How Does Anxiety Fuel Addiction?
Did you know there is a significant relationship between anxiety and addiction? Understanding that connection can help facilitate healing.
According to a 2017 study published in the journal Psychiatric Services, more than 8.3 million American adults have depression and anxiety. Plus, the 2016 Surgeon General’s report on addiction notes that over 27 million people were abusing drugs and over 66 million were abusing alcohol in 2015.
Depression, anxiety, and addiction are on the rise, and they’re all interconnected.
Defining Depression and Anxiety
Traditional textbook definitions of depression and anxiety describe symptoms, not causes. If you search for “anxiety,” you’ll find this: “A mental health disorder characterized by feelings of worry, anxiety, or fear.”
We define anxiety as “emotional energy bouncing back and forth, trapped between internal walls.” Anxiety is the sensation you get when you refuse to feel your emotions.
But how does anxiety fuel addiction?
Anger, Avoidance, Trauma
When you are feeling, angry or hurt, the energy of internally bouncing back and forth between those two feelings is anxiety.
How do you deal with those feelings? That’s where addiction comes into play. When the anxiety trigger comes up, you don’t want to feel it, so you numb it. You stuff and deny those feeling in order to escape the pain.
Chances are you are not trying to hurt yourself or others. You’re just looking for way to less the emotional and physical pain. So, you drink or take pills, and it works. The weight of your painful feeling is lifted…for a little while. But the relief is temporary and it carries consequences.
How to Beat/Cope with Anxiety: Self-Experimentation
Not all of these strategies will work for you. Self-experiment to find out which techniques you prefer. Context is important, too. You may find that some strategies work in some circumstances but not in others. Experiment to observe what works best, and when. Also: Try thinking about the strategies in three categories: behavioral, cognitive (thinking-related), and physical. Aim to find some strategies that appeal to you from each category.
Anxiety Relief Techniques compiled by experts at Psychology Today:
- Take a slow breath. Continue slow breathing for 3 minutes.
- Drop your shoulders and do a gentle neck roll.
- State the emotions you’re feeling as words, e.g., “I feel angry and worried right now.” (Aloud but to yourself.)
- Massage your hand, which will activate oxytocin.
- Put something that’s out of place in its place. (Physical order often helps us feel a sense of mental order.)
- Take a day trip somewhere with natural beauty.
- Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Then, ask yourself, “How would I cope if that happened?” Now answer those questions.
- Take a break from actively working on solving a problem and allow your mind to keep processing the problem in the background.
- Take a bath.
- Forgive yourself for not foreseeing a problem that occurred.
- Throw out something from your bathroom. (The order principle again.)
- Take a break from watching the news or reading newspapers.
- Make a phone call you’ve been putting off.
- Write an email you’ve been putting off.
- Take another type of action on something you’ve been putting off.
- Throw something out of your fridge.
- Try a guided mindfulness meditation. (Google for free mp3 downloads. There are some good ones out there.)
- Take a break from researching a topic you’ve been over-researching.
- Cuddle a baby or a pet.
- If a mistake you’ve made is bothering you, make an action plan for how you won’t repeat it in the future. Write three brief bullet points.
- Ask yourself if you’re jumping to conclusions? For example, if you’re worried someone is very annoyed with you, do you know for sure this is the case or are you jumping to conclusions?
- Ask yourself if you’re catastrophizing, i.e., thinking that something would be a disaster, when it might be unpleasant but not necessarily a disaster.
- Forgive yourself for not handing a situation in an ideal way, including interpersonal situations. What’s the best thing you can do to move forward in a positive way now?
- If someone else’s behavior has triggered anxiety for you, try accepting that you may never know the complete reason and background behind the person’s behavior.
- Recognize if your anxiety is being caused by someone suggesting a change or change of plans. Understand if you tend to react to changes or unexpected events as if they are threats.
- Accept that there is a gap between your real self and your ideal self. (This is the case for pretty much everybody.)
- Question your social comparisons. For example, is comparing yourself only to the most successful person you know very fair or representative?
- Think about what’s goingright in your life. Thinking about the positive doesn’t always work when you’re anxious, but it can do if anxiety has caused your thinking to become lopsided and you’re not seeing the big picture.
- Scratch something off your to-do list for the day, either by getting it done or just deciding not to do that task today.
- Ask a friend or colleague to tell you about something they’ve felt nervous about in the past, and to tell you what happened.
- If you’re nervous about an upcoming test, try these quick tips for dealing with test anxiety.
- Do a task 25% more slowly than usual. Allow yourself to savor not rushing.
- Check if you’re falling into any of these thinking traps.
- Try gentle distraction; find something you want to pay attention to. The key to successful use of distraction when you’re anxious is to be patient with yourself if you find you’re still getting some thought intrusions about the anxiety-provoking topic.
- Go to a yoga class, or do a couple of yoga poses in the comfort of your home or office.
- Get a second opinion from someone you trust. Aim to get their real opinion rather than just reassurance seeking.
- Allow yourself to do things you enjoy or that don’t stress you out, while you’re waiting for your anxious feelings to naturally calm down.
- Go for a run.
- Find something on YouTube that makes you laugh out loud.
- Lightly run one or two fingers over your lips. This will stimulate the parasympathetic fibers in your lips and you’ll feel calmer.
- Look back on the anxiety-provoking situation you’re in from a time point in the future, e.g., six months from now. Does the problem seem smaller when you view it from further away?
- Imagine how you’d cope if your “worst nightmare” happened, e.g., your partner left you, you got fired, or you developed a health What practical steps would you take? What social support would you use? Mentally confronting your worst fear can be very useful for reducing anxiety.
- Call or email a friend you haven’t talked to in awhile.
- If you’re imagining a negative outcome to something you’re considering doing, also try imaging a positive outcome.
- If you rarely back out of commitments and feel overwhelmed by your to-do list, try giving yourself permission to say you can no longer do something you’ve previously agreed to do.
- Do any two-minute jobs that have been hanging around on your to-do list. It’ll help clear your mental space.
- Jot down three things you worried about in the past that didn’t come to pass.
- Jot down three things you worried about in the past that did occur, but weren’t nearly as bad as you imagined.
- Do a form of exercise you haven’t done in the last six months.
- Allow time to pass. Often the best thing to do to reduce anxiety is just to allow time to pass, without doing the types of activities that increase anxiety.
- Love yourself–When you have offered love to the parts of yourself that hurts, you will find healing. Changing the cycle requires COURAGE, but the good news is that it works.
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