Many people make mistakes with their anxiety. In fact, one of the problems with anxiety is that anxiety itself can make mistakes more likely - because anxiety changes thought processes and feelings in a way that can lead to you to making decisions that are counterproductive for curing anxiety.
Alcohol abuse is a great example. People turn to alcohol to reduce anxiety because it can dull anxiety away, but in reality, it makes anxiety worse because it replaces your mind's ability to cope with stress. But that is an extreme example. There is actually a single, common mistake that nearly everyone makes that causes anxiety to be worse.
Stop Just "Managing" Anxiety
Most people look for ways to just manage their anxiety - to get through each day with anxiety affecting them as little as possible. But why manage anxiety when you can cure it? Take my anxiety test to find out how to directly stop anxiety forever.
The Most Common Anxiety Mistakes
There are so many mistakes that people make with their anxiety. Many people with panic disorder drink lots of coffee, for example, and coffee can make panic attacks worse. Others try to breathe in more when they're hyperventilating (because hyperventilation makes you feel as though you're not getting a full breath) but that makes hyperventilation worse. To learn more about your own anxiety and its severity, take our free 7-minute anxiety test.
But by far the most common mistake that people make with anxiety is moping. In this case, moping is the idea that you need to "be alone." The idea that you need to go home after a tough day at work, do nothing but sit and think, and your stress and anxiety will magically get better.
The Problems With Moping
Moping - or some form of moping - is incredibly common. By moping, we do not mean taking a short time to recharge. Everyone needs some alone time once in a while. Spending a few hours to unwind at the end of a rough day is a great way to reduce stress.
No, in this case, "moping" is this idea that doing nothing is a solution to anxiety. It is the act of intentionally avoiding any life changes, feeling bad for yourself, and hoping that anxiety will go away.
Feeling like you need to sit and do nothing and that you will somehow feel better is a function of anxiety. Anxiety completely drains the body. It makes it hard to want to do much of anything. Anxiety makes you feel like you want to be alone, and that that the best strategy to get rid of it is to "veg out" until you feel better.
Unfortunately, this is a common mistake that has the potential to make your anxiety much worse. Ideally, you need to stay active. You need to be surrounded by friends and try your best to get out there. You need to exercise and have new experiences. Avoiding those experiences because you want to cope with your anxiety alone causes several issues that make anxiety worse:
- Inactivity Easily the biggest problem is inactivity. Exercise and staying physically active and moving are essential for not only physical health but mental health as well. Movement and exercise improve hormone function and neurotransmitter production and drain the body of excess energy that would otherwise cause the mind and body to become more stressed. Moving and staying active in general is crucial to anxiety management, and inactivity from moping makes that much more difficult.
- Uncontrolled Thoughts Anxiety changes the way you think, and unfortunately that often means that your thoughts are your worst enemy. Many people don't realize that anxiety and anxiety attacks are often caused by letting yourself sit and think because the mind eventually starts thinking about negative things. Staying active gives your mind distractions, and distractions provide you with a mental break that can reduce future anxiety symptoms.
- "Giving In" There is a behavioral reason to avoid moping too. Namely, it essentially lets your anxiety win and controls the way that you react in the future. If you often keep to yourself when you have anxiety, then every time you have significant anxiety your body's reaction is to want to you give in again. It becomes your coping mechanism and makes it harder to stop moping in the future.
- Social Need Being around people that you like and make you happy is an important tool for combatting anxiety. Obviously those with social anxiety disorder are at a bit of a disadvantage here, but in general, if you can spend time with people and talk to others, you're more likely to find life more enjoyable, and the more you enjoy your life the easier it will be to treat your anxiety.
- Happy Memories Finally, anxiety itself makes you focus too much on the present. One of the strategies to help reduce anxiety is goal setting, specifically because it gives you something to look forward to in the future. Staying active with enjoyable activities provides hope, and hope is important for committing to anxiety treatments.
How you react to anxiety does matter. It can be hard to control, but it matters. Those that push themselves through and try to stay active and distract their mind from these negative thoughts aren't going to cure their anxiety because anxiety isn't that simple to solve. But they may find that when they finally commit to an anxiety treatment, they're more likely to see the results because they've put themselves in a position where their anxiety isn't able to control them.
Moping behaviors are not the only mistake people make with anxiety, and it may not even be the worst. But it is a widespread reaction to anxiety and stress and one that needs to be stopped to continue to control anxiety.
Does Alcohol Make Anxiety Worse?
Moping is easily one of the most common and easy to ignore mistakes that makes anxiety worse. But it is not the only one. For example, many people find that they feel "calmer" and more relaxed when they drink alcohol. But alcohol only numbs you to anxiety in the moment, rather than providing any type of cure.
Because alcohol numbs anxiety, it also weakens your stress coping ability. Your mind expects alcohol to be the tool you use to take it away, and you become less likely to be able to reduce anxiety without it. Because alcohol also causes illness, dehydration, poor decision making and sleeplessness, it ends up creating more anxiety than it helped.
Does Coffee Make Anxiety Worse?
In addition, sometimes the mistake that people make is not listening to what they need. Take coffee, for example. It is a myth that small doses of coffee cause anxiety, and there is even some evidence that moderate coffee drinking can reduce anxiety. So why would coffee be an anxiety mistake?
Because some people find that coffee leads to a faster heartbeat which is a panic attack trigger. Others find themselves dehydrated, because coffee is a diuretic, and they do not drink enough water as a result. Still others stay up too late because they drink coffee late at night and fail to get sleep.
The coffee itself was not the mistake. But not recognizing how coffee - or any behavior - can contribute to anxiety is a mistake. A little bit of personal awareness and the willingness to change could have made it easier to control anxiety symptoms.
Other Anxiety Mistakes
Anxiety mistakes occur nearly every day. It can be hard enough to control anxiety even with the most effective treatment, so when mistakes occur, it can make it challenging to reduce your anxiety - especially without any help. Examples of other common anxiety mistakes include:
- Listening to negative/moping music, rather than upbeat and happy music.
- Purposely subjecting yourself to anxious and stressful situations, like horror movies.
- Spending time with people that are frequently negative.
- Taking medications without combining them with a long-term treatment.
- Quitting an anxiety reduction strategy when it doesn't work right away.
The list of anxiety mistakes is incredibly long because anxiety causes people to focus on far too many negative feelings and emotions that get in the way of better decision making.
I've helped thousands of people making anxiety mistakes every day. I start them all off with my free 7-minute anxiety test. It's a test designed to carefully look at your anxiety, teach you more about it, and direct you to appropriate treatments.
So if you have anxiety, start the test right now.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Jun 26, 2018.