Anxiety is the opposite of fun, and when we struggle with it, we just want it to go away. Unfortunately, some of the things we’re used to doing, even things that we do because they lessen our anxiety in the moment, can actually make anxiety worse.
Here are seven habits that make your anxiety worse.
You’re busy, and there’s too much to get done to take time out for a workout or walk, right? But you’re not one-dimensional. Your approach to mental health shouldn’t be, either. Exercise is a healthy, natural way to increase the neurotransmitters that contribute to our sense of well-being, serotonin and dopamine. Being intentional with our physical health also improves our mental health. Exercise also gives us an outlet for the tension that can build up in us with our anxiety. I keep reminding myself even when I’m stressed and anxious because I feel like I can’t get everything necessary done, that exercise is necessary, too, and the time I take for it will be regained in increased ability to focus and accomplish.
How much time do you spend mindlessly scrolling through social media? Maybe you turn to it to stop the spinning thoughts. Maybe you’re looking for validation. Maybe you want to you want to keep tabs on certain people. Whatever your motivation, spending too much time on social media can increase anxiety in various ways. It can distract you from dealing with emotions and situations that need to be dealt with. You may not get the feedback you were hoping for; how many likes and comments are enough to make you feel better? There will always be someone with more of whatever you want; comparison trips us up in many areas of mental health. If there’s something we can limit our time on, we’d be better off giving up social media time than exercise time.
While it may feel good to get away from people for a while, and we all need time on our own to relax, process, and decompress, too much time on our own is mentally unhealthy. Social interactions are a common anxiety trigger, but avoiding them won’t make them any easier when they’re necessary. It’s also easier for our thoughts to get away from us when we’re not in active communication with peers and loved ones. We’re not always the best at recognizing our irrational beliefs that can make our anxiety worse. One reason anxiety can be difficult to overcome is that we get stuck in our own heads; regularly getting together with friends and family, and finding opportunities to serve others, helps us get out of our own heads, reinforces our sense of self-worth, and gets us involved in something bigger than ourselves.
Like avoiding social interaction as much as possible can actually increase anxiety, so can avoidance of other triggers. If you never take on what bothers you, you can never have the experience of surviving the situation, and thereby being strengthened for the next time. We can’t overcome what we don’t face. That doesn’t mean you should persistently seek out that which triggers your anxiety, but we shouldn’t run away and hide from anything that may be difficult. We can create another painful level of anxiety and create a new trigger by persistent avoidance of things that make us uncomfortable.
Expecting Medication to Fix You
You may need medication, short-term or long-term, to deal with your anxiety. And you need to take it as prescribed. Stopping medication without a doctor’s supervision can be dangerous. But, remember, medication is not magic. Dealing with a mental health issue requires effort on all fronts: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational. Medication can help, especially take the edge off the worst, but you’ll just increase your anxiety if you expect a pill to fix it, but find it doesn’t take it all away. That’s reality.
Anxiety is uncomfortable. And can require medication for effective treatment. This should be done under the supervision of a medical professional. Ingesting substances, or pursuing unhealthy experiences that trigger dopamine isn’t the answer. They’re temporary fixes at best, and keep us from dealing with underlying problems. Alcohol, illegal drugs, sex, even taking healthy things, like exercise, to unhealthy levels will do more harm than good. Obsessive behavior can relieve anxiety in the short-term, but impairs our ability to function productively. Whenever our life is out of balance, anxiety is a natural result.
Overthinking, Overanalyzing, Fixating
Okay, so easier said than done, right? Since spinning thoughts are a hallmark of anxiety. When we’re not so overwhelmed our minds just kind of shut down, that is. Which is why we need to be prepared in advance. We need some go-to distractions when we find ourselves circling on a particular thought. I find memorizing Scripture helpful. Yes, I’m a Christian who struggles with mental illness. Thinking too much about a task doesn’t make it any easier to get it done, or get it done well. Commit to a plan of action and MOVE; adjust course as necessary. Generally, the things we hobble ourselves from doing with our overthinking aren’t life and death. Keeping paper and pencil beside the bed to make lists can help when we wake up in the middle of the night unable to get back to sleep because of all the things we need to get done. No one is loved by everyone; if you commit what you think is a faux pas, or you think you said something stupid, replaying it over and over in your mind doesn’t change it. Take Elsa’s advice in that cursed song, and Let It Go. Yeah, like I said, easier said than done, but we can’t do without trying.