5 Bad Health Habits That May Increase Social Anxiety

Stop smoking to reduce anxiety in the long run.
Smoking makes anxiety worse in the long run. Getty / Cultura / Aliyev Alexei Sergeevic

Bad health habits have the potential to increase anxiety. Just like with physical health problems, mental health issues can be aggravated by what you eat and drink, and how you treat your body. If you suffer from social anxiety disorder (SAD), there are a number of bad health habits that you should avoid.

Drinking Too Much Caffeine

Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, some soft drinks, chocolate, and some over-the-counter medications. It is a stimulant that increases alertness and heart rate.

For many, caffeine 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 people, caffeine can increase anxiety. Research has shown that people with anxiety disorders may have increased sensitivity to caffeine. 

If you can't eliminate caffeine completely, try at least cutting back to see if you notice an improvement in your anxiety. If you normally consume two cups of coffee a day, try lowering it to one and see if you notice a difference.

Not Getting Enough Sleep

Research shows that people with insomnia are more at risk for developing anxiety disorders. If you suffer from insomnia, meet with your doctor to discuss medication options or try using strategies on your own to improve your sleep.

Sticking to a regular sleep schedule as much as possible may help, as will sleeping a set number of hours. If you normally go to bed at 10 pm but lie awake until 1 AM and then don't get up until 8 am, try to instead go to bed later, such as at 11:30 pm, and setting your alarm for 6:30 am. This gives you 7 hours of sleep, and you'll probably find it easier to fall asleep at a later time.

Not Getting Regular Exercise

Regular intense exercise such as running can help alleviate anxiety, while being sedentary may worsen your social anxiety. During exercise, you release endorphins that give you a feeling of well-being and may reduce anxiety. Incorporate regular exercise into your life to improve your social anxiety.

Other potential benefits of regular exercise include positive changes in your body and the chance to meet and spend time with others, which may indirectly help to reduce your social anxiety.

Consider joining a gym, attending exercise classes, or signing up for a local running group to expose yourself to more social situations.

Eating Certain 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, foods high in sugar can be to blame. In addition, overeating, eating too fast, or letting yourself get too hungry can make symptoms of social anxiety worse.

While not unhealthy, extremely spicy foods may also aggravate anxiety, so it's best to manage your consumption of these foods if your social anxiety is not under control.

Smoking Cigarettes

Some people smoke cigarettes to try 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 your anxiety may be related to the indirect effects of the habit of breathing, as well as the direct effects of nicotine on your body.

Not only will quitting smoking be better for your social anxiety, but it will also be better for your overall health. If you choose just one of these 5 bad health habits to work on quitting today, this is the one.

Using Alcohol as a Crutch

While it may be tempting to use alcohol to get through social situations, relying on drinking to reduce your anxiety can make the situation worse in the long term. Drinking alcohol is a safety behavior that never allows you to truly face your fears and overcome them. In addition, when you use alcohol to cope with social anxiety, you are at risk for developing a substance abuse problem. If your social anxiety is severe and alcohol is what is getting you through, talk to your doctor about prescription medication options that may reduce anxiety and you need to drink to cope.

A Word From Verywell

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. If despite your efforts to incorporate more healthy habits into your life, you still find that your social anxiety is severe and causing problems, it may be helpful to consult a mental health professional. Traditional treatment such as medication or therapy could make a difference in your symptoms.

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