Anxiety-Coping Methods That Have the Potential to Backfire

If you’re no stranger to anxiety and panic attacks then you have likely done your fair share of research on how to cope with them. What are the potential triggers? How do you prepare yourself to avoid those triggers? And what are the best ways to calm yourself in a bind? These are all logical questions to equip yourself with answers to, as panic attacks are often uncontrollable and can overwhelm you at any time. So it’s certainly a good idea to equip yourself with a handful of “hacks” for beating anxiety.

But you should also be aware of the ways in which some common anxiety-coping methods could always backfire on you, and in the process potentially make you even more anxious.

“Each time you engage in the behavior or even keep it in your mind as an option, you reinforce whatever is provoking your anxiety as dangerous and something that can’t be managed without that behavior,” says Lindsay Henderson, a psychologist who treats patients via a telehealth app called LiveHealth Online.

Therefore, if you’ve ever tried any of the following “anxiety hacks,” consider their potential for feeding or reinforcing anxious behavior. Like, for example: 

Bringing a Friend to a Party as Your Social Buffer

Bringing a friend along in an unfamiliar situation isn’t reserved for people with anxiety disorders, in fact, it’s a social norm. But if you have social anxiety and get overly nervous about being surrounded by large groups of strangers, a “safe person” can actually increase your reliance on having a familiar face around.

“Ideally, an individual is as emotionally comfortable tending to tasks and attending events solo as when they’re with a friend,” Manly said. “Otherwise, life becomes limited and a sense of fearful isolation can result.”

Staying Away From Triggering Foods

There is certainly a link between certain foods and triggering anxiety. But there’s also a case to be built for the placebo effect gone awry when it comes to this one.

“When someone has gone through a negative event in the past, they have clinical data that a similar outcome in their life may turn out to be that same way,” said Kate Cummins, a California-based clinical psychologist. “However, this is how your thought patterns trick you into activating the emotions of fear.”

Anchoring Yourself to the Exit

Being aware of exit routes in a crowded space can be an obvious crutch for anybody with social anxiety. It can create a sense of control that lessens the fear of the unexpected or when taken a bit too far, it has the potential to do exactly the opposite.

“Seeking exits or staying near them can suggest hypervigilance resulting from a traumatic event where the person was unable to escape, even for a short time,” such as getting stuck in an elevator, said Stacie Freudenberg, a Colorado-based clinical psychologist.

In this instance, the problem seems to be in lacking awareness of how heavily you’re relying on a method for safety. Knowing where an exit is, for example, is being safe and practical. Posting up next to it all night “just in case” is only feeding your potential anxiety and fear.

Only Going Places During “Off” Hours

Avoiding crowds to save time and minimize potential stress over slow traffic or packed areas is common. But practicing this for too long and too often — i.e. avoiding peak hours and crowds entirely — doesn’t allow you to build up a tolerance. Your anxiety in response to these types of triggers can actually worsen when you don’t allow yourself the opportunity to tolerate the discomfort they create.

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