10 Habits That May Be Worsening Your Anxiety

Published on 2/23/2021

To an anxiety sufferer, it can seem crazy to imagine that there are people who don’t feel this way. Who enter social situations with ease and didn’t plan conversations and talking points on the way over. Who don’t lie in bed thinking of the worst things that could possibly happen or get struck with terror for no discernable reason.

Do these people really exist? People that don't know what social anxiety feels like? I’ve met some, but I just can’t imagine it, as anxiety has been a grey cloud over my life.

If you suffer from anxiety, you would likely do almost anything to reduce it. You should always seek treatment for it from a licensed professional, and the tips in this article don’t intend to compensate for that. These are merely additional prompts to controlling and reducing your anxiety and ensuring that you’re not worsening it without realising.

1. Your coffee intake

I’ll start with the most obvious, the one you’ve probably heard before. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that your coffee intake could be worsening your anxiety. Coffee is a stimulant and increases your heart rate and feeling of alertness. That’s why we drink it, right?

But it can heighten your anxiety symptoms, making you jittery, panicked and feeling on edge. Coffee also has health benefits, such as being packed with antioxidants and lowering your risk of diabetes.

For me, it was about finding my threshold. Two cappuccinos, and I’m typing away, feeling on top of the world. Add in a third, and I’m a wreck of self-doubt and discomfort. Learn your limits and then actually respect them.

If you need that caffeine hit, try another energising alternative.

2. Not filling up your water bottle

My boyfriend never drinks water, and it terrifies me for some reason. I’m always popping up next to him and shoving a glass or water bottle into his hands. I follow every coffee I drink with two glasses of water.

Dehydration sounds like a far-off thing, but many of us are frequently dehydrated or nearing it. Dehydration causes a lot of stress on your body, as it makes your body feel threatened. You shut down on basic functions to ensure survival, as your body literally fears when it will next get water. You may feel physically ill, which contributes to your anxiety.

It also ramps up your heart rate and can make you feel light-headed. This mimics an anxiety attack, which is a terrifying familiar feeling that will make you even more nervous.

Drinking enough water ensures that your body is functioning well, it has the facilities to send out good hormones, to let you focus, and to keep going. Try to make a routine out of it. Follow every non-water drink with a glass of water, or drink water each time you go to the bathroom. You could even set a timer to remind yourself.

If in doubt, check how much water you should be drinking daily.

3. Watching the news

It’s good to be informed, but there’s a fine line between staying updated and fixating. In today’s world, many bad things are happening, and when we take in too much of this, our mind pays the price.

Our bodies have not evolved as quickly as technology, so we’re not used to being exposed to so much sadness and terror. News travels within seconds now, and we’re updated on the whole world within ten minutes. And it’s usually pretty awful things.

Whilst you don’t want to keep your head in the sand, you also need to consider whether you’re benefitting from the knowledge. If you feel your anxiety rising after watching the news or that you’re fixating on the trials of the world, then take a step back.

I particularly noticed this at the start of lockdown, as I couldn’t help but check the figures rising daily. After looking, I’d be useless, unable to focus or even find solace through writing. So I stopped checking, and I limit where I get my news from. Since then, I can breathe again, and I can focus on the things within my control.

4. Your time on social media

You’re probably tired of hearing this, and I’ll keep it brief. We just can’t underestimate the effect that social media has on our wellbeing. Mentally, through fixating on others and their ‘perfect’ lives or appearances. Physically, through the time spent crouched over a screen.

Social media can make us feel anxious as it heightens our insecurities. It makes us feel like we’re not doing enough, we’re not trying hard enough, that our lives are far inferior. It’s too easy to forget that this is a snapshot from a far bigger picture.

Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have been associated with increases in depression and anxiety. But not even that, the APA found that even checking your email too often can harm your mental health.

You don’t have to go cold turkey, as this can do even more harm by isolating you or increasing your fear of missing out. I’m trying to do a social media-free day once a week. I use a ‘Focus’ setting in my phone to switch off all platforms. The only exception is Facebook messenger and WhatsApp, as I like to stay connected to people during this lockdown. It’s been a challenge, which highlights to me how necessary it is. Soon, I hope to introduce completely phone-free days!

Did you know social media can also be good for your mental health?

5. Reaching for another drink

I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I won’t claim that I don’t drink or that I never get drunk. But I will honestly say that I’m working on drinking less frequently. More and more, I’m noticing how crappy alcohol makes me feel. I don’t just mean a hangover; I mean in terms of my mental health.

I wake up feeling anxious, my heart racing and my thoughts matching. I try to remember ways I may have embarrassed myself, things I could have messed up. It’s not feeling worth it anymore, and so now I need to fight the social anxiety that leads me to drink in the first place.

There’s a reason for this, as the Anxiety and Depression Association of America has found that people who experience anxiety are more likely to drink alcohol in general. We drink to feel less self-conscious, to quieten our insecurity, to match others. We drink to feel better.

And the cruellest irony is that the bandaid for our anxiety is precisely what worsens it. A study done in 2012 highlighted that heavy alcohol use can affect the wiring of your brain to make you more prone to symptoms of anxiety.

You don’t have to stop drinking entirely if you don’t want to, but make sure you’re not drinking to quieten your anxiety, as this is merely shooting yourself in the foot. Drink slower than others, as sadly, you’ll be more affected than they are. Alternate each drink with a glass of water, which will also reduce the hangover tomorrow.

6. What’s on your plate

We’re realising more and more the inexplicable links between mental health and food. There’s still far to go, but it’s vital to realise that your body and mind are so closely related. There are many ways in which your eating habits can affect your anxiety, through when you eat, what you eat and whether you eat at all.

