Why do people with anxiety often have bad habits? Quite often, it’s to calm themselves down during awkward situations or even panic attacks. Many times, these bad habits and behaviors occur when something in your life at that moment is triggering you.
Take a look at a few examples of the most common bad habits people with anxiety tend to have. It’s possible to break all of these habits with a bit of guidance and support.
#1: Not Getting Enough Sleep
Sleeping issues are a very common example of bad habits developed as a result of anxiety. You want to sleep, but you can’t. Your mind is racing. You can’t get the thoughts to slow down. If you do fall asleep, you can’t seem to stay asleep. Often, this type of insomnia turns into a constant cycle. You’re tired during the day and finally, take a nap. That means you can’t fall asleep later.
If you can’t turn your brain off from what’s happening, then you need to find a way to turn your body off. That is, you want to wear yourself out enough that you’re tired enough to sleep. One way to do this is to use exercise during the day. This does two things. As the Anxiety and Depression Association of America points out, physical activity can help to reduce some of the built-up stress in your body. It aids in depleting those stress hormones racing through your body. Second, exercise reduces the amount of energy stored in your body. That can help to naturally soothe you to sleep.
It’s also important to work on routines when it comes to sleep. As the National Institutes of Health notes, it’s important to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. To ease into sleep, go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on days off. Create a sleep process, where you go through the same process of getting ready for bed. This helps train your brain to move towards sleep.
It’s also important to point out that long-term sleep problems can lead to anxiety. Sleep disruption is present in nearly all types of psychiatric disorders. Some studies, as the Adaa.org points out, found that those who have chronic insomnia are at risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
#2: Use of Stimulant Drugs (Legal and Otherwise)
Perhaps one of the most life-changing bad habits a person with anxiety may have is the development of drug and alcohol dependence. Whether you are using legal substances or illicit, you may be relying on something to help you. This includes things like caffeine, tobacco, and even illegal drugs.
An estimated 5 million U.S. adults misuse prescription stimulants, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Stimulants work to improve focus and cognitive function. They can help a person to have the energy they need to get something done. Those who are already anxious and hyper-vigilant may use these drugs and may develop an addiction to them. Caffeine, which is something many people drink each day, can be used as a low-level stimulant for this reason. It may allow someone the ability to keep going, getting more done, and worrying at the same time.
#3: Being Inactive
How much time do you spend each day in an active physical state? You may spend a lot of time zoned into your laptop or watching TV. You may spend eight hours a day behind a desk. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services says that less than 5 percent of all adults get 30 minutes of physical activity each day, which is where the minimal guidelines are set. Just 1 in 3 adults get this minimal requirement each week. It also notes that 80 percent of adults do not meet aerobic or muscle-strengthening activity goals.
Being inactive is easy and sometimes feels like the only thing you can do. Your mind is constantly going with “what if” situations. That burns through energy and makes you tired. Anxiety can make you feel nearly as tired as running a marathon in some cases. Yet, being inactive like this is a very bad habit for your overall health.
Being inactive is not just a problem for people who are anxious, though. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that inactivity itself is making people more anxious than ever. Exercise can reduce anxiety. Living a sedentary lifestyle can make you more anxious. Running, for example, helps to prevent stress-induced activation of the brain’s hippocampal interneurons. In short, your brain isn’t being stimulated by stress-related hormones when you’re exercising, but when you’re sitting around, stress is stimulant the brain to worry.
#4: Eating Junk Food Every Day
Eating beyond your appetite is also common for people with anxiety. Have you heard someone say that they eat when they are nervous? That’s not an uncommon factor in a lot of people who have anxiety. There are several reasons for this, but take a moment to reflect on whether you do this. Do you feel the need to eat when you are worrying or stressed out?
Why does stress cause you to overeat? There’s actually science behind why this happens. The body is programmed to manage high-stress events with everything it has. When there is a problem present, the brain can turn off the metabolism process. The brain then sends a message to the adrenal glands to produce more adrenaline. This helps to give your body the ability to fight or run from whatever is stressing you. This is a type of heightened physiological state that allows you to handle what’s in front of you. The problem is, a person with anxiety has adrenaline like this in their bloodstream on a constant basis.
When the stress continues like this, the adrenal glands release cortisol. This hormone works to increase your appetite and helps to ramp up motivation overall. That encourages you to eat. Cortisol levels increase like this so that your body is able to deal with the long-term problem. Once the stress falls, then the cortisol levels reduce. You eat because your brand is telling you to, as noted by Harvard Health.
