9 Habits That Make Anxiety Worse You May Not Realize You’re Doing
Whenever possible, it's always a good idea to avoid certain habits that make anxiety worse, and replace them with ones that make the day easier, smoother, and less stressful. This is good advice for anyone who could stand to have less stress in their life, but can be especially helpful for those who struggle with chronic anxiety.
"There are a number of things that people — those impacted by an anxiety disorder or who simply suffer occasional anxiety — can do to reduce anxiety," Dr. Prakash Masand, MD, psychiatrist and founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence, tells Bustle. "Even small changes can lead to improved overall physical and mental wellness."
Yes, if you have an anxiety disorder, you will likely need to see a therapist, and get yourself some professional treatment. But making a few small changes to your day certainly won't hurt. "In fact, I encourage people to make small changes rather than trying to completely change their life all at once," Dr. Masand says. "If you try to make too many changes, that may overwhelm you and actually increase your anxiety."
So choose one or two tweaks you'd like to make, and build up from there. "Start slow and once you get comfortable with a few changes, then go after even more," he says. "Change can be difficult but indeed well worth it to reduce your anxiety and improve your overall level of wellness." Here are a few habits to avoid, as well as what to do instead, if you'd like to feel better.
1. Scrolling Through Your Phone All Day
If you check your news feed, scroll through Instagram, or scan Facebook several times a day, you're definitely not alone. Plenty of people use their phone, and enjoy seeing what's going on in the world, without side effects. But for people with anxiety, this habit can actually be super detrimental.
Here's why: "Social media often causes us to engage in comparison and prompts thought patterns that can be anxiety provoking," licensed psychotherapist Whitney Hawkins, LMFT, owner of The Collaborative Counseling Center, tells Bustle. Not to mention, the news can be quite anxiety-inducing, too.
And this can be made ever worse if you stare at your phone, or read the news, before bed. Not only will it stress you out, but the light from your phone isn't great, either. "Blue light from cell phones has ... been shown to disrupt sleeping patterns and suppress the secretion of melatonin," Hawkins says, which doesn't help those dealing with anxiety — who really need their sleep. Hawkins recommends putting your phone away at least 30 minutes before bed, and plugging it in on the other side of the room to help you break the habit.
2. Spending Time With Stressful People
Sometimes you gotta be there for the ones you love, even when it's stressful and anxiety-inducing. But there's a big difference between supporting a friend through a tough time, and hanging out with folks who are toxic and dramatic 24/7.
"I recommend people limit exposure to toxic friends, coworkers, and family members who are negatively impacting them," Hawkins says. "This does not mean you have to eliminate them from your life, but limiting exposure and setting boundaries can be helpful. Things like not answering a phone call from a difficult person after a long day or taking a moment for yourself at work can go a long way."
3. Drinking Lots Of Coffee
While you may require one cup of coffee to begin chugging along through your day, stop yourself before reaching for more. "Remember that caffeine is a stimulant and can lead to increased anxiety, increased heart rate, shaking, jitters and the inability to sit still," Dr. Masand says. "Too much can definitely make you more anxious." So if you've noticed that you feel even more anxious or panicked after your second or third cup, it may be a good idea to cut back.
4. Over-Scheduling Yourself
Another thing you just don't need when you're prone to anxiety? A super packed and overly-busy schedule. "Anxiety can rise when you try to cram too many activities into your day," Dr. Masand says. "When you’re left feeling as if time controls you rather than you having control of your time, your anxiety levels can definitely increase."
5. Saying Yes To Everything
One way to keep your schedule from becoming jam packed is to tell yourself that it's OK to say "no" to people and things that aren't a top priority. This can be tricky, but can be achieved by learning how to be more assertive, and recognizing that it's OK to cut yourself a break, and turn people down.
"Learning to say no can be a powerful tool when managing anxiety," Hawkin says. "Practice flexing your no muscle with friends, family, your boss, or coworkers when you are anxious or overwhelmed."
And then kick back and revel in your newfound sense of control. By saying no and reclaiming your time, you'll "allow your anxiety to stabilize, making you more productive and engaged," she says.
6. Stressing Out Over Minor Details
This is easier said than done, when you have anxiety. But giving yourself permission to let it all go, and accept that you can't control every aspect of life, can be a huge relief. As Dr. Masand says, "Many times, people who suffer with anxiety or worry tend to be perfectionists and worry about every little detail. Learn to find the balance of putting in hard work or the required amount of effort without driving yourself crazy."
That's not to say you should stop caring about the important things in your life. But do you need to stress over the dirty dishes in the sink? Or that one email you didn't answer before leaving work for the day? Probably not. As Dr. Marand says, "Not only is reducing stress good for your overall health, less stress is also healthier for your mental health."
7. Staying Up Super Late
Anxiety can be made so much worse by sleep deprivation, so try to break your habit of staying up till all hours of the night, and instead, getting anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep.
"While there are times we need to stay up late or get up extra early to complete a project or do something we enjoy, in general, a lack of sleep can contribute to anxiety," Dr. Marand says. "Try to make sure that you’re not only getting enough sleep each night, but that you are also getting quality sleep. To help you get better quality of sleep, sleep in a cool room that’s dark and reduce screen time 30 minutes to an hour before going to bed." And you should be all set for sleep.
8. Weighing Yourself Down With Decisions
Again, easier said than done. But did you know the fewer decisions you face each day, the less anxious you'll feel? It's true. So try to set your life up to be as streamlined as possible.
Think about simple things, such as laying your clothes out the night before, or stocking your fridge with the same delicious breakfast, so you'll know just what to eat when you're all groggy in the morning.
"Every decision you make requires mental energy and by eliminating choices, you reduce this stress," Dan Elias, co-founder of Motivate App, tells Bustle. "Most decisions we make during the day are small inconsequential decisions that can be streamlined. This eliminates the overload and anxiety."
9. Holding Your Breath
If you have anxiety, you're more than likely taking shallow breaths all day — or maybe even holding your breath when you get super stressed. And thus making your anxiety worse.
"When you feel anxious, focus on breathing," life coach Brynn Johnson tells Bustle. "This serves as a healthy distraction and physical release. Even five seconds of intentional breathing can stimulate a relaxation response."
These small changes can have a huge impact on how you feel on any given day. But remember, if your anxiety is consuming your life, it'll likely be helpful to speak with a therapist, to see if you have an anxiety disorder. And if so, to seek the additional help you'll need.