Top Ten Ways to Make Your Anxiety Worse
In my capacity as an outpatient psyc
hologist for twenty-five years, I deal with the same eight conditions
over and over. The eighth and most common are anxiety disorders.
(The other seven are mood problems, children's behaviors,
ADHD and/or learning disorders, relationships issues,
low self-esteem, poor assertiveness and relationships).
Anxiety comes in many flavors. I classify anxiety
experiences into seven categories, the mildest being what I
call the worrisome personality (aka, the "grandmother syndrome"
characterized by light but chronic fretting). The worst
category is obsessive-compulsive disorder. In between are
things like generalized anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder
with anxiety, panic attacks, phobias and posttraumatic stress
disorder. In reality, just about any of the categories can
be the "worst" if the symptoms are severe.
In treating anxiety disorders, I've discovered that many
clients do things that make their conditions worse. I thought
it might be instructive to list them, even if in a tongue-in-cheek
style. Usually clients come to the office and present as being
very sincere, describing lots of anxiety symptoms. Most clients
want immediate relief from their symptoms and will do anything
do escape the pain of anxiety. However, unwittingly, many people
do a lot of other things that make their condition worse.
For reasons not altogether clear, clients shoot themselves in
the foot. Here are some of what they do.
#1: Use drugs. Drugs of any kind, prescription or otherwise,
including alcohol, nicotine or caffeine in any form. Should you
stop using drugs? Well, not if they are prescription. Consult
your doctor. However, make sure your doctor knows if anxiety is a
side effect of the drug(s) you are taking. Many doctors minimize
this or just plain don't know. Some drug interactions also cause
anxiety, even if individually they do not.
Should you stop drinking, smoking pot, or taking other
non-prescription drugs? Probably. None of these is good for you
even though their use is rampant at all levels of the population.
Virtually all of the non-prescription substances have the strong
potential of increasing anxiety, either during the active phase of
using, or afterwards (come down or rebound).
#2: De-compensate with sex. This is using too much of a good
thing, which usually spoils the good thing or develops a dependency.
#3: Change relationships. There are two areas in life that
change people the most--relationships and employment. Change either
and big psychological changes follow. While there are many times
when a change is indicated, make such a change with caution,
especially if you suffer from an anxiety disorder.
#4: Change jobs. See number three.
#5: Re-locate. Moving is an underrated stressor. On a scale
of ten, most people rate moving as a three or four. Wrong. The
farther you move, the higher up is moving on the scale. For most
people, moving is around a seven. Anything above four is annoying.
Anything above five is usually clinically significant.
#6: Withdraw and/or quit everything. The last thing you want
to do is abandon or separate from your support group. That is
usually friends, but can psychologically include hobbies or other
#7: Ignore medical conditions: Hyperthyroidism is a common
underlying medical condition underlying anxiety. Why? Because it
drives the metabolism into higher gears, which produce symptoms that
look like anxiety (tachycardia, sweating, weight loss, etc.).
Allergies cause anxiety in half the sufferers. These are two of a
zillion possible medical conditions. If you have an anxiety disorder,
first consult your physician and eliminate the physical causes.
#8: Stop exercising. Exercising is probably the best physical
remedy for anxiety. Of course, when anxious, many people want to
sleep more, because anxiety burns energy, which causes fatigue.
The logic is rest remedies fatigue. True, unless exercise does it
better. This is counterintuitive, but true.
#9: Change your diet. A lot of people go straight to the junk
food when they feel anxious. Food changes our moods (increases blood
sugars, raises endorphins), and the sugar and fats seem to do that the
fastest or longest, respectively. Unfortunately, the effects are
very short-lived and usually negative with respect to anxiety.
If we binge, we feel guilty afterwards (another form of anxiety),
usually gain weight, then have to de-compensate in other ways to lower
this new anxiety (see numbers one, two, six, seven and eight, above).
Plus, anxiety-based eating usually ups our intake of preservatives,
food colorings and other wonderful ingredients.
#10: Changing sleep habits. Don't. Sleep may be the biggest
factor in regulating moods, which are first cousins to anxiety.
Normalize sleep as fast as you can, preferably without drugs
(see your M.D. if you really need to, but...).