12 Things NOT to Do if You Have Anxiety


America is an anxious nation, and our everyday habits could be making anxiety worse. Anxiety affects an estimated 40 million American adults—more than 18% of the population—every year, and nearly 1 in 3 teens ages 13 to 18. And those numbers were before the pandemic. Women are almost twice as likely as men to develop anxiety disorders during their lifetime. In addition, anxiety can lead to more serious effects, including depression, sleep issues, panic attacks, substance abuse, concentration problems, physical ailments (such as colds or COVID-19), and suicidal thoughts and behavior.


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We know that anxiety can be helped with natural solutions such as psychotherapy, journaling, exercise, and other therapies. But let’s look at 12 steps not to take if you’re feeling a wave of anxiety coming on, or if you’re coping with an anxiety disorder in your everyday life.


1. DON’T leave.

Don’t simply flee the scene if you start panicking. If you leave at the first sign of panic—for example, if you’re experiencing anxiety in a public place, like the grocery store—you will start to consider that response a go-to solution. Eventually, you might not be able to visit that store at all, or, in more extreme cases, you might not even want to leave your house. Breathing through these occasions is a better coping strategy, allowing you to stay in the moment while offering numerous health benefits. Try this tip: Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for a second or two, and breathe out for 8 seconds.

2. DON’T believe your terrifying thoughts.

Repetitive, undesired, or intrusive thoughts can indicate an overactive anterior cingulate gyrus, the region of the brain responsible for shifting attention—and in some cases can lead to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Amen Clinics recommends to patients an exercise that can help overcome “stuck” thought patterns. It’s called “thought stopping,” and here’s how it works: Say “STOP!”; distract yourself and return to the thoughts later, if desired; and write out options and solutions if thinking them through isn’t helpful. Above all, remember: You are not your thoughts or emotions. Practices like meditation can help achieve distance between you and your thoughts so you’re less apt to get overrun by them when they arise.

3. DON’T drink alcohol.

Though its most serious effects can include heart and liver diseases, brain damage, cancer, addiction, and death, even in less extreme cases alcohol is debilitating, destroying sleep and leading to behavioral changes. It also does no favors for those with anxiety, which co-occurs with alcohol use disorder at a rate 2-3 times as often as would be expected by chance alone, according to researchers. This is because the two can co-create a cycle of dependence: Those who are anxious may use it to self-medicate, while those with and without dependence can experience anxiety as a result of their alcohol use—the phenomenon known as “hangxiety,” or hangover-related anxiety, highlights this connection.

4. DON’T use THC/marijuana.

Though many consider cannabis a less-serious “gateway drug” as it’s legalized in more U.S. states, these substances are anything but innocent. They can lead to dependence and even psychosis, which is more of a threat among teens and those who already have mental health conditions, such as anxiety and traumatic brain injuries. In fact, lowering brain activity—since cannabis has been shown in brain SPECT imaging to reduce blood flow in key areas—is one of the factors that can make someone more vulnerable to bad habits, addiction, or relapse. And, like with alcohol, this sets up a loop that exacerbates mental health issues—for example, anxiety often arises when someone tries to quit using marijuana.

5. DON’T ingest psilocybin.

Magic mushrooms,” like cannabis, have become more mainstream in recent years as scientists have studied their effectiveness in treating mental health conditions. However, a study published in 2022 by the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that “psilocybin microdosing did not affect emotion processing or symptoms of anxiety and depression compared with placebo.” Furthermore, such “shortcuts” to healing can have their own negative effects in the short term; some people who ingest these mushrooms experience anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia, feelings of fear and depression, nausea, and numbness. And, with a lack of studies that examine the long-term effects of this drug on the brain and body as used in psychiatric treatment, it’s clear that more research is needed.

6. DON’T drink caffeine.

Hordes of Americans reach for caffeine as an easy “pick-me-up,” but when you struggle with anxiety, this substance can make a bad situation worse. In one study that tracked coffee consumption among college students, high caffeine intake was associated with headaches, anxiety, and psychological distress. Moreover, the American Psychological Association (APA) stresses that caffeine causes jitters and anxiety, warning that people with underlying mental health issues may be more susceptible to these effects. Coffee can aggravate anxiety, panic disorder, and sleeplessness. Even smaller quantities may contribute to these issues, but larger quantities are likely to cause more severe disruptions.

7. DON’T eat sugar or refined carbs.

Reaching for sugary “treats” or refined carbs like bread and pasta when feeling stressed out? Consider these the opposite of comfort food—they cause your blood sugar to spike and then drop, which makes the symptoms of anxiety even worse and can lead to effects that feel like a panic attack. Watch out for sky-high sugar levels in all of the packaged foods you buy (they’re often sweets hidden behind a sauce or juice label) so that you don’t develop an accidental addiction. Aim for eating meals that are balanced with protein, carbs, fiber, and fat instead.

8. DON’T skimp on sleep.

The need for good sleep hygiene has gotten more attention in recent years, and for good reason: A single night of no sleep can lead to fatigue, anxiety, bad moods, and brain fog, while those with a longer-term lack of sleep (e.g., insomnia or other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea) may struggle with anxiety, depression, addictions, dementia and memory issues, obesity, and more. Research has shown that chronic insomnia can predispose people to anxiety or activate it in people who are at high risk. Adults should aim to get their recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.

