While no one begins their day with the goal of feeling more worried or stressed out, there are certainly a few things that make anxiety worse, including many common habits anxious folks might unknowingly engage in every day. Without even realizing it, you could be amping up your stress levels, contributing to negative thought patterns, and feeling more anxious as a result — all thanks to little habits like drinking too much coffee, not getting enough sleep, and overpacking your schedule.
There is good news, though. Once you realize these habits can increase anxiety levels, it's pretty easy to change them, or even replace them with habits that are healthier. "Addressing anxiety through increased mindfulness and making little tweaks to everyday habits can help you to feel empowered, which is a great step to having a happier, healthier you," Tiffany Towers, PsyD a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist, tells Bustle.
Swapping out bad habits for good ones often works wonders for mild anxiety. And it can be a great addition to treatment for more intense anxiety. But sometimes, you might need something a bit more. As Towers says, "If you still find that you are often anxious, it can help to talk to a professional to understand the underlying root causes for your anxiety." Here are a few habits to keep an eye on in the meantime, since experts say many of them can make anxiety worse.
Drinking Too Much Caffeine
Plenty of folks need a dose or two of caffeine in order to get going in the morning. But it can come at the cost of increased anxiety. "Caffeine is seemingly harmless, however, when dealing with anxiety, caffeine can ignite or increase our symptoms," Autumn Collier, LCSW a psychotherapist at Collier Counseling, LLC tells Bustle. "In fact, many of the signs of too much caffeine are the same as many physiological symptoms of anxiety, such as increased heart rate, restlessness, sweating, nervousness, and dizziness."
But these side effects can be remedied with a few simple changes. "Try switching to decaffeinated coffee. [Consider eliminating] energy drinks as well, as they are loaded with caffeine and sugar," Collier says. "Making these tweaks to your daily routine will have huge payoffs towards your mental wellness. Many clients report a noticeable decrease in their anxiety levels after one week of eliminating caffeine from their daily intake."
Running Late To Everything
Think about your morning routine. Do you barely give yourself enough time to get ready? Are you constantly running late? Or road raging because you're stuck in traffic? If so, you might not be doing your anxiety any favors.
"These worries and uncomfortable thoughts can cause the physical sensations of anxiety in our bodies. The heart starts to beat faster, and the sweat glands are activated. We might feel dizzy, short of breath, or nauseated," Lurie says. "People can avoid this cycle of anxiety from happening in the first place by being more realistic about their capabilities and by allowing for more preparation time. They can set reminder alarms on a smart phone and prepare the items they will need to take with them in advance."
Checking The Time At Night
Waking up in the middle of the night and immediately checking the time may seem benign, but this is not a good habit to get into. "When your anxiety is caused by sleep problems or insomnia, having access to the time is not helpful," Lurie says. "I had a client who would wake up in the middle of the night, look at the time on the clock, and start worrying about the fact that she was not sleeping. A few minutes later, she would look over again at the clock and think about how terrible it was that she was still awake." Sound familiar?
Then cover that baby up. "I suggested to my client that she cover her clock face with a piece of paper or fabric so she couldn’t read the numbers in the middle of the night. She followed this ridiculously simple suggestion and it worked like a charm! Since she couldn’t track the time, her anxiety was not triggered and she soon fell back to sleep." Easy as that.
Watching The News All The Time
While it's important to stay informed, if you watch the news constantly, it might hike up your anxiety. "Televised news increases anxiety with the rapid pace of show content delivery," licensed psychotherapist Lisa Hutchison, LMHC tells Bustle. "It can feel overwhelming to hear fast music and talking coupled with negative images. Rarely do you hear a positive story. The majority of stories are about war and violence leaving people with sensitivity vulnerable to anxiety."
If you want to keep up on what's happening in the world, there are other, less anxiety-inducing ways to do so. "The best remedy is to shut off the news and get it in small doses by reading it, "Hutchison says. "You can be informed about world events by remaining in control of what you read and how fast you take it in."
Walking Really Fast
Hey, sometimes you gotta put on a jog to get somewhere on time. And that's obviously OK. But if you're a fast walker 24/7, this habit could be ramping up your anxiety. "As the body moves quickly, the heart rate and breath speed up, which also occurs during a triggered 'fight or flight' reaction," meditation coach Lindsey Pearson, founder of Do You Mind(Fully)?, tells Bustle. "It's also muscle memory; you tend to move fast when you're late. The body recognizes these physical symptoms as what occurs during stress and [then believes that stress is happening]."
So whenever you catch yourself speed-walking along, try to slow down. "Notice the colors, sounds, and life around you," Pearson says. "Take a breath. Roll your shoulders down your back. Then see if you notice a difference in the anxious feelings."
Never Having Any Downtime
It may not feel like a big deal to skip your nightly "me time." But putting yourself on the back burner can take its toll on your health — and exacerbate anxiety. "We all need to schedule in time to take care of ourselves, especially as life seems to be moving faster and faster," Bianca L. Rodriguez, MA, EdM, LMFT, tells Bustle.
Even though you likely have a long to-do list, it's important to give yourself permission to occasionally slow down. "Everyone needs to take time daily to fill themselves back up, whether it's taking a walk, a bath, reading for 30 minutes," Rodriguez says. "Find out what soothes and recharges you and make it a priority. Following through on this will also increase your confidence in your ability to take care of yourself, which can help minimize anxiety. "
Taking Shallow Breaths
Shallow breathing is another habit so many of us have. And it's one that can make anxiety worse. "Holding your breath or forgetting to breathe is common amongst people suffering from anxiety," Rodriguez says. "This is because your body's natural response to anxiety is to tense up, constricting the lungs and airways. Taking a deep breath and sighing it out relaxes your parasympathetic nervous system, allowing your body and mind to relax."
