With anxiety affecting up to 16% of the population at any one time, and most of us at one time or other in our lives, it’s important to realise that our gut reactions to anxious thoughts aren’t always the best things for us.
5 Things That Make Anxiety Worse
- Trying to stop the thoughts – Trying not to think about it will only draw attention to the thing that makes you anxious. Saying to yourself ‘don’t think about x’ will only bring ‘x’ to the forefront of your mind. Instead, try accepting and acknowledging your anxious thoughts, and try to be okay with their presence.
- Avoiding the things that make you anxious – If, for example, social situations make you anxious, it’s tempting to avoid them altogether, but that’s actually counterproductive. If you get into the habit of avoiding the things that make you anxious, it reinforces the idea that there’s something to be afraid of. It’s far better to face your fear and prove to yourself that your fears are unfounded – if you go to that party, nothing bad is going to happen!
- Unhealthy coping mechanisms – The phrase ‘Dutch Courage’ comes to mind here. If you’re nervous about something, it can be tempting to have a drink to steady your nerves. Other people might have a cigarette to calm themselves down. But regardless of the negative impact these have on our health, they can actually make your anxiety worse in the long run. If you use alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, etc., as a coping mechanism for your anxiety, you essentially create a psychological crutch which you will come to rely on – and you’ll be less able to cope with your anxiety without your crutch.
- Isolating yourself or moping – It’s tempting when we’re anxious to shut ourselves off from the rest of the world, but when we do that we’re also shutting ourselves off from the things that can help make us feel better. If you’re alone, you will focus on the things that are making you feel bad, but if you’re with friends or doing an activity, you have something else to focus your mind and energy on. Plus exercise and positive social interactions encourage the production of those chemicals in the brain that make you feel good, helping to overcome that anxiety chemically.
- Unnatural breathing – Panic attacks are often accompanied with hyperventilation or heavy breathing, but it’s a two way street. If you start to hyperventilate or breath heavily, you’ll panic more because you’ll start to think that you can’t breathe normally. Instead concentrate on taking steady, controlled breaths to try and return your breathing to normal. This will help slow your heart rate and calm you down.