  • Low carb

A lot of my eating disorder revolved around carbs and avoiding them at all costs. A few bites of pasta was enough to reduce me to tears and make me feel like I had to undo it.

I’m not a nutritionist, and I won’t pretend to be. But I’ve spent a lot of time looking into nutrition and food, talking to experts, and trying to understand the role food plays in our mental health. Part of this is to recognise how beneficial carbs are, how they fuel us, and how we’ve wrongly blamed them.

The evidence of their role in boosting your mental health is easy to find. When you feel sad, what do you crave? You likely reach for toast or pasta, a carb-loaded dish to make you feel better. Whilst emotional eating is a tricky path; we feel this way for a reason. Carbohydrates increase the serotonin in our brain, which boosts your mood and reduces your feelings of anxiety.

If you want to ensure you healthily approach these happy carbs, focus on whole-wheat bread and pasta, or a steaming bowl of oatmeal topped with fruit and peanut butter!

  • Low fat

We’ve gotten so lost when it comes to the word ‘fat’. It’s become something we fear, detest and avoid. This is dangerous in so many ways, especially when we start demonising an avocado or healthy layer of chub, and it’s also damaging for our anxiety.

Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, walnuts and canola oil, have been shown to reduce damaging inflammation and calm down your symptoms of anxiety. They put your mind at ease.

Other benefits to these fatty foods? They help your heart, brain and other organs to function well. They’re also filling, so they’ll ensure that you don’t get too hungry quickly. Plus, they’re delicious!

  • Skipping meals

There are many reasons why you shouldn’t skip meals, especially intentionally. You deserve to eat, no matter what. One of these reasons is your anxiety, as missing a meal can cause a drop in your body’s blood sugar levels. This can lead to increased feelings of anxiety and irritability.

You may not even realise you’re doing this, as we can underestimate the number of calories we need in a day. But undereating, intentional or not, stresses out your body and heightens your anxiety. Dieting is bad for your mental health in so many ways, and one of these is your anxiety.

Focus on eating varied foods, avoiding things that will cause a rapid spike in sugars, and moving your body. Don’t focus on becoming thin, but instead fuelling your body to nurture your anxiety levels.

But what’s worse for your anxiety than any of these diets or food mistakes is to focus too much on food. To allow it to control your mood and life. Food is not your enemy, even if it feels that way. Enjoy food, nourish your body with it, and don’t let it be a cause for anxiety more than a cure.

7. Not getting your zzz’s

I love sleep. I love what it does for me, I love how it makes me feel, and I love prioritising it in my life. But since I’ve started focusing on getting m eight hours, I’m more aware than ever of the effects when I don’t.

Losing sleep causes a myriad of health issues, and one of those is anxiety. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that a lack of sleep can worsen your anxiety, and that this is a cycle, as you’ll struggle even more to fall and stay asleep.

A recent study confirmed that getting less than eight hours of sleep worsens negative thought spirals, which are linked to rises in anxiety. Your body is working in overdrive, suffering from a lack of rest time to recuperate, so you’ll be more irritable, stressed and struggle to focus. All of which feed into your anxiety and basically make you feel like steaming crap.

8. Skipping your workout again

I spent years obsessed with exercising in order to shrink my body, I was miserable, and I was exhausted. So I’m not saying that you need to lose weight or run five miles a day. Instead, now is the best time to start learning to workout for your health rather than your weight, and with that, your mental health too.

A lack of physical activity has been shown to increase feelings of anxiety. Perhaps due to health-related fears or merely the absence of an outlet. Exercising, not even intensely, can mitigate such effects and cause a drastic improvement to your mood.

Even going for a walk or bike ride is enough to balance your stress hormones and give you some endorphins to cruise on. Try to find enjoyment in exercising and love it for how it helps your mental health and body.

You don’t need to work out daily but try to make it an active part of your routine and ensure you’re not sitting down too long each day. Now more than ever!

9. Not saying no

My name is Fleurine, and I am a people pleaser. Long story short, it stems from my BPD, in that I need to earn my worth through others and ensure they don’t leave me. This involves a lot of overcommitting, pushing myself past my limits and continually working harder for others than they do for me.

The result was that I was always drained, constantly feeling anxious and depressed, and still not pleased with my efforts. You need to put yourself first, and wearing yourself thin could be worsening your anxiety.

Take the time to rest. Alone time can be scary as we fear the power of our thoughts, but it can also be the calm in the storm that you need. Whether you stay home to meditate, read, watch a series or bake cookies, take that time for yourself.

Don’t be scared to say ‘no’ to plans; you don’t even need a reason. You shouldn’t be looking at events or plans and hoping that your friend will cancel; just cancel yourself then. Even if you lead a busy life, you can find pockets of time for yourself, and you need to.

Put time for yourself in your agenda, as you would any other meeting or event. Commit to it; don’t you dare cancel! Find what you enjoy doing and do exactly that. Give your mind the rest and quiet it needs to prepare for social settings or stressful moments. It’s like sleep for your soul.

10. Smoking

There are many reasons why you shouldn’t smoke; aside from the obvious health risks, there is the financial burden, the social effects and your mental health.

It’s another moment of cruel irony, as people reach for a cigarette in times of stress, maybe to even soothe their anxiety. But the peace is only temporary, and in the longterm, smoking is linked to increased anxiety and tension. Your body relies on this fake solution to anxiety, and your condition worsens without it.

Your anxiety doesn’t deserve to control your life or steal moments from you anymore. Alongside professional help, reducing these negative habits can help your mental health as well as your physical health. Each is a small step, but together they make a mile towards a clear mind. Which will you start today?

Fleur

Fleur

Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

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Ⓒ 2021 - Symptoms of Living