Feeling overwhelmed by worry? Do racing thoughts and constant tension disrupt your daily life? You’re not alone. Anxiety is a common human emotion that, while serving a purpose in alerting us to danger, can morph into a chronic issue impacting our well-being. One way this happens is through anxiety habits – repetitive behaviours we form as coping mechanisms. While initially providing relief, these habits often become counterproductive, trapping us in a cycle of avoidance and negativity.
How do we get here?
Before diving into specific habits, consider taking an anxiety test. These online assessments, while not diagnostic, can offer valuable insights into the severity of your symptoms and guide you towards seeking professional help if needed. Early intervention is crucial, as chronic anxiety can significantly impact relationships, work, and overall well-being.
What are anxiety habits?
Now, back to those habits. These are actions we engage in, consciously or unconsciously, to manage or escape anxiety-provoking situations. Some common examples include:
- Substance abuse. Using alcohol, drugs, or other substances to numb emotional pain or escape stressful situations.
- Social withdrawal. Avoiding social interactions or events that trigger anxiety.
- Procrastination. Delaying tasks or responsibilities due to fear of failure or judgement.
- Negative self-talk. Engaging in critical and judgmental inner dialogue that fuels anxiety.
- Perfectionism. Setting unrealistically high standards for oneself, leading to constant worry and self-doubt.
- Compulsive checking. Repetitive checking of things (for example, locks, doors, emails) to ensure safety or prevent negative outcomes.
- Reassurance seeking. Constantly seeking reassurance from others about one’s thoughts, feelings, or actions.
Why do they hinder us?
While providing temporary relief, these habits act like band-aids on deeper issues. They:
- Mask the underlying problem. By focusing on the behaviour, we avoid addressing the emotional roots of anxiety.
- Reinforce avoidance. Temporary relief reinforces the avoidance of anxiety-provoking situations, making it harder to face them in the long run.
- Lead to dependence. We become reliant on the habit to cope, making it difficult to function without it.
- Damage relationships. Avoidance and negative behaviours can strain relationships with family and friends.
- Impact physical health. Chronic anxiety and unhealthy coping mechanisms can take a toll on our physical health.
Breaking the cycle
The good news? These habits, like any other, can be overcome with awareness and effort. Here are some steps:
- Identify your anxiety habits. Keep a journal or track your thoughts and actions to identify patterns.
- Understand the triggers. Pinpoint the situations or emotions that trigger these habits.
- Challenge negative thoughts. Question the validity of negative thought patterns and replace them with more realistic and positive ones.
- Seek professional help. Consider therapy or counselling for personalised guidance and support.
- Practise relaxation techniques. Deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.
- Engage in regular exercise. Physical activity is a natural mood booster and can help manage anxiety symptoms.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation worsens anxiety. Aim for 7–8 hours of quality sleep each night.
- Develop healthy coping mechanisms. Find healthy ways to cope with stress and anxiety, like spending time in nature, listening to music, or connecting with loved ones.
- Use an anxiety tracker. Monitor your symptoms, identify triggers, and track your progress over time.
Remember, you’re not alone. Anxiety is a common experience, and there are many resources available to help you manage it. By taking an anxiety test for initial insights, understanding your habits, developing healthy coping mechanisms, and seeking support when needed, you can break free from the cycle of anxiety and live a more fulfilling life.
Robert Haynes, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.