Warning: Avoid These Top 10 Habits That Make Anxiety Worse

Top 10 Habits That Make Anxiety Worse

I once had a rosemary plant.

To ensure it got plenty of sunlight, I kept it in a pot on the patio. 

I watered it every day, so it wouldn’t be thirsty.

I used it for cooking and I also just loved looking at its beautiful, silvery green, needle-like leaves.

One day, I noticed that it was turning brown.

Thinking that it just needed more water, I gave it a good dousing and continued to water it even more than I had before.

To my surprise, it died.

Turns out, rosemary only needs to be watered about once a week.

Too much water drowns the roots and kills the plant.

I thought I was doing the right thing. But I was only making things worse.

Could you be doing the same when it comes to stress and anxiety?

Read on to find out!

Avoid these Top 10 Habits That Make Anxiety Worse:

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1.  Setting the Wrong Kind of Goals

setting the wrong kind of goals can make anxiety worse

Goal-setting can be tricky.

You don’t want to limit your potential to create a life you love by setting goals that are too small - this is a huge goal setting mistake

Thinking big is a key habit of highly successful people.  Because pursuing BIG Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAG) forces you to push past your comfort zone, which leads to BIG success.

“Everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.” -Robert Allen

But on the other hand, you want to set goals that are Attainable given your available resources. That’s why you need to chunk those Big goals down into smaller, more manageable tasks.

Before setting goals, you may need to simplify your life and declutter your mind with a brain dump to get clear on your priorities.

Perfectionism Makes Anxiety Worse

If you’re a dreamer, a high-achiever or a perfectionist, your lofty standards may be making your anxiety worse and causing you to feel overwhelmed.

Ask yourself why you are trying to reach a particular goal in life and if it meets the S.M.A.R.T. criteria: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based).

 👉  Related post: How to Reach Your Goals Without Getting Stressed Out*  👈

There is a connection between ambition and anxiety.

Especially when that ambition is focused on extrinsic goals like attaining wealth and power, rather than intrinsic goals like self-improvement and achieving your own definition of success.

That’s why it’s important to set goals that align with your purpose, not society’s or someone else’s.

If you’re setting unattainable, externally-driven goals then you're just feeding your anxiety and setting yourself up for failure.

2.  Constantly Checking Social Media

Studies show that social media is a major source of stress for many of us.

Constantly checking sites like Facebook is one of the most common habits that make anxiety worse.

It can also have a variety of negative effects on both your physical and mental health, including your:

  • Self-Esteem- Looking at glorified snapshots of other peoples’ lives can really take a toll on your self-esteem. According to University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study, people who use social media very frequently are 2.7 times more likely to suffer from depression.
  • Productivity- Time spent on social media is time not spent doing the things you need to get done! If you’re anything like me, you can get sucked down the Pinterest rabbit hole for hours. Then, you get all stressed out when you realize how much time you wasted and that you could have been getting a lot more done in less time.
  • Sleep- Using an electronic device before sleep interferes with your body’s ability to produce melatonin (the sleep hormone), making it difficult for you to fall asleep and leaving you feeling groggy the next day.
  • Isolation/Inactivity- When you are online instead of outside, you are missing out on opportunities to engage in activities that lessen anxiety such as exercising, going for a walk in nature and socializing with family and friends in person

If you're constantly checking your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, it might be time for a social media detox

Habits That Make Anxiety Worse #3. Eating the Wrong Foods 

eating the wrong foods makes anxiety worse

What you eat has an enormous effect on how you feel.

Certain anxiety-reducing foods boost feel-good chemicals (like seratonin), while others boost stress-inducing chemicals (like cortisol) in your body.

Notorious “comfort foods” like ice cream, potato chips and macaroni and cheese are foods that actually increase anxiety and will not make you happier in the long run. 

A study by researchers at the University of Montreal found that a diet rich in saturated fat causes not only anxiety, but also obesity, anxiety and depression.

Other studies indicate that excess saturated fat can lead to leaky gut and inflammatory bowel diseases. This causes anxiety because your gut communicates with your brain through the Gut-Brain Axis.

According to a nutritionist at What’s With Wheat, about 90 percent of serotonin (feel-good chemical) is produced in our gut.

Another food to avoid is sugar. It causes inflammation in the gut and the brain which triggers an anxiety-inducing immune response.

When you eventually crash from the sugar high, you may again experience symptoms of anxiety like shaking, tension, difficulty concentrating and fatigue.  

