Are you adding to your own anxiety? These 12 habits may be getting between you and happiness. Here’s how to pinpoint the ways you may be reinforcing anxiety, and what to do about each.
1. Overdoing the Caffeine
There’s nothing wrong with a morning cuppa (if your doctor approves), but going overboard can increase anxiety from the inside out. The problem is that the effects of caffeine may not be immediate in some people. This means you could be blaming outside influences for your anxious state rather than the caffeine.
What to Do About It: Reduce your caffeine intake gradually. You can start with a lower-caffeine product (for instance, Starbucks and other chain coffees are often much higher in caffeine than store-bought brands). Switching coffee for tea can help too, as black tea is much lower in caffeine (95-200mg for generic brewed coffee v. 14-61mg for brewed tea, according to the Mayo Clinic).
2. Not Getting Enough Sleep
“Sleep debt” – or not getting enough sleep on a regular basis – can cause or exacerbate anxiety, according to experts. UC Berkeley, CA researchers say lack of sleep amps up the brain’s amygdala and insular cortex, responsible for regulating emotional response. This keeps us in a sort of over-vigilant state, which translates to anxiety over time.
What to Do About It: The answer seems obvious – get more sleep! But how? Here’s the right way to get the correct amount of sleep:
- Get on a regular sleep schedule. Even if you’re not tired, go to bed at the same time every night. In time, your body will equate this particular time with rest, and you’ll fall asleep more easily.
- Dim the lights and turn off the electronics an hour before bedtime. Artificial lighting and the stimulating effects of the computer, phone and iPad signal to our bodies that it’s not nighttime yet, despite evidence to the contrary. Eliminating or reducing these artificial wakefulness signals will help your body and mind to get ready for sleep.
- Don’t eat sugar or processed, empty carbs for four hours before bedtime. These can keep our bodies wired and stimulated, making it hard to sleep.
- Create a relaxing and comforting environment for sleep. Revamp your bedroom so it’s cozy and free of distractions. That means NO computer in the bedroom (even if it’s off), a comfortable, supportive mattress and relaxing décor.
3. Not Being Active Enough
Inactivity and anxiety are being linked more and more. Inactivity leads to a buildup of physical stress, which can be felt as emotional stress – sometimes, it’s hard for your body to know the difference.
What to Do About It: Get on a regular exercise schedule. Thirty minutes a day at least five days a week is ideal for most people. You don’t have to go crazy; take a brisk walk, go for a swim or get on your bicycle and see the sights.
4. Spending Too Much Time Indoors
One major anxiety contributor in today’s society is that we simply don’t get enough sunlight. Even worse, we replace natural sunshine with artificial lighting, which can keep us on a constant state of over-alertness.
What to Do About It: Get outside! Even on overcast or low-sun winter days, some sunlight will reach your body. You don’t need much: 10-15 minutes in the early morning and 10-15 minutes just before sundown are ideal.
5. Consuming Too Many Junk Foods
Refined foods tend to hit our system like a ton of bricks, causing a fast insulin spike in order to rein in the glucose that carbs turn into. With all that insulin, our glucose level tends to drop overly quickly, causing a crash. Over time, this up-down, up-down cycle can cause anxiety.
What to Do About It: Use the USDA’s new Food Plate. It suggests a portion of protein with each meal, which slows down and evens out the insulin response in your body. It also focuses on non-refined foods such as vegetables. A plus is that you’ll feel healthier, too.
6. Ignoring Problems
When you “put a problem to sleep,” so to speak, you may think you’re giving yourself less stress, but the subconscious never forgets that there’s an issue to deal with. Refusing to address long-term problems will, over time, cause continuous low level stress.
What to Do About It: If it’s evening, you really should put your worries to sleep for the night (see above) – but in the morning, get the wheels in motion. Seek real solutions to your problem. Enlist help if you need to. Even simply admitting to yourself that a problem exists can help relieve anxiety. As long as you make progress toward a solution, your mind is receiving the signal that hope is in sight, and your anxiety will go down.
7. Always Running Late
Chronically being over-booked and behind schedule will make you feel you’re behind the eight ball before you’ve even gotten out the door. That’s not a good start to anyone’s day – and it increases your anxiety level.
What to Do About It: If you always seem to be late for appointments, get-togethers, getting the kids off to school, etc., look into the “why.” Are you planning too much in too short a period of time? If so, you’re setting yourself up for failure. See how you can rearrange things so that you have more time.
If you tend to get sidetracked easily, set up a list for yourself. Check off the things you HAVE to do…then IF you have time left over before you need to go to that important appointment, go ahead and do it. If not, you really haven’t lost anything; you can do those things later, after your responsibilities have been completed.
8. Not Playing Enough
Living just to work and working to live is a recipe for frustration – and a buildup of anxiety.
Believe it or not, even in ancient cultures, people had downtime. (In fact, some estimates put contemporary hunter-gather societies at 20% actively working/looking for food, and 80% rest time.)
This recipe has kept us going – and happy – for generations. Today, though, the focus is on accomplishments. If you’re not “doing,” then you’re a failure. Untrue!
What to Do About It: Stop living to work. When you have free time, find something you truly love doing. Rediscover your happiness and your hobbies and your anxiety level will begin to go down.
9. Being Unable to Say “No”
If you say yes whenever your friend (who never reciprocates) needs a babysitter, when you’re asked to take on a lazy co-worker’s projects or when your child’s teacher asks you to volunteer yet again, you may think you’re doing a good thing. But if you resent having said “yes,” you’re internalizing your anger, which translates over time to anxiety.
What to Do About It: Learn to stick up for yourself. Do volunteer when you want to and are capable. But don’t keep letting people walk all over you. You’ll simply simmer inside and make anxiety worse.
10. Always Being the Victim
We’re the “therapy” generation, and though counseling absolutely has its place, putting our every misfortune on our mother’s judgmental attitude or a religious upbringing actually holds us back. In fact, some people take things to the extreme and are the victim in every possible scenario.
What to Do About It: Unfortunately, this attitude creates a generalized anxiety, as it reinforces to your subconscious that you’re not in control. Playing the victim is self-defeating, and creates internal anxiety. Take back your power by taking responsibility for who you are and where you are, now.
11. Setting Unrealistic Goals
So-termed Type-A personalities (perfectionism, low tolerance for errors and setting unrealistic goals) are at an all-time high. Some people criticize themselves relentlessly for the smallest mistakes. And often, that translates to expecting the same unrealistic efforts from our children, our spouse and even our friends.
What to Do About It: Realize there’s only so much you – or anyone else – can do in a day. No person is perfect, and nobody can churn out stellar results hour after hour and day after day without breaking down eventually. When you find yourself being overly critical of yourself or others, remember that perfection is something no person can ever achieve…and would you really want to? Perfect people are not only boring, they’re stressful to be around. Take a step back and remember what’s really important without bogging yourself in the details of “what went wrong.”
12. Stressing About Anxiety
Ironic but true: We get more anxious worrying about becoming anxious than we do simply going about our day. In fact, panic attacks are often based more on a fear of “what might happen” than on what is actually happening during the panic attack.
What to Do About It: Realize that we may have anxiety from time to time, and that this is just a part of life. Staying calm, measuring your breath to a slow, even rhythm and trusting rather than fearing your body is paramount to not being afraid of fear.
Bottom line: remembering what’s really important, and making a few changes in your lifestyle, really can reduce your overall anxiety, and may have an impact on situational anxiety as well. Take things one step at a time and work slowly toward being a less anxious person, and you’ll enjoy your life more than you ever thought you could.