Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life. It may be early on and simple like anxiety about a quiz or it may be more complex like anxiety about leaving the house. No matter what your anxiety stems from, it is likely you develop behaviors to help you ease or avoid the discomfort associated with your anxiety.
Sometimes these behaviors are good ways to handle your anxious feelings, but other times, they prevent you from overcoming your anxiety. If you find yourself experiencing anxiety and notice you have developed behaviors that keep you from living the life you want to live, you can find alternatives.
If you want to change your behavior, it is important to understand anxiety and the role it plays in your life. Next, you need to identify the behaviors that you want to change. Finally, you can develop new behaviors that replace those that are not serving you well.
Understanding your anxiety.
Anxiety is complex and can manifest in different ways in people’s lives. Sometimes it even looks different in your life based on factors like your age, the type of situation involved, or the season of your life. A professional counselor is one of the best resources available to help you understand your unique anxiety and the role it plays in your life.
Anxiety is typically connected to worry. The American Psychological Association (APA) explains, “Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” According to the APA, anxiety is not a one-time situation. Instead, it is often a reoccurring situation. Common physical symptoms include:
- Rapid heartbeat.
- Elevated blood pressure.
The APA further explains that “Anxiety is not the same as fear, but they are often used interchangeably. Anxiety is considered a future-oriented, long-acting response broadly focused on a diffuse threat, whereas fear is an appropriate, present-oriented, and short-lived response to a clearly identifiable and specific threat.”
Consider your experiences and how anxiety plays a role in your life. The persistent areas of uncertainty and worry in your life may be anxiety. These feelings can lead you to alter your behaviors to avoid the feelings or to change them, so they are more manageable. While it can be beneficial to do this, sometimes the behaviors people choose do not serve them well.
Identifying anxious behaviors.
When you feel anxious or experience anxiety in your life, you may alter your behavior in different ways. Sometimes these are small changes to help you navigate the immediate reaction to how you feel. Other times, these behaviors cause more change in your life for longer periods. These can impact daily living, relationships, career, education, and faith.
Consider the following common behaviors or habits people turn to as they navigate their anxiety. Look at each one and ask the following questions:
- Do I recognize this behavior in my life?
- How is it impacting my life? Is it serving me well?
- What could I do instead that would serve me better?
These behaviors are not all bad. However, if they are not serving you well, if they prevent you from living a full life, rooted in faith and security, you may want to consider alternatives.
Going to the bathroom a lot.
If you find yourself heading to the bathroom frequently, consider why. “Anxiety-producing events can trigger digestive issues, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea. This is because your gut and your brain are linked. Anxiety poop is your body’s reaction to extreme stress.” (Elizabeth Harris)
Sometimes people use the bathroom as an escape from the situation they are in. It can be a way to distance themselves from whatever is causing them anxiety. For example, a student may ask to go to the bathroom before a test or a person may always find themselves heading to the bathroom in the middle of a meeting at work.
Whatever the reason, you can find some relief. While giving yourself space when you need it is good behavior, you may want to reduce how often you need to escape to the bathroom.
Try to implement relaxation techniques. Instead of going to the bathroom or on your way there, practice deep breathing, a short prayer, walking up a few flights of stairs, or note how you feel (i.e., I am anxious about this meeting.) Sometimes these techniques can help you find the relief you need, and you will find you don’t need to head to the bathroom as often.
Forgetting important events.
Anxiety is often a consuming feeling. When you feel anxious, it is often more than a simple, fleeting feeling. Instead, you can find that it takes up your thoughts throughout the day, often resulting in forgetting other things like appointments or events. This is simply because your brain is consumed with the anxiety you feel.
Anxiety has a way of pushing out other things in your mind. Instead of having space for important ideas, anxiety takes over and you forget things like doctor’s appointments, meetings, birthdays, holidays, and dates. This can lead to embarrassment, shame, or frustration, especially as you deal with the ramifications of missing important things.
If you find yourself forgetting important events, meetings, or dates due to anxiety, try a two-fold approach.
First, use technology to your advantage. Set up audible reminders like alarms and notifications for appointments or important events. It can be helpful to set up a reminder for the day or the hour before as well as when you need to leave. This gives you two opportunities to remember and get to where you need to be.
Second, get support. When anxiety is pushing important events out of your mind, you may need help figuring out how to solve this problem. You may not have the mental space to navigate it on your own. A trusted friend, a loved one, or a professional counselor can help you formulate a plan for how to do this. They can also provide accountability to help you.
Zoning out when someone is talking to you.
With so much on your mind, it is easy to understand why you might lose track of a conversation when someone is talking to you. Recognizing this behavior can even cause additional anxiety. For example, if you zone out during a conversation and notice what you did, then you may find yourself worrying that you will do the same thing again. This worry can cause you to miss what the person is saying, creating a vicious cycle.
If you notice that you are zoning out or losing track of what someone is saying, you can try to be intentional about your awareness during the conversation. These are a few ways you can try to stay focused:
- Silently repeat the words back in your head as a person talks.
- Ask clarifying questions to stay present in the conversation.
- Be honest and tell the person you are having a hard time focusing.
- Ask the person to slow down or repeat themselves.
- Confirm you heard important details by repeating them at the end of the conversation.
As you work on staying present in your conversations, you may notice your anxiety decrease.
As you strive to make progress with your anxious behaviors, you don’t have to do it alone. Consider reaching out to a trained therapist in our office who can help.
We are here to help you understand your anxiety and develop healthy ways to handle it. If you are struggling with anxious thoughts or feelings, we can help you incorporate stress-reducing behaviors that can lessen your anxiety and the negative anxious behaviors associated with it.
Are you ready to have more positive behaviors in your life as you navigate your anxiety? Reach out to our office today. Simply call to set up a time to meet with me or one of the other counselors in our online directory. We are here to help.
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