I experienced my first panic attack a few months into my freshman year of college. Admittedly, I wasn’t treating my body very well that first year.
For starters, my mind was in overdrive and I was only getting about five hours of sleep each night.
To compensate for the lack of sleep, I started drinking an insane amount of coffee, soda, and energy drinks.
On the weekends, I wanted to relieve my stress from the week and allowed myself to “let loose” by going out and throwing back a few drinks.
My diet consisted of mostly carbs and sugar.
Little did I know, this was the perfect storm for panic attacks.
As the years went on I started seeing a direct correlation between how I was treating my body and the level of anxiety I was experiencing.
Today, if I start to get anxious I take a step back and ask myself if I’m making any of the following mistakes, which may be contributing to how I’m feeling.
5 Common Mistakes Making Your Anxiety Worse
1. Indulging in Alcohol
I find it ironic that a large number of anxiety suffers turn to alcohol to relieve anxiety, not knowing that their “quick-fix” is actually making their symptoms worse.
For instance, have you ever woken up after drinking too much one night and realized that you were experiencing high anxiety the next day?
Anxiety after drinking is sometimes referred to as an “anxiety hangover.”
The reason for this is simple.
You don’t need to give up your glass of wine or beer, but try to stick to no more than one or two each night.
And, cut it out completely if you have something like a big presentation the next day.
If you find yourself using alcohol for self-medication you should think about cutting it out completely. Individuals suffering from anxiety disorders are also very susceptible to alcoholism.
2. Overdoing The Caffeine
If you love your daily cup of Joe, I apologize in advance!
One dietary factor that can increase the risk of panic attacks is caffeine.
A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that levels of anxiety and depression correlated with the degree of caffeine consumption panic attack sufferers.
In some individuals prone to anxiety, just one cup of coffee was enough to trigger symptoms. Caffeine and anxiety went hand-in-hand.
Try replacing coffee or soda with decaf coffee or tea. Even though some tea has caffeine it won’t make you as jittery.
I have a friend who quit caffeine after having several panic attacks, and hasn’t had one since!
3. Eating the Wrong Foods
As I mentioned earlier, another factor that can impact anxiety levels is low blood sugar.
What foods you eat play a large part in maintaining stable blood sugar levels, and managing your anxiety.
It’s important to eat regular meals (every 3 hours) and stick with foods that give a sustained release of energy into the bloodstream. This includes meat, fish, wholewheat pasta, and greens.
Stay clear of processed foods and anything high in sugar.
4. Over Preparing
Believe it or not, over preparing for a speech, conversation or whatever else you’re anxious about may be doing more harm than good.
Often, this impacts individuals who deal with performance anxiety.
The first time I had my panic attack I believed it was from a lack of preparation, even though it was a mixture of several other factors. But this meant that in order to avoid future panic attacks, I believed I had to over prepare for similar situations.
I got to the point that I was so nervous I wasn’t prepared enough, that I actually started self-sabotaging my presentations and speeches.
With the advice of a counselor, I tried a trick — practice less, have more faith that you know the materials, be OK with the unexpected.
My senior year in college I had four presentations as part of the final week (that’s a lot for someone, let alone someone with anxiety!). But, instead of prepping for hours on hours the night before, I started to meditate and envision myself confidently performing.
The result? I was able to deliver some of the best presentations of my college career.
You see when you keep “preparing,” you’re telling yourself that you aren’t ready and that you don’t know the material.
When you relax, you’re sending the message to yourself that, “I know my stuff, I’m ready, and I’ll be okay.”
5. Not Getting Active
While anxiety is rooted “in your head,” it builds up physical stress in the body.
I’m a strong believer that the best medicine for anxiety and stress is regular exercise (30-40 minutes at least four times a week)
Don’t just take it from me. There are actual studies out there that who that exercise has been proven to be just as effective as anti-anxiety medication in anxiety sufferers.
I tend to prefer extreme workouts like interval training, mountain biking and snowboarding since it delivers a double benefit. It reduces stress but also quiets my mind be requiring me to focus only on the activity at hand.
Even if you’re lacking motivation, take mini-steps.
Go outside for a short walk or go to the gym and get on the treadmill for 15 minutes while listening to your favorite jams!
A Word on Vices
Often it’s our “vices” like alcohol, caffeine, staying home and binge-watching Netflix or eating our favorite (not so healthy) treats that can contribute to anxiety.
While everything in moderation is OK if you find yourself going overboard or making these mistakes, be aware that they could very likely be increasing your anxiety.