "If you feel worse and more anxious than when you logged on, then it may be a toxic environment for you."


Drinking Coffee


Although it tastes so good and can help you begin your mornings, coffee can not only exacerbate anxiety but also completely trigger it, according to WebMD. "If you find that you feel jittery and experience trouble focusing, monitor your caffeine intake," says Hodos. "Switch to decaf in the afternoons or simply decrease the number of cups of coffee to see if it makes a difference."


Not Getting Enough Sleep


"Sleep is very important to your wellbeing, and not getting enough sleep leads to anxiety when your body isn't rested," says therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW over email. Being tired doesn't feel good, but it goes beyond that: Researchers from UC Berkeley found that sleep deprivation can ramp up the brain regions that contribute to excessive worrying.


Binge-Watching TV


"It's fun to get lost in a good show, but sitting for hours watching TV is distracting and can lead to you being less productive, which may make you anxious," says Hershenson. Not only that, but too much inactivity can lead to greater feelings of anxiety as well. Research shows that even just five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.


Discussing Your Anxiety Too Much


Talking about your current state or emotions has the ability to help you decrease anxiety, but if you are someone who talks to many people about your anxiety, you may be actually be making it worse. "A lot of times, we reach out to people for advice who can’t give us what we need," says clinical psychologist Dr. Kate Cummins, Psy.D. over email. "If you are someone who shares your anxiety or stress with many people, you may be increasing the actual state of it instead of decreasing your habits or stress. Try designating only a few people in your life and a certain time period per day to discuss negative habits or stress."


Staying In By Yourself


There's nothing wrong with craving some alone time — in fact, it can be quite helpful — but if you tend to find yourself home alone night after night ignoring your friends' pleas to come join them for dinner, you might be making your anxiety worse. Socializing is an important part of managing anxiety. Social support from others helps people experience less anxiety and stress and even improves social functioning, according to research from the journal PLoS One.


Comparing Yourself To Others


"Some of us have a tendency to be envious of what others seemingly have going on, and it can quickly escalate to not only wishing we were like someone else, but feeling inferior to other people," says Hodos. Comparing yourselves to others that seem to have "more than you" can lead to greater feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, according to Psychology Today. "It’s much healthier to focus on your own goals, what makes you happy, what you want your life to look like, and make positive steps to reach these goals."


Shallow Breathing


"Even though breathing is an involuntary response, many people aren’t doing it correctly," says Hodos. "When we’re stressed, our breathing tends to become shallow, leading to feeling more tense and anxious. Pay attention to your breathing. Set a reminder or alarm on your phone to remind you to take some deep breaths. Even one minute of slow, deep breathing can help you feel calmer."


Drinking Alcohol


Having a glass of wine or too might seem like it would help calm you down, but it can actually worsen your anxiety in the long run. Alcohol changes levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which can worsen anxiety, according to Healthline. Look for other stress-relieving activities instead of turning to booze, and keep your intake moderate to prevent worsening anxiety.


Constantly Checking Your Email


"Being plugged into technology all the time keeps the brain stimulated," says Hershenson. "Learn to take a technology break. Turn off an hour before bed, keep your phone away from you when sleeping or working, and limit texting and emails."


Eating A Lot Of Sweets


We all love a good scope of ice cream or a chocolate chip cookie, but too much sugar can do some serious damage to your mental health. One study from the journal Scientific Reports found that participants who consumed high levels of sugar were more likely to develop depression or anxiety compared to those with low-sugar diets.