I have suffered with anxiety and panic attacks for many years now. In that time I have built up an awareness of what makes me feel better and worse. I have found that it was often the things I thought I was doing to help my anxiety that were in reality making it worse. It's likely that if you suffer with anxiety and panic attacks you have probably done, or are doing some of these unhelpful things too, thinking they are helping like I did. It might be a good idea to just tackle one that you know you are guilty of and see if stopping it makes a difference. If you don't have panic attacks or anxiety but do any of these things it's probably still a good idea to stop them, and see if they make a positive difference to your life too.
1. Trying too hard to force away anxious thoughts- When your head feels full to the brim of negative anxious thoughts it is very tempting to put all your mental strength into pushing them away. This sounds like a good idea but often makes the anxious thoughts return with a vengeance. This is known as 'thought suppression'. When someone tells you not to think of something, it suddenly becomes the only thing you want to think about. You might have played the impossible game at school with the one rule that if you think of 'the game' you lose- it's impossible to win! Trying to force away the thoughts that are causing you anxiety is often counter productive and makes them worse. Try to accept the thoughts and gently allow them to come and go instead whilst trying to keep yourself busy with a stimulating activity that you enjoy.
2. Avoiding all anxiety provoking environments and situations- If doing something or going somewhere causes you to feel very anxious or have a panic attack it makes sense to want to avoid it, you don't want to feel these things. The problem is that by avoiding them, you are reinforcing the idea that the situation is dangerous and should be feared. You should try to expose yourself to these situational triggers slowly, maybe ask someone you trust to come with you for support, but only at first, and then try it without them, slowly increasing exposure time.
3. Spending time with negative people- This doesn't necessarily mean avoiding people that make you anxious as that contradicts the previous point. But if you find yourself spending time with people that are always putting you down or talking about negative topics it could really do you and your anxiety some good to spend less time with these people.
4. Using unhealthy/illegal substances to cope- For about a year I used alcohol to cope with the difficulties I was facing. Short term, alcohol made my anxieties disappear and allowed me to enjoy life, without it I struggled more than ever and I developed a dependance. This dependance made me feel so much worse. If you find yourself using alcohol or another harmful substance to cope with your difficulties frequently it will almost certainly be making your anxiety and any other mental difficulties worse in the long run. If you have been doing this for a while you might need help to stop so I would advise getting help from a professional.
5. Keeping your worries to yourself- No matter what it is you're worried about, telling someone you trust and who has your best interests at heart will make you feel at least a bit better. It's so easy to keep your anxious thoughts to yourself if admitting them scares you or makes you feel ashamed but I promise, they usually sound worse outside your head than they seem inside. If you can't think of anyone right now to talk to, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org I'm happy to help.
How many of these do you find yourself doing? Which will you be making an effort to stop?
"Anxiety, I will transform you into something useful and productive. I will not bow down to you" -Jaeda Dewalt