What you eat is also a factor. It’s interesting that studies show that when people are stressed like this, they tend to turn to large amounts of processed food. This, in itself, can be worrisome and lead to increased risks of mental health disorders such as anxiety disorders or depression. This is what you crave because it is full of sugar and carbs, which can sustain the body’s immediate need for energy in high-risk scenarios.
When you’re feeling anxious, turn things around for yourself. Eat complex carbs, protein, and drink plenty of water, says the Mayo Clinic. Doing this, along with avoiding alcohol and caffeine, can also help to reduce your anxious feelings. It can also help to regulate the hormones in your body, allowing for cortisol levels to drop.
#5: Too Much Time on the Phone
How much time do you spend on your phone? You may be spending hours each day staring at your phone. Whether you are reading through social media or obsessing about the complexities of what’s happening in the news, your brain is zeroed in on things other than what’s in front of you in your daily life.
A study published by the National Institutes of Health found that people who use social media extensively are actually at a higher risk for developing both depression and anxiety. The Pew Research Center notes that this amount of heavy social media use can lead to high-stress levels. Whether it is feeling jealous of what other people are doing, working to increase how many friends you have, or the fear of missing out, it’s clear that social media puts you at risk for numerous health complications.
It’s important to recognize this and then to take steps to limit interactions. Do you find yourself angry and upset about things you can’t control that are a part of someone else’s life? Do you feel anxious because you cannot keep up with what everyone else is doing? Whether it is the other moms’ constant “perfect” lifestyle or your friend’s social acceptance, recognize that what’s on social media isn’t real. This can help you to see that, in some cases, social media is building up your anxiety.
Social media is a bad habit when it is doing this to you. If it’s impacting the way you live your life, spend your money, or even engage in the world around you, then that’s a bad habit worth breaking. Scrolling may trigger feelings of guilt and envy, which only further exasperate your anxiety. When you stop scrolling through social media, you can come back to a place of realistic world views.
#6: Skin Picking and Nail Biting
One of the more common types of bad habits has to do with nervous habits – picking scabs off, nail-biting, grinding your teeth, and others. All of these are very common, along with chewing on things like pen caps or putting things in your mouth is another example. This is one of the most common and hardest to understand conditions in terms of how it relates back to anxiety.
Think of it like this. When your body’s nervous energy is high, you’re uneasy and uncomfortable. Nail-biting or even grinding your teeth is a way to relieve some of that pent up frustration and locked in pain. It doesn’t often work, but it does physiologically give the brain a way to sort it out and deal with it.
It’s important to recognize what you’re doing and why. When you see yourself experiencing this type of bad habit, stop and think about what’s happening. Simply doing something different when you are faced with a stressful situation will work to stop this bad behavior. It’s not easy, but it will work for you.
What Else Are You Doing?
There are many other types of bad habits you could be experiencing.
Are you the type of person to apologize frequently or preemptively, before you do anything wrong? You may not even know why you are apologizing in the first place. You may be apologizing because you don’t want to cause anyone else stress. Being over apologetic is common in people who are super focused. That heightened sense of anxiety causes that. You’re so super focused on everything, including those around you.
Do you spend a lot of time talking? Talking too much or stammering (think using um too many times) is another example. Or, you may be one to laugh and giggle a lot when you’re talking. Your nervous, so you laugh while trying to communicate something, often something that isn’t even funny.
Yet another is pulling hair. This condition, known as trichotillomania, is a type of disorder in which people pull their hair out. It could be from your scalp or eyebrows. Those who do this don’t even know they are doing it. In this case, your anxiety is provoking a physical response. You feel like you need to be doing something with your hands.
What Can You Do Right Now?
One of the most important things to remember about these types of bad habits is that they mean something more. You can try to stop biting your nails and try to stop pulling your hair. However, you have to deal with what’s underneath this causing the anxiety you feel. It goes much deeper.
Unhealed emotional energy that’s pent-up deep inside you because of the trauma you’ve faced or other factors that make you anxious are what often cause these bad habits. It could be fear, guilt, or shame that never came out and wasn’t addressed. Most often, these repressed emotions come from your childhood. You can use the steps here to work on your bad behaviors but recognize that there’s much more underneath that you have to deal with first.
When you notice any of these bad habits in yourself, recognize that this is a good time to make a change. Don’t just work to correct the bad behaviors you have, but also dive deeper to find out what they really mean and why you have so much anxiety built up and present in your mind. There are solutions available that can help you to work through that nervous energy. Fully healing anxiety and recovering from it is really the only way to improve your health. Start by working to avoid these bad habits.
How to heal your anxiety at a deep level
I’ve healed so much of my own anxiety and my Healing Plan for Stress, Fear, & Anxiety can help you do the same. The clearing sessions I created for this healing plan will help you uncover the source of your anxiety and clear it for good.