HEALTHAGENDA

Mental Health

6 daily habits that can make your anxiety worse

Are you your own worst enemy when it comes to stress? We asked experts to pinpoint the common daily activities that can impact your mental health and cause anxiety.

Larissa Ham
September 2019

If you find yourself regularly feeling anxious, you’re not alone. More than two million Australians experience anxiety every year, with ongoing feelings of tension, distress or nervousness. But there’s plenty you can do to minimise those anxious feelings.

1. IS YOUR MOBILE PHONE CAUSING YOU ANXIETY?

Many of us are guilty of spending too many hours glued to our mobile phones, which, depending on the person, can lead to anxiety, says psychologist Dr Jo Mitchell.

“It’s not so much being on the device,” she says, “but it’s the process that starts off in your own mind, which is often social comparison...and usually feeling like we’re coming up short.”

Mobile phones can also expose us to large amounts of bad news, giving the perception the world is in a state of chaos – and setting off an anxiety response, says Dr Mitchell. She suggests becoming aware of your phone usage and asking yourself: “Is this actually helping me to feel calm, focused, clear? Or can I feel agitation or anxiety building up?” Set healthy boundaries with your devices and screen time to reduce stress.

2. HOW TO NOT STRESS ABOUT WORK AT HOME

Working hard is one thing. But dwelling on work after hours can cause anxiety, says Dr Mitchell.

“A lot of the cause of our anxiety is our perception – what we’re thinking about, rather than what’s actually happening, and the body can’t tell the difference."

To combat anxiety, give yourself time for rest, leisure and fun, says Dr Mitchell. When you’re not working, try relaxing activities such as cooking, listening to music or meditating.

3. HAVING FRIENDSHIP PROBLEMS? HOW DO YOU SOLVE THEM?

Relationships with friends and family can bring great happiness and contentment. But relationship difficulties can also be a major cause of anxiety.

Dr Mitchell says we often take our relationships for granted. And in times of conflict, we assume the other person is the problem – but we must take responsibility for the quality of our relationships.

“If [the relationship is] not where you want it to be, slow down, work out where the issue might be and what you might have influence over,” she says.

Aside from dedicating time to listen to the people in your life, Dr Mitchell suggests considering the types of relationships you want. She says if someone is constantly putting you down or draining your energy, it’s best to limit your exposure to those people.

4. WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF NOT EXERCISING REGULARLY?

We all know exercise is good for us, and countless studies back it up. So why can it be so hard to get moving?

One reason could be that, “...we want an immediate feeling of wellbeing that exercise may not provide straightaway unless you get into a nice routine”, says psychologist Christine Bagley-Jones.

One tip is to start small and exercise with a friend or in a group to stay accountable, she says. “Secondly, choose something you already know you enjoy, and that’s a head start.”

5. DO YOU DRINK TOO MUCH ALCOHOL?

Having a few drinks may seem like a sure-fire way to relax, but this feeling is only temporary, says Bagley-Jones.

If you’re drinking to excess, “...you wake up the next day and all of your concerns and the things that made you feel negative, unhappy or anxious usually remain, except now you’re operating at a lower ebb”, and with reduced energy.

Plus, your body is dealing with sugar withdrawals and dehydration – and perhaps a side serve of guilt if you have any regrets from the night before, says Bagley-Jones.

While alcohol won’t be problematic for everyone, she says the bigger concern might be what’s behind the drinking.

If you think you may be drinking too much, “...then know that you can get help and that these things are resolvable”, she says.

The National Health and Medical Research Council's Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol 2009 says drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces your risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime. Find support and learn about the size of a standard drink at DrinkWise.

6. HOW CAN YOU SLEEP WITH ANXIETY?

A sleepless night doesn’t set you up for an easy day. “Sleep deprivation is a huge contributor to anxiety,” says Bagley-Jones. “In fact, it’s a chicken and egg thing, because when you’re not sleeping, you’re getting anxious, and often anxiety itself causes insomnia.

“It totally compromises your ability for lucid, objective, rational thought, and it’s usually the irrational thoughts that perpetuate anxious experiences.”

Routine can help you form a better sleeping pattern. Studies suggest that when you have irregular habits before sleep, the quality and length of sleep may be reduced.

Try to go to bed at the same time each night. Avoid devices and screens an hour before bed and instead take a relaxing bath or shower or read.

So, when you feel anxiety creeping into your life, work through these six steps to help minimise these possible anxiety-inducing habits.

If you have ongoing anxiety and need help, call beyondblue on 1300 224 636 or visit beyondblue.org.au

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