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5 Bad Health Habits That May Increase Social Anxiety

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Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Bad health habits are a problem for many. If you suffer from social anxiety disorder (SAD), there are a number of bad health habits that you should avoid. Just like physical health problems, mental health issues can be aggravated by what you eat, drink and how you treat your body. Below are some poor health habits that may contribute to problems with social anxiety.

  1. Caffeine

    Caffeine is a stimulant that increases alertness and heart rate. For many, caffeine also improves feelings of well-being and improves mood as it increases the levels of dopamine in your brain; however, this is a temporary effect. For some, caffeine can increase anxiety. Research has shown that people with anxiety disorders may have increased sensitivity to caffeine. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, some soft drinks, chocolate and some over-the-counter medications.

  2. Cigarette Smoking

    Although many smoke to relieve tension and anxiety, research has shown that smoking cigarettes may be linked to an increased risk of anxiety disorders. The effect of cigarette smoking on anxiety may be related to the indirect effects of the habit on breathing, as well as the direct effects of nicotine on the body.

  3. Lack of Sleep

    Research shows that people with insomnia are more at risk of developing anxiety disorders. If you suffer from insomnia, it is important to address the problem, either by meeting with your doctor to discuss medication alternatives or through the use of strategies to improve your sleep.

  4. Lack of Exercise

    Just as regular intense exercise such as running can help alleviate anxiety, leading a sedentary lifestyle is a likely contributor to SAD. Incorporating regular exercise into your life will not only directly impact anxiety, but the positive changes in your body and the chance to meet and spend time with others may indirectly help reduce feelings of social anxiety.

  5. Foods

    Any foods that induce feelings similar to the symptoms of social anxiety (e.g., jitters, sweating or a racing heart) may make your social anxiety worse. Although the foods that will cause these feelings are different for every person, avoiding extremely spicy foods and foods high in sugar may help. In addition, overeating, eating too fast or letting yourself get too hungry all have the potential to make symptoms of social anxiety worse.

How do your health habits stack up? Take a moment to evaluate your situation and see which of your habits may be contributing to your social anxiety.

Sources:

 

Johnson JG, Cohen P, Pine DS, Klein DF, Kasen S, Brook JS. Association between cigarette smoking and anxiety disorders during adolescence and early adulthood. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2000;284:2348-2351.

 

Lee MA, Cameron OG, Greden JF. Anxiety and caffeine consumption in people with anxiety disorders. Psychiatry Research. 1985;15(3):211-217.

 

Neckelmann D, Mykletun A, Dahl AA. Chronic insomnia as a risk factor for developing anxiety and depression. Sleep. 2007;30(7):873-880.

 

Petruzzello SJ, Landers DM, Hatfield BD. A meta-analysis on the anxiety-reducing effects of acute and chronic exercise: Outcomes and mechanisms. Sports Medicine. 1991;11:143-182.

 

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