Are you addicted to anxiety? Ask yourself these 6 questions

Jul 10, 2014 at 6:13 p.m. ET

Can't stop checking social media? Dread waking up and facing the day? You might be addicted to worry and anxiety. Here's what to do about it.

woman with anxiety

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People thought I was joking when I said I needed to take a mental health break from Twitter. But it was not a joke at all. The non-stop input of bad news (I follow a lot of political reporters, social justice activists and animal rights groups so the worst of humanity is constantly on display) was literally keeping me up at night. I would shake and have heart palpitations on the regular. And yet, checking Twitter was often the first thing I would do in the morning. I would load up my newsfeed while brushing my teeth. I was addicted to that constant input from outside sources, but I was also addicted to the anxiety, worry and impending doom that came along with obsessively reading bad news.

I loved Louis C.K.'s views on why he won’t let his kids have smartphones. I totally agree that we're all self medicating with social media and having the universe at our fingertips at any given moment. It absolutely helps to distract from what's really going on around and inside us. I also know that we can be addicted to anxiety.

We can become so accustomed to that "fight or flight" feeling that, when it goes away, we need to find ways to bring it back.

Some things to ask yourself if you think you might be a anxiety-oholic:

  • Do you make seemingly small things really big overwhelming things in your mind?
  • Are you unable to quiet your mind without distractions from food, TV, alcohol or the internet?
  • Do you find yourself obsessing over worst-case scenario outcomes all the time?
  • Are you addicted to reading horrible news, watching stressful movies or are you consumed by the plight of others?
  • Maybe you instantly find a new stressful situation to focus on as soon as another has passed?
  • Is it hard for you to sleep because thoughts keep running through your mind? Or maybe you avoid going to bed just to put off dealing with something you fear the next day?

These are all indicators that you may be addicted to that rush of adrenaline created by worry and anxiety.

What are some reasons we might become addicted to anxiety?

  1. We grew up in a stress-filled household or dealt with traumatic events, which might make that "fight or flight" feeling seem normal and more comfortable than being relaxed.
  2. We were taught, as a child, that the world isn't safe or people are out to get us.
  3. We're lacking in close real-life relationships and are filling that void with excess technology (cough... facebook... cough). Our bodies may be overwhelmed by so much never-ending input.
  4. We might be a highly sensitive person.
  5. We may not have learned healthy alternatives to dealing with everyday stress.
  6. We're dealing with a lot of fear around something, and worry and anxiety is a tool to help avoid and procrastinate.
  7. We may have never learned how to handle insecurity or perceived failures in an appropriate manner.
woman talking to therapist
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Here are a few ways to treat chronic worry and anxiety:

  1. Seek professional help from a therapist or life coach specializing in anxiety.
  2. Enlist support from friends. You'd be surprised how many of them are dealing with similar circumstances.
  3. Exercise. Exercising is a way to reduce stress and helps to calm and quite the mind. Exercising close to bedtime can also help you enter a deeper stage of sleep and lessen insomnia.
  4. Remove electronics from your bedroom and cut yourself off from email and all social media at least two hours before bedtime (cray, I know). This allows the body to slow down and relax from all the day's stimuli.
  5. Try EFT (aka tapping), which can greatly reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress.
  6. Write it out. Experts recommend writing down a list of things that we're worried or having anxiety about. Write about the worst-case scenario that could play out (humiliation? death?). Whatever it is, go there and face it. Next, ask yourself what the most likely scenario actually is (it's rarely as bad as we make it when we obsess over and over). And finally, write down the best-case scenario. A therapist, coach or friend can be great at helping you talk through these scenarios. Often saying the worst-case scenario out loud will help us realize how unlikely it actually is.
Other tools to lessen feelings of anxiety and worry are meditation, acupuncture and Qigong.

Like any addiction, remember that it took time to get you to this point and it will take time to recover. Try and replace the worry with a positive behavior like calling a friend, reading a book (even just for a few minutes until the feelings subside), paint your nails, walk your dog, listen to cheesy pop songs.

What are you currently worrying about and what is the worst that could possibly happen?