What Makes Anxiety Worse? 9 Habits That Can Contribute To Stress, According To Experts
If you suffer from anxiety, you are not alone — it's an extremely common mental health issue. But its commonality doesn't make it any less serious or difficult for you to manage. In fact, anxiety disorders often get harder to deal with because it can be tough for you to recognize the cause of the anxiety, and you may not realize that there are common things you're doing that are making your anxiety worse.
"Any time we lose confidence in the predictability of what is happening to us or that it will work out — optimism or control — we are prone to become anxious," licensed clinical psychologist Gerald E. Nissley, Jr., who specializes in mood concerns, anxiety, trauma-related symptoms and more, tells Bustle. "Sometimes, our environment does that to us with unexpected or intense events — transitions in jobs, schools, relationships, etc. Sometimes, we do that to ourselves through self-defeating and irrational ways of thinking that make things seem more overwhelming and less predictable than they are." And though it may be difficult and sometimes almost impossible to control the circumstances that may be the root cause of your anxiety, you can still take conscious efforts every day to make sure that you are avoiding situations and actions that may be hurting your mental health.
Here are 10 common things that may be making your anxiety worse, according to experts.
1. Obsessing About How You Look
There's nothing wrong with wanting to look good, especially since often when you look good, you feel good. But when your desire to look good crosses over into constantly obsessing about how you look, it can be harmful to your mental health. This is because when you're so concerned about how you look, you become extra critical of yourself. "Focusing on how you look, how your selfies look, or what you don’t like about your appearance can create anxiety and lowered self-esteem," Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist and relationship expert, tells Bustle. "To change this outlook of yourself, use positive reinforcement statements each time you look at yourself. Highlight something positive about how you look each time." If you get into the habit of appreciating how you look, you'll feel less anxious about whether or not you look good.
2. Overthinking Everything
When you already deal with anxiety, it can be hard not to overthink every little detail about everything. But Silva says this can make your anxiety even worse. "When you overthink everything, you are so used to focusing on the negative outcomes that happiness may seem unattainable," she says. "It begins a cycle of thinking and feeling that something wrong is coming your way or that something will go wrong despite your efforts. Challenging your negative thinking can begin changing the excessive overthinking."
She explains that almost half of your happiness or positive mood can be influenced or determined by your own thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Although breaking out of a habit of overthinking may be difficult, it's not impossible. And training yourself — perhaps with the help of a therapist — to relax and fixate less over little details can result in you being less anxious.
3. Spending Too Much Time On Social Media
It's no secret that we spend an insane amount of time on our phones. From Twitter to Instagram to Snapchat, we are constantly connected and interacting with other people on a daily and continuous basis — and that can be extremely anxiety-inducing. When you spend too much time on social media, you may begin seeing everyone through what they choose to portray online. You can then feel anxious about all the milestones and achievements people have because you only get to see the good parts. And that can be especially disconcerting when you may be struggling with anxiety already.
"Put away your phones," Silva says. "One of the best ways to reduce anxiety triggers is to put away your phone for a period of time. Right before you go to bed or as soon as you wake up are ideal times to phone detox and reduce anxiety." Taking time off from social media will give you the well-needed break from constant stimulation.
4. Avoiding Socialization
Let's face it: When you're dealing with anxiety, it can sometimes be really hard to muster up the mental strength to go out and hang with people. And that's perfectly fine! But if you notice you're continuously avoiding your friends and others, you could be hurting yourself more than helping yourself in the long run. "Anxiety is a response to overwhelming thoughts that we'd like to avoid," Nissley says. "Socialization and doing things we enjoy allows us to be less overwhelmed simply by thinking less about those things. If you avoid people and avoid going out, you're left with your thoughts, which can become overwhelming and result in anxiety. In isolation, you're left to deal with your thoughts and situations alone."
You don't have to fill up every day of your calendar, but when you really feel like you're stuck or overly anxious, try and keep in mind that talking to a friend or loved one could help.
5. Having Poor Posture
This may seem far-fetched, but the way your posture affects your health may surprise you. Now, bad posture doesn't cause anxiety, but for people who already suffer anxiety, bad posture can exacerbate the symptoms. "Sitting down and slumping your shoulders over decreases your breath and makes you feel heavy, tired, and anxious," Evanye Lawson, LPC, who specializes in anxiety, tells Bustle. If you have bad posture, it can lead to bad alignment which puts stress on different parts of your body, eventually leading to mental distress. She explains that one way to deal with this anxiety is to change the way you hold your body up. "When you stand upright, head held up, you feel more confident, bold, and powerful."
6. Avoiding Self-Care
When you feel anxious and worried, it's easy to understand why self-care or pampering may be miles away from your mind. But that might be just what you need in order to alleviate anxiety. Taking time to relax yourself and focus on your breathing can do wonders for any stress you might be having, especially if you begin to feel extremely overwhelmed. "Taking care of yourself, slowing down, and putting yourself first can help with being overstimulated by your environment," Lawson says. "It is OK to take time to yourself and take a break even if it is for 10 seconds." So whether this means doing breathing exercises or even having a full-blown spa day, you should get back in the saddle of self-care.
7. Eating Foods That Lack Nutrients
Anxiety can change the way you eat, and as a result, your anxiety can worsen. "Balanced diets with health inclusion of proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats [...] allows us to physically and emotionally feel better about ourselves and allow the body to perform at its best," Nissley says. "In turn, a body that is doing what it’s supposed to is less likely to be anxious." So although it can be hard to worry about what you eat when you're worrying about other things, it's important to remember to keep your body full of nutrients. This won't necessary make your anxiety go away, but nutrient-rich food can help put you in a better mood.
8. Not Sleeping Enough
Sleep can be a huge factor in anxiety. When your brain is sleep deprived, it is constantly trying to increase sleep, Nissley says. He explains that because melatonin is the body's sleep chemical, and affects different parts of the brain that are responsible for things like decision making or planning skills, not getting enough sleep can severely impact your quality of life. "When we sleep, we cycle through different stages of rest — REM and non-REM sleep, for example," he says. "When this type of sleep is disrupted or not effectively gained, brain chemicals and stress hormones are also impacted. This can make the experience of anxiety worse." When you're anxious it can be difficult to sleep, and like with most other cases of anxiety, the cycle can continue. If you're not getting enough sleep, it's important to talk to your doctor about possible treatments.
9. Not Exercising
Sometimes it's hard to feel motivated to get up and get workout in, but it can wield really positive results for your health. "Exercise is great for stress reduction, which reduces anxiety in a number of ways," Nissley says. "It distracts us from stressors that can make us anxious." He also explains that exercising helps our body release endorphins which also help reduce anxiety. So next time you're feeling jittery or anxious, shake it out with some physical activity. You'll be able to channel your anxiety into something else, and probably finish your workout feeling a little more relaxed.
Anxiety can be difficult to deal with, and it should be a priority to keep yourself as healthy as possible when experiencing it. You should also talk to your doctor or a mental health expert to make sure you're doing everything possible to take care of yourself.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.