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Anxiety as a manifestation of habit

Are you feeling anxious? We feel spells of anxiety sometimes when experiencing difficult events in our lives. A job loss, death or separation from loved ones, constant reason to worry about, or any other tough life events starts interfering with our ability to lead a normal life and make us restless and uncomfortable. If you are also going through the following, it might be the manifestation of the anxiety you are carrying inside.

  • Constant worry & nervousness
  • Disproportionate fear and insecurity
  • Negative and distorted thinking,  
  • Excessive tension,
  • Trouble concentrating & irritation,  
  • Heart palpitation and excessive sweating

How common is Anxiety? A huge number of people among us live through anxiety disorders. To give an overview, 18% of all the Americans and 17% of all the UK are diagnosed with anxiety disorders every year. The good thing is anxiety disorders are highly treatable, but only 37% of the people receive a treatment. Genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events we go through, play a complex role to develop anxiety disorders. There can be many factors that lead to anxiety disorder, but today I want to talk to you about how you can also develop anxiety disorders as manifestation of negative habits.

Anxiety as a manifestation of negative habits?

Jud Brewer, MD, PhD, an addiction psychiatrist, scientific researcher, and expert in mindfulness training, in his book “Unwinding Anxiety” talks about anxiety in a different perspective than many other experts. He brings focus on anxiety as self-perpetual habit and a reaction to perceived stress. What is a habit? Habit makes our lives easy with an Autopilot mode! Habit is a regularly repeated behavior which requires little or no thought and is learnt, rather than innate. The more we repeat it, the more it gets reinforced in us. All habits loops start is made up of 3 components:  

The stimuli work as a trigger & tell our brain to go to autopilot, so we don’t have to take a conscious decision and then we get the reward. But what if the reward is not rewarding at all? Then we call it a negative habit. Can anxiety be a result of a negative habit?

Yes!

We can develop so many good or bad habits after repeating and reinforcing the behavior and reward loop, the more we repeat, the stronger it gets. But what if we develop such habits around us feeling anxious about something? We react to such triggers in a negative way and that gives us temporary comfort without solving the problem, around which we got anxious in the first place.  I want to discuss a few interesting anxiety habit loops and want to talk how you can train your mind away from such loops by hacking how you reward yourselves.

Run-of-the-Mill Anxiety

  • Trigger: Feelings of anxiety
  • Behavior: I’ll play a video game or watch a funny YouTube video.
  • Reward: I get a temporary distraction from those feelings of anxiety.
  • Why it doesn’t work: I haven’t dealt with the problem, so anxiety returns as strongly as before once the distraction ends.

Anxiety-Worry Loop

  • Trigger: Feelings of anxiety
  • Behavior: I worry about every worst-case scenario, ruminate on all the things I’ve done wrong in the past, and stress over how everything is going to be terrible in the future.
  • Reward: My mind is busy worrying and mulling over real or imagined problems, so it feels like I’m preparing or strategizing about the situation.
  • Why it doesn’t work: I’m not actually doing anything tangible except creating more anxiety and worry.

What can we do to prevent the loops from happening?

✓ Do not push away or hide from your feelings,  

✓ Be kind to yourself and take the first step by recognizing what’s happening inside you,  

✓ Experience the sensations and ask yourself how you are feeling, just as it is.

✓ Do not feel bad or guilty about yourself or consider yourself sick.

✓ Note what you are experiencing.  

Now as you have done your “Anxiety mapping” exercise, start acting against your habit by giving positive reward of overcoming it. Remember, these negative habit loops are not lifelong sentences, that you must carry along, but just habits that you can re-do.

In case you don't want to do this exercise on your own and would prefer a coach by your side, you can try talking to Clare now. Clare is your virtual phone coach, trained in cognitive behavioral based exercises and content focusing on symptoms of anxiety.

Feel free to try clare&me the help for your self-help and be guided through exercises to help relief  symptoms of anxiety.

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