Having an anxiety disorder can — obviously — make you very anxious. And being anxious about being anxious can make you even more anxious. According to the American Psychiatric Association, anxiety "refers to anticipation of a future concern and is ... associated with muscle tension and avoidance behavior." This is a normal human emotion, but if it hinders your ability to function, then it is considered an anxiety disorder. Professional help is often a way to ease the symptoms, but it's also helpful to avoid the worst things to do if you have anxiety.
At some point in their lives, 30 percent of adults will be affected by anxiety. There are several types of anxiety disorders, each one having its own set of symptoms and triggers, and with a wide range of severity. If you stress over going out in large groups or have the shakes when you think about public speaking, you may have a social anxiety disorder. Panic disorders involve a combination of physical and psychological distress and result in a feeling of loss of control, sweats, shortness of breath, and other physical symptoms. Are you deathly afraid of snakes or do you tremble at the thought of leaving the house? These are phobias — fears that go beyond the normal concern about something to become excessive, with people going to great lengths to avoid the thing they fear.
All of these can be debilitating, but you can mitigate the anxiety symptoms by being conscious of certain things as you go about your day.
1. Spending Time With Negative People
People can get under your skin without you even realizing that there's an actual medical reason behind it. Being in the presence of even one negative person peels away the neurons in the part of our brain used for problem-solving, reports Elephant Journal, examining a study published in the The Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers found that "this neuron-peeling effect is caused by glucocorticoids released from adrenal glands during the stress of dealing with negativity." In other words, stress hormones make the neurons in the brain dysfunctional.
2. Sitting For Too Long
We think of sitting as relaxing, but that isn't necessarily the case. Sitting all day raises your risk of anxiety, according to a 2015 study. In a world that is screen-focused and desk-centered, and where many people commute long distances while sitting, it can be hard to avoid this, but being conscious of it and trying to work some additional movement into your day could be helpful.
3. Avoiding Your Stressors
While on the surface the simplest way to avoid anxiety might appear to be to stay away from the thing that engenders the anxiety, that might harm more than it helps. According to Edward Selby, Ph.D., writing in Psychology Today, by avoiding the stimuli, you're reinforcing the notion that it is negative. While it may be hard to face your fears head on, sometimes that can be the most constructive approach.
4. "Taking The Edge Off"
Drinking or taking drugs to reduce anxiety may seem like an easy fix, but it only makes things worse. According to Addiction.com, sometimes people with an anxiety disorder try to self-medicate with the drugs or alcohol. This often causes an addiction in addition to the anxiety, which leads to a need for treatment for both things.
5. Eating Unhelpful Foods
Feeling anxious may make you want to stress eat, but this can backfire. According to Everyday Health, there are foods that can help you with anxiety, particularly proteins and whole grains. There are also foods to avoid if you have anxiety. Sugars can give a quick high that feels good initially but disappears rapidly, often causing you to feel fatigued or giving you a headache. Caffeine can make you feel irritable and make it hard to sleep.
6. Not Getting Enough Sleep
Speaking of sleep, here's another vicious cycle that comes with anxiety: Not getting enough sleep can exacerbate your symptoms, but the anxiety itself prevents you from getting a restful night's sleep. According to PsychCentral, there are ways to combat sleeplessness, from jotting down your anxious thoughts before bed, to listening to soothing music and engaging in mental exercises such as thinking of fruits with the same letter.
7. Binging On Social Media
Don't compare others' highlight reels to your backstage moments. In today's social media heavy world, it's impossible not to compare yourself to others. Friends look they're having more fun, wearing better clothing, and going to crazier parties. According to Psychology Today, the perceived connectedness that Facebook and other social media platforms give can be misleading, instead leading to fear of missing out and other social anxiety.
8. Engaging In Negative Thinking
Negative thoughts can be at the root of anxiety. It's not always easy to turn that around, but according to VeryWell, there are effective treatments to counteract negative thinking such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which are based on changing and working through negative thought processes. Psychology Today has a database to find mental health professionals who specialize in these therapies. It also could be helpful to start a thought diary to track your negative thoughts or consider joining a support group, either on-line or in person.
9. Refusing Professional Help
While there are some problems you can solve on your own, mental health issues often require a professional who has been trained to help people heal. There are many types of therapy that can aid anxiety, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Some therapies are referred to as "talk therapies" and include behavior modification and psychotherapy. These can be used alone or in conjunction with medication.
Medicine can only be prescribed by medical doctors, including psychiatrists and primary care providers. If you think you could benefit from medication, then it might be helpful to find a therapist who has the ability to write prescriptions.
Either way, there are people out there whose job it is to help you through your anxiety and it's helpful to seek them out. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has information on how to choose a therapist.
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