Being Too Easily Accessible
Be honest. Is your phone ringer on 24/7? If so, it may be adding to your anxiety. "Being easily accessible can be a great convenience but also detrimental, particularly for individuals who are anxious and unable to concentrate with various ruminating thoughts," Keisha M. Wells, LPC, NCC, founder of Transformation Counseling Services, tells Bustle. "The frequent buzzes, vibrations, and chirps from cell phones via notifications can put a person on edge and serve as disruptions — constantly directing [their] attention from one topic or issue to the next."
While it can be difficult to put your phone down, occasionally doing so will be necessary for better mental health. "A person may choose to limit [their] accessibility via turning off instant notifications; using do not disturb settings on the cell phones to decrease interruption; as well as establishing a daily schedule to read and respond to texts and emails at specific times," Wells says. "These steps may help individuals be more present in the moment — sans distractions — and foster a stress-free environment."
Having Negative Self-Talk
If you're in the habit of talking down to yourself throughout the day, it can cause you to feel more anxious as a result — especially if your negative "self-talk" is telling you that you're anxious, overwhelmed, or stressed. "Because our brain hears our self-talk as commands, when we say things such as, 'I’m so anxious' or 'I’m so overwhelmed,' our brain does what we say. That is, it becomes more anxious or overwhelmed.," licensed psychotherapist Karen R. Koenig, MEd, LCSW tells Bustle. "The key is not to tell yourself what you’re feeling, but what you wish to feel. You might say, 'I’m calming down' or 'I’m busy but will get everything done.'" It really can make all the difference.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
Not getting enough sleep may feel like NBD, but the effects can really drag you down and make anxiety worse. "Adequate sleep is essential for balancing hormones. That said, not sleeping enough can result in a hormone imbalance that can exacerbate anxiety," Chris Brantner, sleep expert and founder of SleepZoo, tells Bustle. "Sleep deprivation can have a serious negative effect on anxiety levels. Not only that, lack of sleep can also impact your ability to deal with anxiety in a healthy manner. That's because sleep deprivation acts as a chronic stressor, which can lead to an overload on your body's system. As a result, you may experience irritability and lowered self-esteem, which can cause worsened anxiety."
While anxiety can make it difficult to fall asleep, do your best to calm down before bed, stick to keeping a healthy sleep schedule, and snag those recommended eight hours a night. All of the above will help keep your anxiety in check.
Spending Too Much Time Checking Social Media
We all want to stay connected with our friends, see the latest memes, etc. But there's often a cost to delving into social media. "Have you ever decided to check Facebook for 'just a minute' and emerge two hours later, feeling like you're not sure where the time went and also feeling anxious? Spending too much time on social media can increase anxiety in a number of ways," Dr. Agnes Wainman, C. Psych, of London Psychological Services, tells Bustle. "You may be exposed to multiple bad news stories all at once, making you feel powerless, hopeless, and worried about the state of the world. You may be unconsciously comparing yourself and your own life to the picture-perfect moments of your friends or even celebrities on social media, and end up feeling bad about yourself. You may spend way more time on social media than you intended, taking time away from other, more beneficial activities."
While you can certainly check IG or Facebook throughout the day, do keep your mental health in mind when doing so. "Set an alarm for 15 minutes and once it goes off, you're done for the day," Wainman says. "Also, make sure to include white space in your schedule. This time is sacred because it is a time for you to unwind, rest, and give your brain some downtime. Treat this white space with as much importance as you do any other appointment."
Eating On The Go
We often don't give ourselves the space or time to sit down and eat, and as a result tend to snack on the go — grabbing granola bars while running down the street, or eating a sandwich while speeding down the road.
And yet — even thought it's not always possible to sit down and have a "real meal" — it is important to slow down whenever you can. "When we eat without proper chewing and relaxing, our digestive system has trouble working properly, and the sensation of tightness in the belly, or indigestion can create feelings of anxiety," Amanda Malachesky, a functional nutrition practitioner and founder of Confluence Nutrition, tells Bustle. That, and rushing through a meal can add to anxiety by making you feel even more stressed. So go ahead and slow down, and take the time to enjoy your food.
Staring At Electronics In Bed
Most of us use the time before bed to scroll through Instagram, check emails, or fall into a deep Wikipedia hole. But there are two reasons why that's not the best bedtime hobby.
"Blue light from screens confuses our brain into thinking it’s daytime and disrupts the sleep hormone melatonin," Malachesky says. "Additionally, we tend to stay up consuming news or high stress films or television shows, and encouraging a stress response. Sleep quality is so important for reducing anxiety. Bad screen habits can keep us up later than is healthy, and disrupt the quality of our anxiety-soothing sleep."
Asking Others For Reassurance
While it's certainly OK to ask friends or family for advice, take note if you find yourself asking for reassurance over every little thing. "Reassurance seeking — or asking others to tell you that you look OK or that whatever you're worried about is not going to happen — is a common response to anxiety," licensed psychologist Laura Chackes, PsyD, tells Bustle. "However, it actually makes anxiety worse in the long run. While it temporarily reduces anxiety in the short term, the next time you worry about something, you will feel like you need reassurance in order to cope with it. This turns this seemingly innocent behavior into a habit that is very hard to break, and for some people makes their anxiety significantly worse."
But you can change your ways. "It is much healthier to sit with the anxiety and not get reassurance from anyone, even yourself," Chackes says. "By sitting with the anxiety you will find that it passes on its own, and then over time you will become less dependent on reassurance."
Pretty good advice, right? By being aware of all these little habits that can make anxiety worse — and making a few simple changes — you can effectively lower your anxiety levels, and feel better as a result.