Life is endlessly stressful. I used to think that it was just me, in my own little bubble, feeling the stress and anxiety of the day. What I didn't know at the time was that I was constantly engaging in toxic habits that gradually increase anxiety levels. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), millennials are more anxious than older Americans, experience more stress, and are less able to manage it than any other generation. Even worse, according to the same APA study, 12 percent of millennials are diagnosed with anxiety disorder, a number that is almost twice than that of Baby Boomers.
Although I've never been officially diagnosed with anxiety, a couple of years ago I started going to therapy for my anxiety in order to deal with work stress, among other issues. According to Forbes, two-thirds of millennials say that their work performance has declined due to anxiety. Although a tough job market and student debt are obvious causes for our collective anxiety, even day-to-day behaviors can cause stress.
For someone dealing with anxiety, whether clinically diagnosed or not, it's important to know what can actually make your anxiety worse. The truth is that there are plenty of daily habits that are probably making the situation worse. Below are 21 toxic habits that are causing your anxiety to gradually increase.
1. You Overthink Everything
One of the worst toxic habits (and one I am particularly intimately familiar with) is overthinking absolutely everything. The problem is that people spend more time thinking about the problem, and believing that's helping them, than actually doing something about it. According to Scientific American, not only can it make anxiety worse, but those who overthink also develop major depression at four times the rate of those who don't.
2. You're Not Getting Enough Sleep
Not only does a lack of sleep make you look and feel horrible throughout the day, but it can actually stress you out and exasperate your anxiety. Not getting enough sleep increases the odds that you'll get "anticipatory anxiety," according to a study from the Journal of Neuroscience. That's the sense of dread that happens when there's a big presentation or meeting happening, and thus activates the flight or fight response to cause anxiety to spike throughout the day.
3. You Hit The Snooze Button
It's hard not to hit that snooze button over and over again in the morning, and the temptation to sleep in is always there. However, continuing this bad-for-you habit can actually start your day on an anxious note since you'll be running behind schedule before even getting out of bed, according to Bustle. Avoid morning chaos at all costs if anxiety is a problem, and instead learn how to master your mornings and keep your a.m. anxiety-free.
4. You Drink Too Much Caffeine
Caffeine, whether in the form of coffee, tea or soda, is great for boosting energy levels. However, according to Everyday Health, caffeine has been shown to inhibit levels of serotonin in the brain and, when that happens, people become depressed and feel irritable. Plus, caffeine can lead to stress and keep you awake and, as you already know, sleep is crucial to keeping anxiety at bay.
5. You Sit On The Couch All Day
I work from home, so sitting on the couch all day is practically in my job description. However, laziness and no physical activity is not good for anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, research actually shows that there is a connection between your mood and your physical activity, which is why I make it a rule to get up and out of the house for 10 minutes every few hours. A quick walk outside, taking the pup out, or just stretching your legs can help.
6. You Overload On Sugar
If you're looking to avoid anxiety, you should probably get rid of that secret stash of candy and sugar in your drawer at work. Although sweets can make us feel better, it's only a temporary lift. According to Everyday Health, once that sugar leaves the bloodstream, your surge of energy lowers and you are left feeling more tired than before. This can trigger or worsen your anxiety, which is why sugar is one of the foods you should avoid if you're anxious.
7. You Waste Time On Social Media
It should probably come as no surprise that too much social media use can cause psychological stress, according to a report by the PEW Research Center. After all, logging into Facebook once an hour can be distressing, distracting, and give you major FOMO as you track what friends, frenemies, and family are up to on a daily basis. The social pressures of feeling like you need to keep up with everyone else can send your anxiety levels rocket high.
8. You Procrastinate
I joke that I am and have always been the queen of procrastination, often putting off deadlines until the very last minute. However, not only does anxiety itself cause procrastination, but procrastinating can actually make anxiety worse. That feeling of always having a task looming can be overwhelming, and keep your anxiety high. Learning how to break things up into smaller projects can help you overcome procrastination thanks to these tips from the Anxiety Disorders Association of Victoria.
9. You Get Overwhelmed At Work
Millennials in particular are the kings of "not clocking out," according to the aforementioned Forbes article. Unfortunately, they also become anxious and irritated when work intrudes on their personal lives. Certain work habits, endless To Do Lists, countless meetings, and strict schedules lead to getting overwhelmed at work. Doing things like checking your work email at night is probably not helping your anxiety either.
