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Unhealthy Ways We Deal With Anxiety

Anxiety/Stress Management

Anxiety is a common emotional response. We all experience anxiety to different degrees throughout our lives. The workplace, personal relationships, and significant life changes can all trigger anxiety.

When anxiety flares up, it’s natural for us to seek ways to cope. Unfortunately, some of the approaches we turn to are counterproductive, leading to more anxiety, and negatively impacting our physical and emotional well-being.

Substance Abuse
Turning to drugs and alcohol is one of the most destructive coping mechanisms for anxiety. Substances may provide temporary relief, but they bring some dangerous baggage, often leading to addictions and other health problems. Additionally, the use of alcohol and other drugs can exacerbate anxiety in the short and long term. For example, many people wake up to worse anxiety symptoms the day after drinking. And while using substances allows you to escape from the triggers leading to the anxiety, those triggers are there waiting for you when you sober up.

Avoiding situations that trigger anxiety can provide short-term relief but actually reinforce the anxiety in the long term. Avoidance prevents us from confronting our fears, incorrectly teaching us that the anxious thought is correct. For example, people who are afraid to fly and don’t fly never experience any negative consequences of flying so the avoidance tells that it is safer to avoid flying. Unfortunately, avoidance interferes with doing things that would make life feel more meaningful. When we avoid, we also miss the opportunity to learn more healthy coping strategies for anxiety.

Overeating or Undereating
Changes in diet are often used as a means to cope with anxiety. Some suffering from anxiety overeat as a way of seeking comfort, while others may undereat to gain a sense of control. These behaviors can lead to physical health problems and worsen emotional distress, often leading to feelings of shame and guilt on top of the anxiety that is already there. Without healthy coping skills, this can lead to a vicious cycle of anxiety leading to over- or undereating leading to shame and guilt leading to anxiety, and so on.

Compulsive Behaviors
Engaging in compulsive behaviors – cleaning the house, organizing, binge-watching – can take our minds off our troubles and temporarily reduce anxiety. However, these behaviors consume a significant amount of time and tend to disrupt daily life, making the underlying anxiety worse and getting in the way of doing things that are important to us. When we get stuck in cleaning or streaming, we miss out on connecting with others and engaging in enjoyable activities and hobbies.

Aggressive Outbursts
It’s not uncommon for some of us to cope with anxiety through verbal or physical aggression, either directed towards ourselves or others. When we feel anxious and can’t change others or the circumstances, the anxiety can show up as anger in an attempt to exert change. Unfortunately, this can lead to strained relationships, putting our jobs at risk, and potentially legal consequences.

Excessive Technology Use
Overusing technology and social media can provide a temporary distraction from anxiety, but can contribute to social isolation and oftentimes promote feelings of inadequacy. As with other avoidance techniques, it helps you feel better in the moment but gets in the way of positive interactions with friends and family and healthy, fun activities.