If you want to avoid eating habits that make your anxiety worse, stick to foods that contain:

-B-vitamins (avocados)
-folic acid
-magnesium (spinach)
-tryptophan and Omega-3 fatty acids
-zinc (nuts)
-probiotics (sauerkraut) and
-complex carbohydrates (beans).

4. Smoking Cigarettes 

Smokers think that smoking calms the nerves, but the truth is that smoking only relieves the nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

Smoking actually makes anxiety worse and can even cause anxiety to develop.

Studies have shown that not only are people with increased anxiety more likely to smoke, but also that smoking increases the risk of developing anxiety in the first place.

Cigarette smoke negatively affects the biological systems responsible for mood and anxiety disorders.

Smoking causes structural brain changes, weakened immune system, oxidative and nitrogen stress, mitochondrial dysfunction and epigenetic effects in pathogenesis. 

By now, everyone knows that smoking is bad for your health.

Continuing to smoke despite its known harmful effects can cause cognitive dissonance – an internal struggle with inconsistency that makes anxiety worse.  

Smokers also report feeling stressed about whether they’ll be able to quit “in time” before they get cancer or some other serious illness.

Fortunately, your body is extremely resilient, and many negative effects of smoking cigarettes can be reversed.

Many smokers who quit actually report feeling less anxious and depressed after only a few weeks of quitting.



Top 10 Habits That Make Anxiety Worse

5. Drinking Alcohol

drinking alcohol can make anxiety worse

Another “go-to” for many who are stressed or suffering from anxiety is alcohol.

But like cigarettes, regularly drinking alcohol is one of the habits that make your anxiety worse.

Sure, you feel better in the moment but when the alcohol wears off you may wind up feeling even more stressed.

Alcohol is a nervous system depressant that interferes with the serotonin levels in the brain (which can lead to increased anxiety and depression).

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), approximately 7 percent of Americans suffer from alcohol-induced anxiety. The effects of this form of anxiety can last several hours or even an entire day.

Drinking alcohol or having a hangover can actually cause you to have a panic attack.

This is because on a physiological level, you experience symptoms similar to those that come with anxiety... Like headaches, nausea, dehydration, dizziness, drop in blood sugar, difficulty concentrating and increased heart rate.

Although having a drink occasionally is generally safe, if you begin to rely on alcohol to cope with your anxiety, you’ll find that you need to drink more and more to get the same effect.

This increased tolerance can lead to a dangerous addiction and a decreased ability to cope with stress and anxiety in a healthy way.

After quitting for just a month, people report experiencing some serious benefits, including elevated mood, increased confidence, better concentration and improved sleep quality.

Coffee Makes Anxiety Worse

☕☕☕☕☕

Another seemingly harmless drink that can increase anxiety is coffee (more than 4 cups a day can be dangerous, according to the FDA). The chronic effects of caffeine on the brain are well-documented. Excessive caffeine consumption can even trigger caffeine-induced anxiety disorder in those who are susceptible to panic attacks and anxiety. And if you put sugar in your coffee, you’re actually creating an anxiety-inducing cocktail (caffeine + sucrose = stress).  


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Habits That Make Anxiety Worse #6: Not Getting Enough Sleep 

Sleep is essential for our well-being.

Yet, according to the National Sleep Foundation, many young adults (age 18-25) and adults (age 26-64) are not getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.

Whether sleep deprivation caused  anxiety or whether anxiety caused sleep deprivation is a topic of debate in neuroscientific research.

According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the answer is both. Anxiety can keep you up at night and sleep deprivation can trigger anxiety.

The study’s sleep deprived participants showed increased anticipatory anxiety – stressing about a future event – even when they did not have a preexisting anxiety disorder.

The study’s senior author says that those who have a preexisting anxiety disorder or who experience high levels of anxiety suffer the greatest harm from not getting enough sleep.

But insufficient sleep is harmful even for those who don’t suffer from anxiety. It also leads to impaired concentration, productivity and other cognitive processes.

If you have difficulty sleeping, put away all electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime. 

Instead, try reading a book or developing a bedtime routine like journaling, drinking Sleepytime tea or meditating.

7. Not Exercising 

not exercising can make anxiety worse

Regular exercise boosts self-esteem, improves sleep, increases energy, elevates cognitive function and reduces stress.

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine –natural feel-good chemicals.  

Exercise also allows your body to release pent up cortisol and other stress hormones that can only be expelled through physical activity.

Not providing an outlet for these stress hormones can make you feel stressed and anxious.

Studies show that just a 10-minute walk can relieve anxiety and depression.