10. You Try To Be Perfect
Your desire to be perfect is probably killing your motivation and hurting your anxiety, according to LifeHack. It's easy to get bogged down by wanting to put out the "perfect" project, making revision after revision after revision. Spending hours rewriting and reworking something isn't going to help you let go of that toxic habit, however, and you're better off doing a "rough draft," then coming back to the project to do just a few revisions before calling it good. Finishing something is better than never finishing at all.
11. You Listen To Moody Music
In case you haven't heard yet, music can influence your mood, according to Counseling Chicago Services. That's why listening to something that screams "fun" can put you into a good mood, while gloomy songs can actually aggravate your depression and anxiety. Head to Spotify and create a new playlist that is full of music that represents the mood that you want (happy) instead of the mood you're trying to avoid (sad).
12. You Complain And Blame Constantly
Exernalizing your anxious thoughts, such as blaming all of your problems on others and constantly complaining about your life, can actually make your anxiety worse. According to Family Share, blaming others can make you unhappy. The truth is that you'll never be able to control the actions of others, but you can control your reaction to them.
13. You Never Exercise
Exercise is a good reason to get off the couch, which you already know isn't helping your anxiety. But did you know that physical activity is actually an incredibly important component to treating anxiety? According to Calm Clinic, a lack of exercise may be one of the main reasons that anxiety disagnoses have increased in the past several decades. Exercise is a great relief for the kind of overall stress and tension caused by anxiety.
14. You Let The House Get Dirty
It probably seems fairly harmless to let your house get cluttered and dirty, but your anxiety will increase as more filth builds up around you, according to Chicago Counseling Services. Your worries over how others see your home will only serve to fuel your anxiety further, and your inability to get the house in order will cause paralysis that can keep you on firmly planted on that messy couch.
15. You Have A Negative Mindset
According to the aforementioned Calm Clinic article, another destructive habit is having a negative mindset. The way to recover from anxiety is to develop your ability to seek out happiness and see hope around you. It's not necessarily about creating a positive outlook in every little situation if you're just not the sunny personality type. That's unrealistic. But what you can do is work on not letting that negative mindset overtake you in all areas of life.
16. You Stay Home Alone
Home Alone is a cute movie, but even Kevin starts to freak out after a few days without his family. For someone who suffers from social anxiety disorder, staying home alone all the time may seem like the perfect way to spend your time. However, having support from the outside can actually help your anxiety and health, according to a report in the journal PLoS One. Building up your network of supportive friends and family may be key to relieving some of that anxiety, so make sure to get out there once in a while.
17. You Have Friends That Are Anxious, Too
Although having a supportive network of friends is important for anxiety relief, there is one way that this could actually be a catch-22. According to Psychology Today, if your friend is suffering from an anxiety disorder just like you, it can actually make your own anxiety worse. You might initially feel as if you've found someone great that you can vent to about all of your anxious problems, but participating in "intergroup anxiety" can actually make anxiety worse, according to the aforementioned Forbes article.
18. You Compare Yourself To Others
According to the aforementioned Lifehack article, constantly comparing yourself to others is a quick way to lose motivation, and thus increase your anxiety. Instead, you should ask the person you admire how it is that they do what they do. Not only will you possibly gain some helpful tips, but you might also realize that their life isn't as peachy as it seems to be.
19. You Focus On The Past
Like many anxious people, I sometimes focus too much on my past. Something will happen to remind me of a situation that previously caused me anxiety, and my mind spirals downward instantly. The Power of Positivity reported that this is one of the toxic habits that drains your energy, and advises seeking help to deal with your past if you need it. After all, you're only human. The mistakes of the past shouldn't keep you from advancing in the future.
20. You Hold Onto Anger And Resentment
One of the top relationship killers is creating resentments that can slowly drive you bonkers, according to Psychology Today. Some of the actions that might cause and expand the anger and resentment you feel towards yourself and others include taking things personally, participating in drama and negativity, letting yourself be in negative environments, and allowing these feelings to damage your physical and mental health, according to the aforementioned Power of Positivity article.
21. You're Using Alcohol To Cope
There's nothing wrong with having the occasional drink after a long day's work but when leaning on alcohol to deal with your anxiety and frustration becomes the norm, you could be in trouble. In fact, according to the aforementioned Everyday Health article, alcohol is one of the foods that could hurt anxiety because it is a depressant. That good mood you feel after a drink or two is only temporary, and can ultimately lead to dehydration and dependency issues.