7 Anxious Habits That Can Make You More Prone To Inflammation

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If you aren't dealing with your anxiety in a healthy way, it can lead you down the road of toxic coping mechanisms and other anxious habits. Think along the lines of smoking as a way of dealign with stress, or staying up late because you're too anxious to sleep. Apart from not helping the your anxiety, some of these habits can even make you more prone to inflammation. So it's a good idea to be aware of them and how they may be impacting your health.

Inflammation can happen naturally, but it's not something you want to contribute to. "Inflammation is your body's response to injury," Caryn O'Sullivan, a certified health and nutrition coach, tells Bustle. "It can be acute or short-term in response to an injury or chronic, which is a recurrent or persistent state of inflammation."

And the latter is what you should try to avoid. "Chronic inflammation is what leads to most disease," O'Sullivan says. So apart from treating any underlying anxiety you may be experiencing, you may also want to rethink these nervous habits.

"To replace a bad habit you need to put a good one in its place," O'Sullivan says. So if you normally smoke when you're anxious, you may want to quit and take up walking instead, as a way of handling stress and anxiety in a healthier way. Read on for more nervous habits that can lead to inflammation, according to experts.

1Taking Shallow Breaths

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When you're anxious, you may start to take shallow breaths without even realizing it. And while it may not seem like a big deal, it's a habit that can make you more prone to inflammation.

"Breathing determines how oxygen moves in our bodies and this promotes detoxification," health expert Jasmine Talei tells Bustle. "The best way to breath is diaphragmatic breathing, which is how we are originally wired as children. But as we get older, we often get overwhelmed and breathe with our chest instead."

If you're anxious right now, you might notice that you're "holding" your breath, or not taking the deep breaths your body needs. So any time you catch yourself doing so, "make sure you take long, deep breaths," Talei says, to help fight off inflammation.

2Eating Mostly Processed Foods

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Processed foods are convenient and cheap, which is one reason they can be so appealing when you're too anxious and stressed to find anything else.

And yet, it's important to think twice before making them a large part of your diet. As Talei says, "They really do boost an inflammatory response in our bodies, which react by creating inflammation markers when we consume foods that our bodies don’t like."

While processed foods are fine to have on occasion, try to keep healthier snacks on hand. And plan ahead by keeping healthy meals in your fridge, so it'll be easier to eat good, nutritious foods — even when you're anxious.

3Smoking

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Smoking is one of the most common nervous habits, and yet it's one that leads to all sorts of inflammation — on top of the multitude of other unhealthy side effects.

"Too often, it is easier to pick up a cigarette [...] to temporarily provide some relief," Calvin McDuffie, a health and wellness coach, tells Bustle. "The problem is that nicotine releases inflammatory cells into the body."

If you don't already have a long list of reasons to quit smoking, let the inflammation it causes serve as yet another motivating factor.

4Consuming Too Much Sugar

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It's OK to eat sugary snacks in moderation, but it's also important to keep in mind the effect they can have on the body.

"We equate sugary foods with a feeling of calm and happiness, and physiologically, the very act of eating releases serotonin, the feel-good chemical in our bodies," O'Sullivan says. "However, we are surrounded by sugary foods, which are also high in calories and fat — a combination that increases inflammation in the body. So while you may get a temporary relief from that sugary sweet, it is contributing to the inflammation that has already risen up due to stress."

While it makes sense why sugar would be appealing, replacing it with healthier options will be key, as well as dealing with the source of the anxiety and stress.

5Never Slowing Down

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"When we stretch ourselves thin, our cortisol levels tend to spike," Beth Shaw, wellness expert and founder of YogaFit, tells Bustle. "These hormones take a toll on the immune system and cause inflammation in the body." So the more breaks you can give yourself, the better.

Of course, it may be tempting to run yourself ragged in an attempt to do everything on your to-do list, but remember to put yourself first more often. By taking the time to get the rest and self-care you need, you'll not only get a well-deserved break, but also stave off stress-related inflammation.

6Not Getting Enough Sleep

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"When we’re nervous, worrying, and stressed, we activate our sympathetic nervous system," Samantha Eaton, certified nutrition and eating psychology coach, tells Bustle. "This increases the body’s production of cortisol. Our sleep is regulated by circadian rhythms which are driven by the secretion of cortisol."

As a result, you may find yourself lying awake long into the night, which can in turn lead to chronic sleep deprivation and more inflammation. "In a healthy, non-chronically-stressed body, cortisol peaks in the early morning and gradually reduces throughout the day," Eaton says. "But when our cortisol gets thrown off, like from nerves and stress, our circadian rhythms are out of sync, and so is sleep."

To rid yourself of this anxious habit, it might help to find ways to de-stress before bed. If you go for a walk, do yoga, see a therapist, or hang out with friends, for instance, you may find that falling asleep becomes easier.

7Engaging In Negative Self-Talk

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"Some anxious habits that increase inflammation are self-imposed stressors," Eaton says. "Things like negative self-talk (blaming, shaming, criticizing yourself and/or your body), putting pressure on yourself to be perfect (perfectionism), [...] and feeling guilty and worrying about things."

These all lead to more anxiety, which means more stress and more cortisol in your body, which ultimately means more inflammation. "Since the brain doesn’t distinguish between real and perceived stressors, it reacts the same to things like these as actual stressors that are out of our control, stimulating our sympathetic nervous system releasing more cortisol and promoting inflammation," Eaton says.

The good news is, it's possible to break this bad habit and replace negative thoughts with ones that are positive more often. But if you can't do it alone, going to therapy can be a big help.

These anxious habits may make you more prone to inflammation, and yet they're things you can control, if you want to. The first step is in recognizing them, followed by replacing them with healthier habits as a way of dealing with your anxiety.