What Not To Do With Anxiety
Do you struggle with anxiety? Have you ever wondered if your coping strategies make things worse? Are you hoping to create positive change?
If the answer is yes, you aren’t alone. Millions of people struggle with some form of anxiety each year. Common symptoms include pronounced feelings of panic, extreme fear, and excessive worry. When things get bad, you can even experience shortness of breath, trembling and avoidant behaviors.
All of this is being shared because it is understandable why you might want to reach for something quick to calm your nerves. After all, who wouldn’t want to feel less stressed and more relaxed?
But in my experience as an anxiety specialist in Chicago, certain behaviors can unintentionally make things go from bad to worse. Curious about what those are?
Here are 10 specific things to avoid if you struggle with anxiety.
When you pretend anxiety isn’t part of your life, you engage in the cognitive distortion known as denial. This can have the unintentional effect of amplifying what you are feeling.
People with OCD particularly need to be mindful of this behavior.
While it may initially seem logical to avoid things that scare you, engaging in “hiding” behaviors can actually make things worse. The funny thing about fear is that it has a way of bleeding into other life areas.
Example: If you fear driving on an open highway and only use side-roads, you may develop a fear of driving on city streets. That’s the paradoxical cruelty of anxiety disorder, such as a phobia. They can spread.
For this reason, it is better to embrace your mental health issues and face them rather than deny their existence.
3. Fishing for Reassurances
“I’m not fat, am I?” is a question you may ask a friend to gain reassurance. The premise of the question, however, suggests that you already think you are fat.
The support you are looking to receive (unfortunately) reinforces your core belief [I’m fat]. This in turn, can distort reality.
4. Magical Thinking
If you are waiting for someone to pull out a magic wand and take away your anxiety, you may be waiting a long time. Meantime, as you wait for that wand to appear, your worries grow stronger.
Magical thinking is part of a larger family of cognitive distortions that can negatively impact anxiety.
5. Downing Herbal Drinks
Sure – drinking a soothing beverage can help calm your nerves but do so with caution. If you use herbal drinks too much, you may exacerbate things by getting hooked on them.
At a minimum, pick something non-caffeinated and sip on it rather than chugging it. Try to drink teas that are known to ease anxiety, and made from natural substances.
6. Thought Stopping
Trying to force thoughts to go away with a rubber-band or some other device may offer a momentary reprieve, but this technique isn’t very effective. In fact, may be making anxiety worse through denial (see point 1).
Instead, learn the basics of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Essentially, ACT is all about integrating your feelings, whatever they may be, into your whole person.
7. Relying Only On Meds
For many people, medications can offer relief from anxiety. But if meds are your only coping strategy, you may be setting yourself up for failure.
Think about it – what happens if you build a tolerance to the medication? Additionally, how will you cope when you decide to come off the pills?
Instead of leaning into just one thing, consider adding natural coping strategies such as mindfulness, physical activity or anxiety focused hypnotherapy.
8. Analysis (Psychoanalysis)
This type of talk-therapy is focused mostly on your childhood and past. For some people, this approach can offer a powerful form of catharsis. It can also lead to self-insight.
That said, the scientific literature suggests psychoanalysis is not the most effective anxiety treatment approach. The same holds true for anxiety’s best friend – depression. See this post on 10 things depression doesn’t want you to know.
As an alternative, consider some form of CBT therapy or work with a counselor who uses an integrative approach.
9. Alcohol and Drugs
You may be tempted to reach for a drink or use illicit drugs to calm your nerves. This makes sense when fear, uncertainty, and doubt take hold.
But what you may not know is any benefit you experience is likely temporary. Over the long-term, certain substances can even make your anxiety worse. I’ll leave the whole addiction thing alone but simply say chemical dependency is a very real thing.
Instead of using substances, consider learning meaningful breathing techniques designed to lower your heart rate and create a sense of calm. Learn more in this post about autogenic training.
10. Learned Helplessness
Have you adopted the belief that there’s nothing you can do about your anxiety? If so, you could be making your situation worse through learned helplessness.
The best way to avoid this trap is by discovering ways of working through. An example strategy can be found in mindfulness-based meditations.
Anxiety isn’t like a light switch that can turned on or off at will. If only it were true. But you can learn healthy ways of coping that act as a metaphorical dimmer.
In this way, you lessen the intensity of anxiety and it’s symptoms.
Thanks for stopping by.