Anxiety is a common human experience. It’s a natural response to stress and danger, helping us stay alert and respond to threats. However, anxiety can wreak havoc on our lives when it becomes a habit. It’s like a constant background noise that prevents us from fully enjoying the present moment. Breaking the habit of anxiety can be challenging, but there are methods that can help unravel it.
Understanding the Habit of Anxiety
The Brain’s Role:
Our brains are wired to learn from experience. When we encounter a stressful situation and feel anxious, our brains remember this response. Over time, this can become a habit. Our brains associate everyday situations with anxiety, even when there’s no real threat. This learned response is the foundation of anxiety as a habit.
Anxiety can also become a habit because it often provides a short-term sense of control or relief. When anxious thoughts arise, we might engage in certain behaviors (like avoidance or checking) that temporarily reduce our anxiety. This reinforces the habit, as we’ve learned that anxiety leads to these coping behaviors.
Our thoughts play a significant role in anxiety becoming a habit. Negative thought patterns, such as catastrophizing or overgeneralizing, can contribute to persistent anxiety. When we consistently think in anxious ways, it becomes our default mental mode.
The first step in breaking the habit of anxiety is self-awareness. Recognize when you’re feeling anxious and what triggers your anxiety. Journaling can be a powerful tool for tracking your thoughts and emotions.
Challenge Negative Thoughts:
Once you’re aware of your anxious thoughts, challenge them. Ask yourself if they are based on evidence or assumptions. Often, anxious thoughts are irrational and unfounded. Learning to reframe these thoughts can significantly reduce anxiety.
Mindfulness techniques and meditation can help you stay present and break the cycle of anxious thoughts. These practices teach you to observe your thoughts without judgment, reducing their power over you.
If avoidance is a common coping mechanism for you, consider gradual exposure. Facing your fears in small, manageable steps can help you build confidence and reduce anxiety over time.
Replace unhealthy coping mechanisms with healthier ones. This might involve exercise, relaxation techniques, or talking to a therapist. The goal is to find strategies that help you manage anxiety without reinforcing the habit.
Breath Practice to Regulate the Nervous System:
Targeted conscious breath practices help signal the nervous system that it is safe. You can break the habit of anxiety by incorporating a regular conscious breath practice into your daily life.
Sometimes, breaking the habit of anxiety requires professional assistance. Therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can be highly effective in addressing the underlying causes of anxiety and teaching new coping skills.
The Importance of Patience and Persistence
Rewiring the habit of anxiety is not an overnight process. It requires patience and persistence. Just as anxiety develops gradually, so will the habit of managing and reducing it. Here are a few tips for staying on course:
Set Realistic Goals:
Don’t expect to eliminate anxiety. Instead, aim to reduce its impact on your life gradually.
Celebrate Small Wins:
Each time you successfully manage anxiety, no matter how small the victory, celebrate it. Positive reinforcement can be a powerful motivator.
Don’t be afraid to lean on friends, family, or support groups. Sharing your struggles can be therapeutic and remind you that you’re not alone.
Consistency is key to breaking any habit. Stick to your self-help techniques and therapy appointments, even when challenging.
Anxiety as a habit is a tough cycle to break, but it’s entirely possible with the right strategies and mindset. Remember that anxiety is a learned response; just as it was learned, it can be unlearned. Through self-awareness, challenging negative thoughts, mindfulness, and seeking professional help, you can control your anxiety and lead a more peaceful and fulfilling life. Breaking the habit of anxiety is an investment in your mental and emotional well-being, and it pays off with time and effort. So, take that first step today towards a happier, anxiety-free future.
Join Elizabeth Kipp for her evergreen course “Heal. Here. Now. Mindfulness & Trauma Recovery” here.