Anyone who has ever struggled with serious anxiety can tell you that there’s nothing easy about overcoming it. There’s no foolproof way to get rid of anxiety. There’s no one set practice, outside of medication with annoying and potentially harmful side effects, that can make everyone feel better. In fact, many of the things you thought would help often end up making your anxiety worse.
I know this firsthand, because I struggle with anxiety every single day. I have general anxiety, which means that there is no one specific thing that makes me feel anxious – there are a lot of things, which is not ideal. In the last few years, my anxiety has gotten so bad that it has caused me to be physically sick. I deal with chronic stomach pain that is very much linked to my anxiety and my mind, and it’s incredibly frustrating and exhausting. Feeling anxious over things I have no control over (like flying and scary epidemics) can feel like you’re being slowly smothered. Some days, it’s enough to make me want to curl up in a ball and cry.
Throughout the years, though, I have been forced to try and figure out not only what makes my anxiety better, but what makes it feel worse. I’ve done this through trial and error, which honestly is the only way it can be done – what works for me might not work for someone else. That said, there are certain practices and habits that will make almost anyone’s anxiety worse. Some of them are coping mechanisms that are regularly recommended to anxious people, while others are just seemingly harmless things that we don’t give any second thought to. If you want to lessen your anxiety and learn how to make yourself feel better, you should know about these things that could be pushing you backwards.
Trying To Stop Thinking Your Anxious ThoughtsAnxiety is different for everyone, but in general, when you're feeling super anxious, you can't get those anxious thoughts out of your mind. When I'm anxious about something, I know the thoughts just keep running through my head over and over again. The logical solution to this seems to be to actively force yourself to stop thinking these thoughts. "Focus on something else!" people who don't really understand anxiety will tell you. This is good advice... sometimes. Sometimes you really do need to turn your anxious thoughts off and focus on something else. The problem occurs when you do that too often - like, so often that you NEVER think about them. If you suppress your anxious thoughts all the time, you could end up having the thoughts even more than you would if you just, you know, let yourself think them. I used to see a therapist who tried to help me understand the the balance between thinking too much and not thinking enough. Her advice was to put aside 10 to 20 minutes every day to think about my anxious thoughts - basically scheduling time for anxiety. Any other time of the day, I wasn't allowed to think about them. It sounds weird, but it's helpful. Forcing the thoughts to the back of your mind won't help you, but letting yourself think through them without completely obsessing will. Full disclosure: this is harder than it seems. Source: iStock
Talk TherapyAsk almost anyone for an anxiety cure, and they'll encourage you to see a therapist or psychologist - I'm one of those people! But the truth is, talk therapy doesn't help everyone with anxiety, and it's been proven to not always be the best way to deal with anxious thoughts. While some people can heal and move on when analyzing their past, it makes other people feel very anxious. I loved therapy, but there were some sessions that were so hard for me that I left feeling worse than when I walked in. Sometimes you need a little bit of distance from what is bothering you, and focusing on it too much can be harmful. It's okay to try therapy and take breaks sometimes, or to cancel when you feel like you need to not talk about something - you just need to find the balance. Source: iStock
Avoiding All Of The Things That Make You AnxiousWhen something scares you or makes you feel very anxious, the last thing you want to do is confront it. I'm terrified of flying, and booking an airplane ticket makes me feel anxious enough to make me feel physically sick. If it were up to me, I would never fly! Unfortunately, I have to sometimes - and avoiding it only makes it worse. Example: I once went almost two years without stepping foot on an airplane. During that time, I read about plane crashes and problems, and my fears got worse and worse and worse. When I finally had to buy an airplane ticket, I felt sick to my stomach - I almost passed up a dream trip because of it. But I made it through, and then I flew again two months later, and then again a month after that. By the time my last flight in that time period came around, I felt almost comfortable being on an airplane. Avoiding your anxious triggers too much can often make the anxiety even worse, because it allows you to build things up in your mind. Confronting fears like these is so, so hard, but it helps you move past them... if you avoid them forever, they will only get worse. Source: iStock
Staying Up Too LateLack of sleep does so many negative things to you, and that includes making your anxiety worse. Not getting enough sleep will mess with the part of your brain that controls emotional processing, making anxious feelings worse. And the news is even more concerning if you're a natural worrier - these effects are felt even more strongly. Sleep is when your body and your brain recharge. If you're not sleeping, you can't fully relax. Source: iStock
Drinking A Lot Of CoffeeMany people rely on coffee to get them through the day. But let's not forget that coffee is basically an upper. It raises your heart rate, which can in turn make you feel nervous and jittery. This jittery feeling can leave you feeling ore anxious than you already were. It's basically amplifying those feelings. You don't need to give up coffee completely, but on days you're feeling extra anxious, you might want to skip it. Source: iStock
Doing Nothing All DaySometimes anxious thoughts get so bad that you lack any motivation to do anything. I get it! Unfortunately, moping in bed isn't going to make you feel better - it will ultimately make things worse. Being alone isn't comforting! In fact, science has found that being social and being around people is much more effective in beating anxiety. This doesn't mean you need to be at a party 24/7, but it does mean you should try to hang with close friends and family members when you're feeling particularly anxious. On top of that, a sedentary lifestyle in general can make anxious feelings worse. Exercise is an incredibly important tool in battling anxious feelings. Exercise lifts you up, boosts endorphins, and helps battle anxiety. So, it only makes sense that binge watching Netflix makes it worse. Source: iStock
Drinking AlcoholSometimes, when someone feels anxious, they turn to vices like alcohol or drugs. Drinking can make you feel outside of your mind, like an escape. And sure, if you're of legal age, drinking a glass of wine to unwind once in a while is fine. But relying on alcohol to get you through those anxious feelings makes alcohol a crutch - one that isn't helping your anxiety at all. If you're used to reaching for the booze when you're feeling anxious, then maybe you need to stop. Source: iStock
Researching and Validating Your FearsWhen someone feels very anxious, they usually feel one of two things: either the desire to know nothing about what they're anxious about, or the desire to know everything. You might think that you'll feel better about your anxiety once you Google it to find out what's really going on, but you could be wrong! Example: Sometimes when I'm feeling very anxious, I ask anxious friends questions because I know they feed into my anxiety. This doesn't help, it just makes me feel more anxious. But I do it anyway! Other times, research has helped me get past my fears. When I was terrified of contracting ebola, I read some facts about it - and it ended up making me feel better. So, do what works for you. Source: iStock
Being On Social MediaSocial media is great, until it's not. I'm sure you've all heard about the studies that find that being on social media can cause depression, feelings of isolation, and severe FOMO. Well, too much social media can also make your anxiety worse, especially if you're predisposed to those feelings. Social media often leads to you comparing yourself to others, which makes you feel worse.
Not Drinking Enough WaterWater is about more than just getting good skin and cleaning out your body - if you're not drinking enough of it, it could be contributing to your anxiety. When you don't drink enough water, you experience mild to severe dehydration, which can make you feel more anxious and fatigued than usual. Source: iStock
Do you have anxiety? How do you deal with it? Do any of these methods work for you? Tell me in the comments.