9. DON’T skip meals.

Since eating a balanced diet is a key strategy in the battle against anxiety, skipping meals can be detrimental to mental health. One 2020 study found that participants who skipped meals (especially breakfast) reduced their overall daily diet quality, which may have negative health impacts over time, and missed meals can also decrease metabolism and play havoc with blood sugar, associated with irritability. Eat 3 meals per day and reach for healthy snacks, if needed, between them so you don’t veer off into “hangry” mode.

10. DON’T isolate.

With the rise of technology and worsened by the pandemic, isolation is more prevalent than ever, but too much alone time can be detrimental to mental health in a number of ways. Not isolating is not the same as keeping busy—in fact, filling the day with to-dos is one unhealthy coping strategy used for dealing with deep-down feelings of loneliness. But keep in mind that a person can feel lonely even when surrounded by people. Loneliness is more about the connection and vulnerability within those relationships; does the person feel they can share their true self with others? If not, look for support groups or therapy that can help foster more open connections to help quell anxious feelings.

11. DON’T stay glued to the news feed.

The 24/7 news cycle can test even the most mentally healthy of Americans, leading to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, anger, and lack of control. For example, a 2017 survey from the APA found that 56% of adults reported that following the news causes them stress, while research in the British Journal of Psychology showed that a mere 14 minutes of negative news increased both anxious and sad moods. Chronic stress can make existing anxiety feel even more insurmountable, so switch off the tube and enjoy some time in nature instead.

12. DON’T ever give up hope.

There are a range of possibilities to explore for addressing this issue. For example, brain SPECT imaging, which typically shows overactivity in the basal ganglia among those with anxiety, can help determine which of the 7 types of anxiety is at work. Not all anxiety is the same, and it can arise from a range of lesser-known factors—so a personalized treatment plan is key.

Anxiety and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Just to speak with Dr Amen. I’m 60 yrs old and as you can imagine I suffered so badly most of my life with depression and or bipolar and all the other diagnoses. How do you feel about ketamine infusions?I tried ECT and I think or believe it made me worse by loss of cognitive loss of memory loss of a few things since having that treatment but you know anything was worth a try I am I would really love to meet you I would appreciate it so greatly I’m pretty sure you don’t except Medicaid so I don’t think she has it for two could but I never been able to be too successful with my mental health issues and my life but if it all possible please don’t hesitate to contact me thank you so much thank you for helping all the people you to help I would benefit tremendously

    Comment by Linda Bianchi — November 19, 2022 @ 9:22 PM

  2. I work with folks with anxiety/depression/cannabis use on a daily basis. Everything you have written is very true!

    Comment by Patricia C. Friel, MS LPCC-S LICDC-CS — November 23, 2022 @ 6:44 AM

  3. I live in Victoria, BC just over the border from Seattle.
    Is there an office in Seattle that does brain scans?
    What would the cost be for a 74 year old lady (myself) to have a brain scan?
    I await your reply and thank you.
    Linda Collins, Victoria, BC

    Comment by Linda Collins — November 23, 2022 @ 12:40 PM

  4. Thank you

    Comment by Pam — November 23, 2022 @ 6:53 PM

  5. I have some anxiety since this pandemic started. I don't believe in it. I believe the leaders caused it to gain political power in Wash DC.
    I shut down the news altogether. I garden. I cook. I read a lot. I don't care who is woke or not. I over the law here. I pay my bills. I don't beg people for money to feed my kids. They are disgusting. Anyone can cook some rice and peas with oil and salt. Soup. Oatmeal. Have some pride. When the grocery store employees beg us for a donation. We tell them we pay for our own family. I give to my church charity. They help others in crisis all around the world. BGEA.
    Use some common sense. Take care of your own health. I go to a counselor if I need it.
    I eat well. Im a good cook. I have a good perspective no matter what is going on

    I think we need less government. The person in power now is destroying our country and that is hard to take. Who is doing something about it.
    I wish Dr Amen would scan his brain. Tell the truth about him. You are a leading authority.
    America needs your help now. Call him.
    Thank you for letting me vent my feelings here.
    I feel much better now. I'm meditating with Dr
    Deepak Chopra now.
    My daughter lives in NY. I'm worried about her.
    She's diagnosed with MS now. Last year she had a partial hysterectomy for uterine cancer. They got it all. Thank God. She won't stop drinking.
    Smoking pot. I'm praying Serenity prayer now
    I went out twice for my 72 birthday. I got a new doctor. Going for my physical next year. My debt is still high. I have a mortgage. I get money back next year on my new Medicare plan. Hope that helps my anxiety. I feel better thanks.

    Comment by Donna Hopcraft — December 5, 2022 @ 4:52 AM

  6. excellent advice!

    Comment by Doug Morris — September 18, 2023 @ 2:30 PM

  7. excellent advice!

    Comment by Doug Morris — September 18, 2023 @ 8:33 PM

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