Young adult woman sitting down with cell phone in hand depicting anxiety habits that make anxiety worse

Anxiety Habits That Make Anxiety Worse

Anxiety habits that make anxiety worse are not always clear and obvious. More often than not, we do things that we truly believe will lessen the discomfort that anxiety brings.

While well intentioned, some behaviors to mitigate anxiety and stress are not as helpful as we hope or initially think. They may actually have the opposite effect.

This is why it is important to identify common anxiety habits and replace them with more effective and beneficial strategies.

What are Anxiety Habits?

Habits are behaviors that are consistently and routinely practiced overtime. The more you do the behavior, the more it becomes a customary and usual part of your day. 

The routine behaviors you develop and currently use to manage anxiety can be considered habits. The purpose of the action is to cope with and find relief from anxiety symptoms.

In and of themselves, anxiety habits are not good or bad. Instead, they can be considered as helpful or unhelpful, effective or ineffective, healthy or unhealthy. It depends on the outcome and how they make you feel. 

Below are some examples of anxiety habits that have a tendency to maintain and aggravate symptoms. Being aware of what are some nervous habits you might be doing, allows you the opportunity to consider making changes. 

The best part about habits is that we learn and unlearn them. You can always kick unhelpful anxious habits to the side and switch to ones that improve wellbeing!

Anxiety Habits that Make Anxiety Worse

Reassurance Seeking

Most all reassurance seeking behaviors are precipitated by a need to feel better when dealing with anxiety, uncertainty, or stressful situations.

Common ways to seek reassurance from others include: asking questions, looking for advice, approval, praise, and other information to help self-soothe or cope. Consistently seeking reassurance from others can be a problematic anxiety habit for a variety of reasons:

It can lower self-confidence and create dependence on others to help you regulate your inner emotions. You may find yourself second guessing your ability to cope with stressful moments and this can inadvertently increase anxiety.

You can also experience increased confusion and indecision if the advice doesn’t align with your own personal values system. Moreover, the advice and reassurance may work for others but won’t reduce your anxiety for your specific situation.

Most importantly, consistent reassurance seeking prevents you from learning to evaluate and practice effective coping strategies. Managing anxiety symptoms requires the real-life practice and use of skills in order to get out of anxious mind states. 

Allowing yourself to use different relaxation and coping techniques is the only way to learn which ones are specifically effective for you. Everyone is unique. You need to find what is most healthy and helpful for you.

When used too frequently, reassurance seeking behaviors become anxiety habits that make anxiety worse. It’s beneficial to have a balance of using your support system and also using healthy coping skills.  


A young adult woman running outside could be part of anxiety habits to avoid

When thinking what are some nervous habits that prolong anxiety, avoidance comes top of mind. Everyone avoids things that are unpleasant, uncomfortable, and/or harmful.

It is how humans survive and thrive. While a natural and protective coping strategy, avoidance behaviors in the long run will maintain anxiety symptoms.

This is because what we avoid has a tendency to persist and sometimes increase in strength. Putting off the inevitable leaves more time for the brain to entertain negative thoughts and feelings.

It leads to more anxiety, fears, and worrying because you are living in the worst case scenarios of your mind. It can make you feel stuck, unsure, and insecure.

One way to combat avoidance is to learn new ways to handle and work through the stress. Rather than avoiding, empower yourself to create a helpful action plan of what to do when you feel anxious.

Some ideas include utilizing relaxation practices. These include: visualization techniques such as imagining everything going well, using positive coping statements and affirmations, practicing deep breathing techniques. 

The intention is still to do the things that you fear, while also using something to help lessen the anxiety. Eventually, the things we fear become smaller and more manageable. But, this is only the case when we confront them.

Doom Scrolling

Doom scrolling is becoming one of the common anxiety habits that make anxiety worse. As technology continues modernizing, we are bombarded with news and articles about the ongoings of the world. 

Naturally, in order to make sense of and understand what is happening, people turn to their desired media source. Before long, whether intentional or unintentional, anyone can get caught up in doomscrolling.

Doom scrolling involves searching, reading and consuming negative information through social media, news feeds, and other internet or communication outlets. 

The goal is often to gain information to help ease stress and anxiety. The idea is that the more you know, the better prepared you are to face life’s ever-changing events. 

But, this is a tricky line of thinking because life is full of uncertainties and gray areas. Filling the brain with information doesn’t necessarily lead to less anxiety. 

In fact, reading content containing negative, sensitive, or traumatic information will most often have a harmful impact on mental health. The effects of consuming this information can deregulate your emotions, affect sleep, and cause other lifestyle disturbances. 

A woman holding her chest as doom scrolling has become part of anxiety habits and her reaction is anxious

In the end, doom scrolling can increase worrying, anxiety, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, fear, and sadness. So, what can you do about this?

First, try to be aware of when you are getting sucked into the vortex of information seeking.

