When anxiety is part of your day-to-day life, it’s not surprising that it has the power to influence your day-to-day habits. And while some of these habits might be coping mechanisms, not all coping mechanisms are created equal. For example, scrolling on Facebook for a few hours to avoid what’s making you feel anxious might temporarily make you feel better, but when you look up and realize your afternoon is gone — and your anxiety isn’t — it’s helpful to have more effective tools in your arsenal.
To find out what “bad habits” people develop when they live with anxiety — and how they combat them — we turned to our Mighty mental health community. If you can relate, it’s important to remember that having a bad habit doesn’t make you a bad person. On your journey with anxiety, you might just find better ways to cope. In the meantime, wherever you are, you aren’t alone.
Here are some “bad habits” our community shared with us:
1. Spending Too Much Time on Your Phone
“Looking at my phone constantly. I promise I’m not ignoring you or being rude, sometimes scrolling through a web page is the only thing that can take my mind off the panic.” — Alexa K.
“I scroll mindlessly through my phone. I can’t help it. I try to limit my time on it, but when I’m really anxious, it’s the only thing that helps.” — Bethany M.
“My phone/Facebook just mindless scrolling. Or I use to much dip/chew or I’m always smoke instead of talking right away, but all that’s doing is getting me in the frame of mind to deal with everything.” — Ocean D.
2. Canceling Plans
“I’m a ‘flake’ when it comes to hanging out with people I haven’t seen in a while. It’s not that I don’t want to see them, it’s just that I have so much anxiety about seeing them after so long.” – Emma K.
“People think I’m a flake, but honestly I stay away because I feel like I’m a burden to people. Or I feel like I have so much on my plate or my story is so depressing that I don’t want to depress them with my issues so I stay away completely… so I do it for them really.” — Lucy C.
3. Avoidance and Procrastination
“Procrastination. I know the things I need to do, yet cannot bring myself to do them because I feel overwhelmed. This causes more anxiety and sends me into a feedback loop I have a hard time getting myself out of. I try and break what I have to do into smaller chunks and achieve them one at a time so I don’t feel overwhelmed.” — David K.
“Avoiding everything, doing anything that needs doing, leaving my house — everything. I combat it by writing lists of what I need to do which helps to break everything down and feel less overwhelming. I’ll also give myself small tasks for going out and I’ll allow myself a reward for doing them (such as [when I] go to the shops for bread and milk, [I] tell myself I can also get a treat while I’m there).” — Zoe C.
“I procrastinate, which lets the anxiety silently pile on until I cannot hear anything but the irrational thoughts. I then escape into media — my phone, random games, the very depths of YouTube and Tumblr… it gets to a point where I hate myself for running from my thoughts and feelings, and then I turn everything off. I turn the TV off, my phone is cleared of games and the most distracting apps before it’s turned off, and I go outside. Even if it’s cold. I go to a forest preserve or park and just walk around, practicing a walking meditation or sound meditation — anything to get my mind on something real, tangible and soothing. At that point, I can either begin to panic again, or take to my journal to dump the rational thoughts I can finally hear. I forgive myself a lot in this process. It helps.” — Shannon S.
“I tend to switch to meaningless tasks to avoid confronting the project that’s triggering my anxiety. I try to fool myself by being ‘productive’ while my anxiety is slowly chipping away at my sanity.” — Jennifer V.
“I procrastinate and avoid doing important stuff. I’d definitely feel less anxious if I just got the stuff done, but it all feels too overwhelming. So I break it up into smaller pieces. This morning I put some pumpkin bread in to bake while I worked on a paper and set a deadline for myself to have written an outline by the time it came out, and then I’d start on writing the actual paper. My anxiety decreased significantly because of this.” — Jennifer S.
4. Skin Picking/Nail Biting
“I rip the skin off of my fingers until they bleed. And once they stop bleeding. I start it all over again. I don’t do it nearly as much when I have my fingernails done. So I take that time to relax while getting them painted.” — Heather L.
“I tend to eat the loose skin on my bottom lip, or bite the skin off if there isn’t any loose skin. How I deal with this is chewing gum so that my mouth is chewing on something that isn’t my lip.” — Amber S.
“I scratch my skin. Sometimes I make myself bleed. When my partner is around he grabs my hands and stops me. If he’s not around I put on gloves if I can feel it coming on so I don’t hurt myself. Can’t always do that though.” — Hazel M.