And the results are long-lasting –one study found that those who engaged in regular exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years.

It can help to find an activity you enjoy, something that will take your mind off your worries.

I love going for walks outside. I find that it always lifts my mood, especially when the weather is nice (cold + sunny).

Yoga is another particularly helpful exercise for anxiety because it teaches us about mindfulness and living in the moment.

When you practice yoga, you focus on your body posture and on your breathing. This helps to calm your mind and body when you’re feeling anxious.

There is no space to be worried about what you did wrong in the past or what could go wrong in the future because you are living in the moment and focused on “now”.

8. Not Drinking Enough Water 

Drinking plenty of water is one of the easiest ways to reduce anxiety.

Studies show that even mild dehydration causes stress, confusion, tension and fatigue.

Dehydration interferes with the body’s normal processes because your brain and organs are not getting the water they need to function properly.

Drinking alcohol can cause you to become dehydrated quickly and is one of the most detrimental habits that make your anxiety worse.

It may take up to three times the amount of that drink in water for your body to process it!

So, if you drink a 12 ounce beer, you need to drink 36 ounces of water to flush it out.

Coffee is another cause of dehydration and it can also make your anxiety worse.

Drinking more than four or five cups of coffee a day increases stress hormones. It also inhibits GABA and serotonin (neurotransmitters that help regulate anxiety and mood).

It also leads to increased heart rate and other intensified symptoms of anxiety.

Aim to drink at least 10 cups of water a day (80 oz), but you may need to drink more depending on your weight and level of physical activity. Here’s a helpful calculator.

Habits that Make Anxiety Worse #9: Pretending 

pretending can make anxiety worse

When someone asks, “How are you?”, our automatic response is often, “Fine, thank you.”

We’ve become accustomed to pretending like everything is ok, even when it’s not.

Of course, you might not be comfortable disclosing your most intimate feelings with everyone you come across.

But even when it’s the people closest to us, we tend to put on a happy face because we don’t want to alarm them.

But, dealing with anxiety is exhausting. And constantly pretending is exhausting.

So, not only are you dealing with the physical and mental toll of anxiety but you’re also bearing the burden of concealing your true feelings.

Over time, living this sort of inauthentic life only makes anxiety much worse.

Secrets keep you sick.

Once those closest to you understand what you are going through, they can be your support system.

Sharing your story with a support group, either online or in person, can help you cope and gain perspective.

Others with similar experiences can provide you with insight, encouragement and inspiration.

Remember, approximately 40 million people in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder – you are not alone.

10. Blowing Things Out of Proportion

When you’re already upset about something or you’re feeling anxiety, there is a tendency to blow things out of proportion – a behavior psychologists call magnification and minimization.

Basically, you magnify the negative and minimize the positive. <--definitely habits that make anxiety worse. I’m guilty of this one!

Another tendency is to ruminate. 

Rumination is when you keep thinking about a negative experience or repeating negative thoughts over and over.

You might obsess over how you should have said this or you should have done that. You might incessantly create “what if” scenarios that never end well for you.

According to a psychologist and professor at Yale University, ruminating causes you to remember more negative things from the past. It also causes you to think negatively about the future.

That's because when you ruminate, you usually engage in over-generalization.

Over-generalization is when you let one experience dictate how you think future similar experiences will go. For example, your first business venture fails, and you think, “I’ll never be a successful entrepreneur!”

A good way to tell if you’re overgeneralizing is if your thought or statement includes the words “always” or “never”. This kind of negative thinking not only makes your anxiety worse, but it also shapes your reality and prevents you from reaching your goals.

“With our thoughts, we make our world.” -Buddha

Conclusion: Change the Habits That Make Your Anxiety Worse

I hope this post helped you to identify any habits that might be making your anxiety worse.

Replace habits that increase anxiety with stress-reducing habits like disconnecting from technology, going for a walk, eating a healthy diet, drinking lots of water and getting enough sleep.

Getting rid of old habits and establishing new ones can be difficult but it’s something that can certainly be done with a little grit and determination.

You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it. 


Over to you – what helps you to alleviate stress and anxiety? Tell me in the comments!



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Top 10 Habits That Are Making Your Anxiety Worse
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About the Author

Kalliope Archondis, JD, LLM. 👋Hi! I'm Kalli, lawyer turned freelance writer and founder of 3dsuccess.org, a personal development blog dedicated to helping you reach your goals and achieve your definition of success - without all the stress & anxiety. You can read more about me & 3D Success here.