Sometimes the things we do to try and feel better actually make us feel worse.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems in the United States.
Even if you don’t meet the clinical criteria for an anxiety disorder, I’m sure you’ve experienced some of the hallmark symptoms from time to time:
- uncontrollable worry
- trouble concentrating
- overthinking or obsessive thoughts
- muscle tension
- stomach aches, headaches, back aches, gastrointestinal problems
- blushing, sweating, trembling
- feeling on edge
Anxiety can also include panic attacks, specific fears, flashbacks, compulsions, or social anxiety.
Humans are curious beings. We like to solve problems and understand why. But figuring out why we’re worrying or experiencing anxiety can be a big undertaking when we account for the myriad of factors that impact our thoughts, feelings, experiences, and biology.
Even if you don’t fully know why you’re anxious, you may be unknowingly making your anxiety worse. Sometimes the things we do to try to feel better, actually make us feel worse.
These six behaviors can exacerbate anxiety:
- Watching the news: The news is mostly bad news. When I watched the 11 O’clock news this week, the headlines were a camp counselor arrested for child porn, a toddler killed by an alligator attack, and the terrible mass shooting in Orlando. Watching the worst of the world can lead to worry about things that are out of your control and anticipating catastrophe.
- The internet: Of course, the internet is an amazing resource. But when you have anxiety, researching your worries (such as health concerns) often leads to more anxiety. You simply find information that is unclear, doesn’t really apply to you, or is completely inaccurate. It sends you on a wild goose chase — you find more and more to worry about and not enough information to completely negate your fears.
- Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant. In small doses it can help you with focus and alertness. However, in larger doses or for those who suffer from anxiety, it can increase rumination, insomnia, trembling, increase heart rate and edginess. We all know to watch coffee and energy drinks, but look for hidden caffeine in protein bars, soda, ice cream, and over the counter pain medications.
- Being sedentary: Exercise is a fantastic aid in relieving anxiety. Sitting and dwelling on your problems will make you feel worse. Research shows that exercise is very effective in treating and preventing anxiety and depression. You can find out more from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
- Procrastinating: The longer you wait to tackle your to-do list, the more anxious you will feel. Put in just 10 minutes on a dreaded task and you’ll feel more hopeful and relaxed.
- Late nights: A lack of sleep makes everything harder! Sleep is one of the fundamental components of good physical and mental health. Anxiety can be both the cause and result of insufficient sleep. Men’s Fitness reports that lack of sleep can trigger anxiety and leave you feeling “…stressed out and edgy throughout the day.” Having a consistent bedtime is ideal. Head to bed as soon as you start to feel sleepy. Resist the urge to finish the show you’re watching or the last of the household chores.
I hope this give you some new insights into what contributes to anxiety and some simple changes that can help.
Photo: Practical Cures/Flickr
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This article was adapted from SharonMartinCounseling.com.