8 Surprising Things You Do Every Day That Can Trigger Your Anxiety, According To Experts
You might already realize that going on blind dates or performing at open mic events contributes to your overall stress, but what you might not know is that maybe some of the activities that are triggering your anxiety aren't as obvious. Even a generally fun activity can make you anxious if it's just not something you enjoy doing.
"Anxiety can be triggered if you're involved in seemingly enjoyable activities that you're just not wired for," Marilee Feldman, LCPC, CADC, a licensed clinical professional counselor and founder of Life Counseling Institute, tells Bustle. For example, you might have a hard time going to a concert because of the loudness and the large crowds, even though many people love seeing their favorite artists live. "We each need to figure out what we find enjoyable and not force ourselves into having fun in ways that we really don't enjoy, just because other people like it," she says. "We're all wired differently."
If you love listening to music but aren't comfortable attending a concert, try having a dance party at home with a couple of close friends instead, or pick up an instrument and try to learn some of your favorite songs. For someone who's in their head a lot, anything that they can do to help them pay more attention to the physical world can really help, Feldman says.
Here are some situations that can be making your anxiety worse, according to experts.
1. Having A Netflix Marathon
If you're having an especially anxious day, you might want nothing more than to go home and curl up on your couch with episode after episode of your favorite show. "It is difficult to stay active these days with work demands and stressors," Angela Medellin, LPC-S, RPT-S a licensed mental health therapist specializing in anxiety and co-owner of Mind Works Clinical and Counseling Psychology, tells Bustle. "However, it’s important to note that not giving your body an outlet can contribute to your anxiety." While there's no need to give up the occasional TV marathon, try to incorporate other stress-relief activities into your routine as well. "Try going to the zoo, local animal shelter, or pet shop," Medellin says. "Being around animals is proven to lower your anxiety and stress."
2. Venting To Your Partner Before Bed
It can be so helpful to catch your partner up on your day before the two of you drift off to sleep. But do your best to save more serious conversations for the next morning. "Talking about heavy topics before bedtime can contribute to your anxiety in ways you never knew," Medellin says. "Sometimes when we think about these events before bedtime it leaves us feeling restless and we miss out on having a good night’s rest." In fact, falling asleep after focusing your mind on something difficult can even lead to nightmares. If you really can't wait until the next day to unload what you're thinking or feeling, try using a journal instead of venting out loud. "Journaling can be therapeutic because it helps us get our thoughts on paper for us to look over and process," she says.
3. Catching Up On Current Events
Part of being an informed citizen means staying up-to-date on what's happening in the world. But something as seemingly benign as reading about new scientific studies or doing research on presidential candidates can have a significant negative effect on your anxiety, Medellin says. While you probably can't avoid current events altogether, as much as you can, be conscious of when and how often you're engaging with subjects that stress you out. Instead of checking in regularly throughout the day, for example, set aside your lunch break to read or watch any updates. Then, be conscious about unplugging from this anxiety-inducing topic for a while.
4. Going To A Party
Going to a friend's place to catch up with people you love, eat delicious snacks, and listen to good music has to be fun, right? For some people, though, this can be a major anxiety trigger. Even if you don't realize that you have social anxiety, your body might. "When you struggle with anxiety, your amygdala gets hijacked and your body's natural defenses are employed," Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, LMFT, ATR, a licensed psychotherapist, marriage and family therapist, certified somatic therapist, and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. Your brain and your body try to keep you safe by raising your unconcious physical defenses.
Instead of just skipping the event, use your body's reaction to calm you down. "Engage your muscles in your sense of touch," Scott-Hudson says. "Rub your hands together for 30 seconds as if you are getting warm by the fire. Then, notice that alive feeling in your hands." Tell yourself that you are safe.
5. Shallow Breathing
Something as innocent as sitting and breathing can contribute to your anxiety, surprisingly. "Many of us tend to breathe in a very shallow way — in and out through the chest," Meredith Futernick, LMHC, ERYT-200, a licensed mental health counselor and meditation teacher, tells Bustle. While this might not be a problem when you're feeling totally calm, as soon as you begin to worry about something, your breath can start to constrict even more, she says. This combination can exacerbate your anxiety.
"Try to implement diaphragmatic breathing into a daily routine," Futernick says. "This breath focuses on expanding and contracting the abdomen in order to breathe through the diaphragm, take a deeper breath, and expand lung capacity."
You might swear by writing in a daily journal to help you manage your anxiety. While this can certainly be a useful tool, if you're substituting it for venting to an actual person, it can actually make your anxiety worse. "When we do not talk about the things that are bothering us, our thoughts can become overwhelming and powerful," Futernick says. "We may start to believe our thoughts, even when there is absolutely no evidence that they are true." This doesn't mean you have to abandon your journal. Just make sure that you're getting help from a therapist, family member, friend, or a hotline, she says. "Talking about our experiences and feelings take the power out of what we create in our minds."
7. Doing Chores
Checking off item after item on your to-do list can seem super satisfying and stress relieving. But trying to finish every goal you've set for the day can actually contribute to your anxiety, especially if you're doing each task just for the sake of getting it done. "There is a zen practice called Samu where tedious tasks are all done mindfully and with a heart of generosity," Futernick says. "This way even in the most mundane tasks can feel fulfilling," she says. If you're cleaning your bathroom, for example, do your best not to fly through the cleaning process as quickly and efficiently as possible. Instead, pay attention to the way the paper towel moves across the mirror as you wipe it down, noticing the way it feels in your hand, the way the cleaning solution dries as it disappears, and the fresh scent that it leaves behind.
Chances are, if you've done any reading about ways to reduce anxiety, you've come across meditation as a solution pretty much every time. While the practice can certainly soothe your mind, for some people, it can actually make anxiety worse. "The thought of meditation for someone with a very busy brain can trigger self-doubt about their ability to achieve the ‘zen’ state," Georgia Foster, a clinical hypnotherapist and emotional resilience expert for Clementine, tells Bustle. "This is very common in particular with the perfectionist personality trait — someone who wants to get it right the first time." If you have general anxiety issues, you might also notice this effect. If you think this might be the case for you, try swapping out meditation for other stress-relief practices like spending time outdoors or drawing to see if that helps.
If you're trying to find ways to manage your anxiety, do your best to notice any connections between your activities and your mental health. Just because something is fun or good for destressing for someone else doesn't mean that it will be that way for you.