Disconnect from the media and remove real-time notifications from your phone and computer to make clicking less tempting. 

Plan to consolidate the news you consume. Only watch, read, or listen to news one time a day and only for a limited amount of time. Another strategy is to balance watching positive stories and videos as well. 

Remember that there are many beautiful and amazing things in the world. Switch your attention to something more positive and lighthearted.  

Consuming Too Much Social Media

Much of what is portrayed on social media is not able to be properly filtered, controlled, or fact-checked. There are public comments and private messages, likes and dislikes, altered pictures, and social feeds to navigate through.

You can mistakenly stumble upon content that will activate an anxiety response or trigger a change in your mood. If you are already feeling a heightened sense of nervousness or sensitivity, social media use can magnify these sensations.

This can mean more worry, less confidence, increased feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, rejection, harsh self-judgment, etc. In fact, scientific research studies are finding correlations between social media use and negative effects on overall mental health.

Therefore, consuming too much social media is among the anxiety habits that makes anxiety worse. One way to manage anxiety is to observe the frequency, quantity, and quality of social media content you are watching. 

How is it making you feel? Is it changing how you feel about yourself? How does it impact your mood? Is it impacting relationships with other people in your life?

Take a break or reduce your time spent on social media. Find other activities to interweave into your day to give yourself some needed rest. 

This doesn’t mean you need to disconnect from your friends and social world. Consider reaching out to your friends via text or setting up a time to meet in person. Find new ways to connect.

Overthinking and Rumination

The anxious habits of rumination and overthinking are very commonly experienced by people with anxiety disorders and/or depression. The action of overthinking is sometimes so familiar, it is hard to recognize when it is happening. 

When we overthink and ruminate, we basically rehash the same scenario in our brain over and over again. This is the brain’s way of trying to make sense of something it feels uncertain or uneasy about.

The challenge with overthinking is that thinking more and more does not always lead to a better or different solution. We often just keep arriving at the same answer and conclusion to the issue. And unfortunately, not everything in life has a tangible solution. 

Rather than being helpful, rumination distracts from accepting and working through life’s uncertainties. Sometimes, we have to find ways of coping and moving on from the things that worry us. 

Instead, the next time you find yourself overthinking, recognize it as an anxiety habit that makes anxiety worse. As a first step, become aware that you are caught up in a cycle of worrying and overthinking.

Practice limiting or completely stopping the overthinking process. You can imagine this as switching the channel on the television. Just as you don’t tune into shows that you don’t enjoy, practice tuning your mind away from negative, recurring thoughts.

Staying in Your Comfort Zone or Safety Net

Young adult woman sitting by the window with a cup in her hand. She may be doing nervous habits and anxiety habit of staying in her comfort zone.

Trying new things and making life changes can stir up feelings of fear and anxiety. The workaround is often to stay in your comfort zone and stick with what you already know.

Playing it safe does have temporary benefits such as keeping you away from harm and feelings of discomfort. This is why it is a common anxiety habit.

But, in the long run, staying in your comfort zone reinforces anxiety. This is because the mind gets stuck in the “what if…” possibilities and imagines worst case scenarios. If the mind is focused on what can go wrong, it will naturally lead you to stay within your safety net. 

For example, fear of flying keeps many people away from fun vacation trips. Fear of failure keeps people from working through important life challenges and building confidence and self-esteem. 

Anxiety to meet new people prevents opportunities to build meaningful relationships. In order to let go of anxiety, the mind needs to be flexible and open to a mix of different experiences. Both positive and negative. 

We need to explore and find out what will happen in a real life scenario. Not just the imagined worst case scenario that plays on repeat in the mind.

Many rewarding things in life come only after we allow ourselves a chance to try them. Imagine the rewarding and positive aspects of trying things that challenge you. What positive outcomes will you experience?

Choosing to stick with what you know and rarely venturing to make changes is an anxiety habit that makes anxiety worse.

Stay positive and cast away doubts. Put yourself out there because you never know what will happen until you try! 

Getting Stuck in the Comparison Trap

What are some nervous habits that make anxiety worse? Surely on many people’s list is the comparison trap!

Comparing ourselves to others is a natural way to gauge our own performance and behaviors. It is natural to look around at our peers for information on whether or not we are meeting social expectations and goals.

Young toddler girl holding a toy camera. Reflects anxious habits

For example, American society values certain milestones such as getting a driver’s license, getting a first job or new home, having a baby, etc.

It can be exciting if everything works out exactly as planned. However, this gets complicated when things don’t smoothly and expectedly.

Maybe the milestone you hoped to reach at a certain time or age never happened. This can lead to natural feelings of anxiety, concern, disappointment, loneliness, and overwhelm. You can feel stuck and not proud of where you are during your current life circumstances.

It is easy to fall into the comparison trap, comparing and judging ourselves to be falling short of societal norms and rules. In truth, we can certainly look at just about anything for which to compare ourselves to.

