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How to Stop Habitual Anxiety

December 23, 2018 George Abitante

Habitual anxiety is anxiety that manifests out of habit, and many of us have it. Learn how to develop healthy strategies to reduce habitual anxiety at HealthyPlace.

Habitual anxiety may be the culprit when anxiety seems to come from out of nowhere, interrupting your day and making it difficult to focus. This kind of anxiety can make it feel like you have no control over it, but anxiety can actually be broken down and understood as something we all have experience with: habit.

Habits can be described in several ways, but in the context of anxiety, we can think of habits in terms of a stressor and a habituated response to it. Anxiety often starts with something that is agitating or upsetting that you associate with anxiety and tells your body it is facing a threat. Whether the stressor is an interview, getting onto a crowded bus, or an upcoming deadline, you can identify something in your environment that produces anxiety. Following this stressor, we often have a set of responses that attempt to protect us from it, in many cases leading us to avoid it altogether. Although it feels like these responses are beneficial in the short term, over time these behaviors can actually increase your anxiety and make it harder to work through. So if we look at anxiety as a habitual response, how does that help us break out of the cycle? We can learn to break the cycle by developing a new habit that replaces our anxious response. 

Disrupting Habitual Anxiety 

  1. Identify the stressor. Identifying your stressors is crucial for breaking out of habitual anxiety since without that information you can't develop different responses to your anxiety. Start by making a list of details you notice when you feel anxious -- what time it is, what you're working on, or who you interact with. 
  2. Notice your response. This step is similar to mindfulness meditation -- the goal is to notice what your default reaction to a stressor is without judging that response. What are the anxious thoughts and sensations you experience, and what behaviors do you engage in to reduce those experiences? 
  3. Develop a new response. Once you've identified your stressor and how you naturally respond to it, you can begin cultivating a healthier response. The key is to start small -- if you normally respond to an approaching deadline by procrastinating, you can work on the assignment for just one minute when you feel stressed about it. Starting with a concrete, manageable step is a great way to jumpstart habit formation, and can also reduce your anxiety in the short term. Over time, you can build on this response and eventually develop an entirely new habitual response to your stressors. 

Thinking about anxiety in terms of habit formation is a valuable way to break down your anxious responses and develop healthier, adaptive reactions to your stressors.

What other ways do you use to work through your habitual anxiety? Comment below.

APA Reference
Abitante, G. (2018, December 23). How to Stop Habitual Anxiety , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, April 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2018/12/how-to-stop-habitual-anxiety



Author: George Abitante

George received his Master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern University and is pursuing his PhD in Clinical Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @AbitanteGeorge.

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