“I pick my skin. I have tons of scabs from picking my skin wide open. Normally it’s by my nails but sometimes it’s on my arms, legs and face. I can’t stop and I hate it.” — Kaitlynn E.
“Picking. Picking blemishes, eczema patches, scrapes or cuts, even freckles sometimes. Finding things to keep my hands busy helps. Sometimes I do crafts, write in a journal, braid my hair… If I run out of random things to occupy my hands with or I’m just sitting down or relaxing, I keep my hands clasped together to keep them from absentmindedly wandering around and looking for things to pick and destroy. A slightly more nerd-centric pro-tip: I collect random rocks and semi-precious stones, so when I’m anxious I pick a few stones out and examine them, fidget with them, or just hold them in my hands so my hands are occupied. Whatever works, though!” — Erin P.
5. Bursts of Anger or Being Irritable
“Bursts of irrational anger… when I have an anxiety attack, part of me just wants to be left alone so I don’t hurt anyone… but I want nothing more than for someone just to stay with me through it.” — Hannah Y.
“I lash out at people. I just can’t seem to help it. There’s either a pressure cooker in my head or I just get so inexplicably hurt. I end up saying stuff I might regret.” — Sophia D.
“I get very nitpicky with the people around me… like if I can control how they walk or talk or even how loud they breathe, I will be able to maintain control of the whole situation and anxiety won’t get out of control!” — Kimberly E.
“I start to get really agitated by the smallest things. The noises are the worst. Every little noise from a car on the road outside or a clock ticking… I stop myself from getting too agitated by sitting in a quiet place like the bathroom or my closet for about 10 minutes.” — Shayna K.
“When I’m struggling with anxiety I tend to get angry and either end up taking it out on someone else or ignoring people completely so I don’t hurt them. The downside to ignoring people is being called rude and selfish, but they don’t know that I’m trying really hard to not say mean things to them.” — Carmen G.
“Being irritable, snippy, rude and even angry towards others. I combat it with visual reminders, like little notes telling myself to ‘Practice the pause,’ to be kind, to stop and listen, etc. I put those anywhere I’m likely to have an anxiety attack.” — Christina G.
6. Isolating Yourself
“Not telling other people how I’m being affected by everything going on with me. Sometimes I feel they won’t understand, and I include my family in that list too without thinking, when really, it’s been the opposite more often than not. Kind people do exist, even if the unkind people do. — Pratyusha K.
“I hide out and become a hermit. That’s how I was when my anxiety first started happening. Now I make myself get up, even if it’s a trip to the mailbox, to show myself I can conquer that. Then maybe I can go a little further and do other things. It’s all baby steps to know I’m OK.” — Crystal N.
“Isolating myself. If it gets bad enough, I’ll lie in bed all day. That leads to me overthinking about everything. Then I end up in a worse mental state than when the anxiety started. It’s a vicious, endless cycle.” — Hannah F
7. Shutting Down
“Shutting down, and not dealing with anything really. I avoid my problems a lot because it makes me more anxious just thinking about it.” — Isabel L.
“Internalizing what I’m feeling. It gets in the way of normal conversation with my boyfriend, and it’s awful because I can’t control it. I think I’m compartmentalizing, but really, I’m just shoving it down which, in turn, brings out more of the physical symptoms: chest pains, panting, [being] unable to catch my breath, shaking in my body and tight feelings all through my torso.” — Kylie D.
“Probably especially because I also have depression, I typically shut down and do nothing, regardless of what or how much needs to be done. It terms of combating it, I either call my mom or keep/get myself busy so I don’t have time to shut down.” — Katherine B.
“Smoking! But I recently quit and switched to vaping. I smoked since I started with anxiety and depression before I really noticed symptoms. But looking back now I can totally tell it was a way to cope.” — Candice C.
“I smoke when I have an anxiety attack. For me I try to limit my cigarettes and lessen my intake.” — Drake P.
“I go to smoking which is a terrible habit that comes between my partner and I. I’ve decided that in the spirit of bettering myself and overall health it’s time to stop smoking as it’s really just an unhealthy crutch.” — Cait H.
“Overeating. I have no idea how to combat it or what steps to take to at least start combatting it. It’s like I’ll start being healthy and then I’ll get a little anxious and start overeating food again.” — Sophie W.
“Binge eating. [It helps if] I do something that requires a lot of focus, like playing a difficult video game, driving, doing school work or listening to scary stories on YouTube.” — Monica S.
“I eat pretty much anything I can get my hands on — I feel the anxiety in my gut and I try to make it feel better by filling it with food.” — Kara D.