Examples include, physical appearance, financial status, marital status, parenting status, education level, health and fitness, etc. You name it, we can judge it, and compare it. But keep in mind, that comparing is the thief of joy and is a habit that makes anxiety worse.

If you are stuck in the comparison trap, remind yourself of the positive attributes you possess. Let go of using other people as a benchmark for your success and value. Follow what you desire and keep working on your individual, personal dreams.

Putting Off Self-Care

Self-care involves taking care of the emotional, mental, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, and vocational aspects of our lives.

Tending to our needs in all of these areas helps to restore, re-energize, and find balance in the day to day. Putting off self-care and waiting until we have enough time are anxiety habits that make anxiety worse.

Busy schedules, daily responsibilities and routines make it difficult to find the time to do things that nurture us. Moreover, anxiety symptoms such as difficulty with concentration, nervousness, and fatigue can distract from making self-care a priority.

While understandable, putting off self-care leaves room for stress, frustration, and burnout to build up tolerance in our mind. 

Think about what happens to a cell phone when it loses its charge. It stops functioning! Keeping anxiety symptoms at bay involves calming, relaxing, and re-invigorating your mind, body and spirit.

Engage in self-care activities in order to reduce anxiety and lessen the impact on your day. If you aren’t sure what you like, take time to think about activities that you enjoy doing. Identify what helps you feel good and try to do more of it.

See if you notice a difference in how you feel. Maintaining wellness is helpful in managing overall stress and anxiety.

Inconsistent Sleep

Getting adequate sleep is necessary for a healthy mind and body. Following a consistent and routine sleep schedule is beneficial to reducing many mental health issues such as anxiety.

If you are getting too little sleep or too much sleep, you may feel more tired and struggle with concentration throughout the day. Lack of proper sleep also limits one’s capacity to tolerate and manage worrying, irritability, restlessness, and other anxiety symptoms. 

Uncontrolled anxiety symptoms are associated with sleep issues and interruptions, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep. Many people may also experience fear of going to sleep or worrying about not getting enough sleep. 

If you currently have inconsistent sleep patterns, try to first assess where you can make changes. Start to keep a sleep diary. Monitor what time you go to bed, fall asleep, and wake up. 

Keep track of activities that can affect sleep quality. For example, electronic use, stressful activities and conversations, heavy meals and excessive water intake, daytime naps.

Then consider what you can add or eliminate from your current activities in order to enhance the opportunity for better sleep. Getting consistent, quality, sleep is a helpful tool to add to your anxiety fighting toolbox.

Poor Eating and Nutrition

The medical research community continually cites and promotes the importance of a nutritional and balanced diet for overall health. This includes mental wellness. 

Sometimes despite good efforts, it is possible to slide into a pattern of poor eating. Grab and go lunches, fast food, dining out, and consuming sugary and caffeinated items somehow end up on the menu. 

Forgetting to monitor what we eat is also common when anxiety, stress and feelings of overwhelm take over. This can look like eating too little or too much, skipping meals, or not have a consistent meal schedule.

Notice which food choices help you to feel better and which ones don’t. Some foods actually increase anxiety because of the ingredients they contain. For example, caffeine is a popular ingredient in many favorite foods.

Cup of hot coffee with steam and coffee beans on the table.

Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, espresso, tea, chocolate, soda, energy drinks, and supplements. Everyone tolerates caffeine differently.

For some, consuming just a small amount of caffeine can have effects of feeling jittery, restlessness, and sensation of panic and nervousness.

Making overall healthy choices is important and goes a long way in the management of anxiety symptoms. Therefore, it is important to monitor caffeine intake as well as other foods that can affect the body.

Follow up regularly with your primary care doctor regarding your personal health needs. The need for certain vitamins, nutrients, and calories may change over the course of the lifespan. Your doctor can help you choose the best nutritional plan to follow.

Delaying Important Tasks – Procrastination

Procrastination is a behavior that can become an anxious habit if you consistently and continually put off important tasks. Knowing you have to do something but aren’t doing it occupies space in the brain.

Anxiety increases every time you think about how you haven’t done that thing! Delaying and procrastinating is just another form of avoidance behavior. It is something that is uncomfortable. 

The next time you find yourself delaying, check in with yourself to understand what it is that you are avoiding. Is this something you can easily tackle or need support with?

It can be helpful to select a specific day and time on which you intend to start the delayed task. Break the task into smaller, more manageable tasks and check off each one as you go.

Making just a little bit of progress can help reduce anxiety and overthinking associated with it. Before you know it, that thing will be off your to-do list!

Get Help with Letting Go of Anxiety Habits that Make Anxiety Worse

Mental health counseling is a helpful resource in managing anxiety symptoms and making life changes. If you live in New York State and are seeking therapy or counseling for anxiety, schedule an appointment to get started.

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