5 Things You're Doing To 'Fix' Your Anxiety That Might Be Making It Worse

A therapist shares common ways we try to outrun our anxiety and why they backfire in the end.

Anxious woman trying to fix anxiety Getty Images | Unsplash

Do you ever find yourself caught in a loop of anxiety, and nothing you do seems to help? You’re not alone. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health challenges, impacting over 40 million adults in the US.

Unfortunately, it can also be one of the hardest mental health challenges to work through, because it’s self-sustaining. Often our attempts to ‘fix’ our anxiety make it worse!

And, it totally makes sense that we’d want to fix our anxiety. Nobody likes that feeling!


Stay away from these five ‘fixes’ that might make anxiety worse:

1. Avoidance: Running Away Doesn't Solve Anything

Avoiding stressful situations might provide temporary relief, but in the long term, it's like adding fuel to the anxiety fire.

According to research, by avoiding the thing you’re anxious about, you might be making your anxiety worse. Avoidance reinforces the idea that the thing we're avoiding is dangerous, making our anxiety levels skyrocket. Instead, facing our fears head-on, as daunting as it may seem, is the key to overcoming our fears and anxieties. 


RELATED: 7 Things Nobody Realizes Are Symptoms Of Social Anxiety

2. Alcohol: A Temporary Escape That Backfires

Raise your hand if you've ever turned to a glass of wine or a beer to take the edge off anxiety. Raises hand. 

While alcohol might offer a temporary escape, it's a double-edged sword. Not only can it disrupt sleep and worsen anxiety in the long run, but it also interferes with the brain's ability to regulate emotions effectively. Turning to booze to avoid uncomfortable emotions not only makes anxiety worse, but it can also increase the risk of developing substance abuse disorders. 



3. Venting to Others: The Myth of Catharsis

We've all been there – unloading our worries onto a sympathetic friend or family member, hoping it'll make us feel better. While seeking social support when we’re struggling is an effective coping strategy, it comes with a caveat. 


Neuroscience suggests that venting doesn't actually alleviate anxiety, and can reinforce cycles of negativity.  Instead, try redirecting that energy into connecting with others in ways that reinforce positive and connecting experiences.

RELATED: 7 Ways Your Zodiac Sign Might Indicate Serious Anxiety In Your Future

4. Binging on Comfort Foods: A Recipe for Disaster

Picture this: you've had a rough day, so you dive headfirst into a pint of ice cream or a bag of chips. While it might provide temporary solace, loading up on sugar and processed foods can wreak havoc on blood sugar levels, which impact our mood and energy levels.

Opting for nutritious, whole foods instead can help stabilize blood sugar levels and support overall mental well-being.


5. Focusing Solely on Solutions: Sometimes You Gotta Feel It to Heal It

It's tempting to jump straight into problem-solving mode when anxiety strikes. But here's the thing – when we're overwhelmed or anxious, our executive functioning ability takes a hit and our decision-making ability is impaired.  That means any solutions we come up with might not be our best ideas anyway. Instead, give yourself permission to sit with the discomfort and acknowledge your feelings. Trust me, it's a crucial step on the path to healing.

So, if your old methods of ‘fixing’ anxiety aren’t helping, what can you do instead?

Try these five science-backed tricks to alleviate anxiety, instead: 

Exercise: Sweat Out the Stress

Regular physical activity isn't just great for your body, it's a game-changer for your mental health, too. Whether it's a brisk walk, a yoga session, or a dance class in your living room, getting your body moving releases endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that help reduce stress and anxiety. So, lace up those sneakers and sweat out the stress – your mind will thank you for it.

Get Mindful: Tune into the Present Moment

Mindfulness is like a superpower when it comes to managing anxiety. By tuning into the present moment and observing your thoughts and sensations without judgment, you can create a sense of calm amidst the chaos. Next time anxiety rears its head, try focusing on where you feel the sensation in your body, noticing the urges without acting on them, and allowing them to pass like clouds in the sky. It's a simple yet powerful way to cultivate inner peace.


RELATED: 3 Weird Reasons Your Anxiety Gets Triggered, Even When Nothing Is Wrong

Regulate Your Body: Find Your Calm

When anxiety hits, our bodies often go into overdrive, and many of us experience sensations like racing hearts and shallow breathing. That's where regulation techniques come in handy. 

Deep breathing exercises, like diaphragmatic or box breathing, can help activate the body's relaxation response and soothe frazzled nerves. And if you're feeling brave, a cold shower can also  jolt your system into a state of alertness, leaving you feeling refreshed and invigorated.

Make Self-Care a Practice: Small Changes Add Up 

Contrary to popular belief, happiness and peace aren’t things that just happen. I recently wrote about finding peace during times of struggle, and the advice I gave is just as relevant to people struggling with anxiety: peace and happiness aren’t things that just show up. They take work.


Yet, that’s how most of us expect it to be. When we see other people who are peaceful or happy, we mistakenly assume that it just "showed up". Or maybe we assume that's just their perrsonality. We rarely consider that maybe it took some work for them to achieve those feelings.

But, I’ve found that the opposite is usually true. In my own life, and in my past work with therapy clients, the happiest and most peaceful people are usually the ones who intend to be. They’re usually the ones who make happiness and peace a priority and a practice.”

By intentionally carving out time each day to focus on self-care, mindfulness, and addressing your anxiety head-on, you’ll start to see small shifts that add up over time. 

RELATED: The Hidden (And Most Dangerous) Symptom Of Anxiety   


Prioritize Sleep: Rest Your Way to Resilience

Sleep is like a reset button for your brain, essential for restoring energy levels and helping you maintain emotional balance. If you struggle with sleep, establishing a soothing bedtime routine can work wonders. Incorporating relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation or listening to a sleep meditation to ease into a restful slumber can help you get to sleep.

Consistency is also key. Stick to a regular sleep schedule to help regulate your body's internal clock.

Seek Social Support: Co-Regulation is Real

Another powerful tip for coping with anxiety is to connect with friends and family who are empathetic and supportive. Social support can be a potent antidote to anxiety and can help you co-regulate your emotions. 


Whether it's sharing a laugh, engaging in a hobby together, or simply enjoying each other's company, connecting positively can help regulate your emotions and provide a sense of comfort and security. So, reach out to your loved ones and bask in the warmth of their presence, you'll be amazed at how much it can lift your spirits and ease your anxiety.

Experiencing anxiety is something that most of us would like to avoid. Fortunately, by changing the way we relate to our anxiety and responding to it in different ways, we can lessen its grip on our lives. 

RELATED: 10 Tiny Habits That Will Make You More Peaceful Than 98% Of People

Blair Nastasi is a Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT), CEO of an international PR agency, and proud San Diego resident. She is a freelance writer and a self-proclaimed force to be reckoned with.