January 13, 2021

12 Addictive Behaviors that are Hidden Signs of Anxiety.


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Most feelings of anxiety stem from our autonomic nervous systems (ANS) reacting to a given stimuli that triggers our systems into telling our brains that we are unsafe in some way.

Unsafe equals danger to our bodies, but unsafe is unsure, too.

The word “triggered” gets such a bad rap for whiney millennials and Gen Zers, but it’s worth discussing here. Triggered is the trigger word, pun intended, but the science here is that our ANS just reacts—full stop, reacts.

Our nervous system’s job is to protect us; it’s why we feel our heart rate elevate in any situation. We have no control over how, why, or when this happens. We are not supposed to—that is the point of the nervous system: to sense any kind of danger and send those signals to our brains.

If you find yourself doing any of these behaviors obsessively, mindlessly, or repeatedly, it is most likely that your nervous system is searching for ways in which to feel calmed. This is especially true for today and, likely, the coming days, too.

You are not alone, reader.

Roughly 40 million Americans suffer from these anxiety-ridden behaviors and thought patterns.

Some examples of common anxious behaviors:

>> Face picking

>> Nose picking

>> Obsessive hair touching (like running your fingers through your hair or scratching at your scalp)

>> Eyelash pulling

>> Tapping of fingers and feet

>> Incessant joint popping

>> Scratching or picking scabs

>> Biting inside of lips of the mouth, sometimes until they are raw

>> Self-soothing behaviors, like bilateral stimulation such as rocking, swaying, or swinging back and forth

>> Running hands over a textured surface repeatedly

>> Repeating any pattern of motion (such as clicking of a pen)

>> Repeatedly scrolling through the internet (social media)

Let me explain these a bit further. These behaviors are not, “I do this sometimes.” These are obsessive, compulsory behaviors. Like, knowing that if you scratch, squeeze, or scrub a blemish on your face that it will leave a scar but not being able to stop yourself from doing it.

Many people who exhibit these behaviors experience a release of sorts, as in, they feel calmer after they have popped their knuckles for the fourth time that hour.

Anxiety and underdeveloped or overreactive nervous systems are the root cause of many addictive behaviors for these reasons, too. We constantly search for ways in which to calm or soothe our systems and that gives way for any of these behaviors or addictions.

One of the most difficult things I have ever taken on is a deep dive into my emotions. This included an evaluation of every facet of my life: training myself to come to a full stop when feelings of discomfort washed over me, evaluating my reactions and behaviors in every situation.

Why did I feel nervous when the credit card transaction took a long time to process?

Why did I say yes when I meant no?

Why was my heart pounding when a stranger asked me a question?

Where did that voice inflation come from, and why did I do that?

I noticed patterns in my all my behaviors.

When I started to take note of what I was doing, and what had happened immediately before, I could clearly see my emotional state playing out across certain obsessive behaviors.

Technically, this deep dive into my emotions and behavioral reactions are termed inner child work. The idea behind this is that the behaviors you exhibit today as an adult and believe are part of who you are, are really a reaction of the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

When we are children, our ANS is not fully developed. Sometimes, our needs are not met as our nervous systems are forming, therefore directly impacting the way pathways in the brain form. This happens with trauma responses that we believe are personality traits, and with anxiety, too.

Reparenting is the name for this inner child work. The concept is that we are adults with underdeveloped nervous systems and those systems are driving our trauma responses and our anxious behaviors.

In short, our bodies grew but our nervous system did not. In reparenting, the idea is to identify these patterns of behaviors and soothe them. If it sounds New Agey and weird to you, it did to me too. And then, it worked.

Aside from that, I wish I could offer you a “cure” of some kind, but alas, I cannot. All I know is that I am finding myself engaging in these behaviors more frequently than I would like to.

What has worked for me is learning to identify what emotions I’m feeling or evaluating what event took place most recently that is causing this reaction. And creating some semblance of mindfulness around when I am most apt to engage in these behaviors: too much caffeine, social situations in which I am unfamiliar, confrontation of any kind, and too much screen time all seem to contribute heavily in my case.

Do you exhibit any of these behaviors? Comment below!


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