Habits. We all have them, both good and bad. Yet the latter can be difficult to break because we may not be aware of them. Indeed, habits that are actually anxiety show up in small ways and are driven by triggers, stress, and day-to-day experiences. And what may seem like little quirks are maladaptive coping mechanisms that could negatively affect our lives.
10 Habits that Are Actually Anxiety
1. Biting your nails
Why: Many often bite their nails without knowing what they’re doing. It becomes subconscious and engrained as your way of coping with your anxiety. But consistently gnawing on your nails can lead to gastrointestinal problems and ruin your delicate nail beds.
How to cope: As always, identify your triggers (when, where, and why), and replace nail-biting by practicing a vagus nerve exercise for anxiety, such as hand reflexology. For example, apply pressure to the point below your wrist crease on your outer hand. When you feel the dent, massage the area for one minute, alternating between both hands.
2. Picking your scalp or playing with your hair
Why: It’s okay to occasionally sweep your fingers through your locks or play with your hair. But if you’re constantly picking at your scalp or pulling at your delicate strands, it could be a sign you’re using your hair as a soothing behavior to calm your nerves. In severe cases, it could be an anxiety disorder called trichotillomania, where you have compulsions to pull your hair.
How to cope: Bring attention to your hair-pulling habit and notice when and why you’re doing it. After increasing your awareness, practice self-soothing techniques to alleviate anxiety and carry sensory tools to replace the habit with healthier coping mechanism.
3. Frequently using the bathroom
Why: Did you know people who often experience anxiety find themselves using the toilet more frequently? It’s true. And while the frequent urge to urinate could be a sign of another underlying condition, experiencing stress causes your muscles to tense, applying pressure on your bladder.
How to cope: Address the source of your anxiety through self-reflection, like journaling and therapy, and limit the number of diuretics like coffee and alcohol. Consider energizing coffee alternatives and a mindful morning routine to jumpstart your energy.
4. Scrolling on social media
Why: Those with social anxiety or another form often use scrolling as a clutch. And while it may seem harmless, excessive scrolling can keep you trapped in the highlight reel, comparing your life to others, affecting your self-esteem, and not experiencing the present moment.
How to cope: The first step to overcoming anxiety is tackling the source one step at a time. If you have social anxiety, imagine scenarios that intensify it and role-play with a friend. Additionally, follow a few tips to take a social media break to improve your mental health.
Why: Many of us use food as a coping mechanism. However, ignoring your hunger cues and overeating to alleviate anxiety can cause health problems like diabetes, high cholesterol, and other implications.
How to cope: To prevent overeating, strengthen your mind-body connection by practicing how to become an intuitive eater. For example, honor your food by eating with your senses and meditating through the experience, and before each meal, ask yourself if you’re actually hungry or if emotion is driving the need.
6. Not sleeping
Why: Anxiety and sleep have a problematic relationship. For example, excess worry makes it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep, while sleep deprivation can worsen anxious thoughts, creating a vicious cycle. So, if you struggle to learn how to stop waking up at night, fall asleep, or stay asleep, these are indicators that anxiety or something else is affecting your sleep.
How to cope: Before bed, adopt a calming nighttime routine to transition between your wake and sleep cycles. For example, take a hot shower with your favorite lavender body wash and follow a guided meditation to prepare your mind for deep sleep.
7. Your day-to-day language
Why: Our internal language and how we perceive setbacks can pinpoint habits that are actually anxiety. For example, if you tend to believe the worst-case scenario will occur or have polarized thinking, you might say, “I’m worried XYZ will happen” or “This (insert difficulty) always happens.”
How to cope: To learn how to stop catastrophizing, observe your thought patterns, and challenge them. For example, ask yourself, “How often does the worst-case scenario occur?” and “Where is the evidence that supports my claim?” Asking these investigative questions will help you create space between your anxiety and the reality of the situation.
8. Constant fidgeting
Why: If you notice you frequently tap your foot, fidget with anything in your orbit, and generally struggle to sit still, it may not be attention hyperactive attention disorder. In fact, it could be anxiety.
How to cope: While fidgeting is often a harmless coping mechanism that alleviates anxiety, if you feel it’s negatively affecting your life, notice when you’re doing it. For example, maybe you fidget more in public and use it to cope with social anxiety. If so, take a deep breath and use a fidget toy to calm your nerves.
Why: Procrastination, the destroyer of productivity and amplifier of guilt, can be a sign of anxiety. For example, the desire to put off tasks can be a result of extreme overwhelm that leads to productivity paralysis.
How to cope: You’re always aware of this habit, but when it occurs, take a deep breath and practice a few self-compassion exercises. Then, time yourself for 20 minutes and work until the timer ends. How do you feel after? Do you feel less overwhelmed? You may notice your anxiety levels are lower, and you have more motivation to power through. Often, starting is half the battle.
10. Double checking
Why: While staying organized is always a good habit, creating multiple to-do lists and double-checking your work multiple times can be a sign you’re trying to relieve your anxiety through control. These compulsions can interfere with your ability to sleep, stay focused, remember important details, and stay grounded.
How to cope: It’s okay if you enjoy creating to-do lists, but beyond learning how to cope with work anxiety, if you feel severe anxiety at the thought of not double-checking things, it’s worth speaking with a therapist. They can help you identify triggers and maladaptive thought patterns and provide coping mechanisms to reduce the compulsions.
There you have it. Habits that are actually anxiety and how to cope. Remember, it’s certainly possible to break a habit, but it requires consistency, patience, and, of course, self-love. You got this!
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