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Unwinding Anxiety – How we can release habits that may habituate our anxiety

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

Map Out Anxiety Habits

Anxiety exists inside the habits that make up our everyday lives. Spend some time observing your anxiety-related habits. Your habits can exist in loops that consist of a trigger, a behaviour, and a result.

Unwinding Anxiety – How we can release habits that may habituate our anxiety | McAtee Psychology Ltd.
Unwinding Anxiety – How we can release habits that may habituate our anxiety

For example:

Trigger: We feel anxious (tightness in the chest, increased heart rate, sweaty palms, tightness in the stomach, closed throat or wanting to run away

Behaviour: Binge eating, Chewing gum, substance use, binge-watching, social media consumption, excessive sugar consumption, irritation, aggressiveness or other behaviours

Result: Distracted from anxiety

Ask yourself, is this habit helping me in the long run? Does it end up decreasing or increasing my anxiety? What’s stopping me from sitting with anxious feelings?

Sometimes distraction is all we can do at the moment, and being kind to ourselves is important. Do observe your behaviour. Recognize, ‘Oh, here is my anxiety again. I must be anxious about something as I am eating lots of snacks right now. What am I anxious about?

Observe anxiety and create new habits that reward you in positive ways

If you’re anxious and start worrying about the future, make a mental note; observe the tightness in your chest, the lump in your throat, and how little you get done at school or work that afternoon. This is an opportunity to learn about yourself and what triggers that anxiety. Start with noticing what it feels like, where you feel it in your body, and what thoughts are coming to mind. What are the habits you do when you worry? If you notice reaching out for that sugary snack or phone, stop, breathe and leave. Think and write down one action you can take that can help release your worries. Who are the people that could help? Then think about what new habit you could set that could increase self-esteem instead and create a positive connection to your brain.

Creating New Habits

We can release old anxiety-triggering habits by creating healthy behaviours in response to anxiety.

Curiosity and mindfulness: Rather than judging yourself for being anxious, or wondering about where your anxiety is coming from, get curious. What does it feel like, and where? How does it change? Say “Hmmm!” to yourself to encourage that sense of curiosity and say, " Great, I can learn more about you and get to know more.

Breathing: Tune in to the breathing sensations in your body. Breathe into places where anxiety shows up, and breathe out anxiety. See how things change.

Exercise: Go outside, and take a walk. Work up a sweat to get your blood pumping to reset your current body state and mind. Validate yourself and move your body.

For example:

Trigger: Feeling Anxious

New Behaviour: Going for a walk, listening to music, giving yourself some space

New Result: When feeling anxious, the body and brain know we will go for a walk and calm down


McAtee Psychology Sunalta: 300-1933 10 AVE SW, Calgary, AB McAtee Psychology Douglas Glen: 105- 11500 29 St SE, Calgary, AB | Phone: 403-902-2234

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