Why Your Anxiety is Getting Worse: When to Get Help

November 14, 2023

I went to clean out my car the other day only to find a surprise that I knew was not going to be pleasant. It was my lunchbox with which I had taken to work earlier in the week. I tried to count the number of days that had past since I last had the lunch box, but couldn't quite remember, which wasn't a good sign. Inside the lunch box was a Tupperware container that I had taken some food to work in some time ago. And if you are thinking you know what is coming next, you are right.

I was going to eventually have to remove the lid, which would release a toxic odor. I already had an upset stomach thinking about it and was wondering how long I would be able to hold my breath. I could throw out the Tupperware but that would bring on a host of other anxious thoughts about how my wife was going to respond to my forgetfulness mixed with laziness. I prepared for the shortness of breath, gritted my teeth, and removed the lid.

Well, I'm sorry for the visual here, but I think this is a good illustration for what we are going to get into in regards to anxiety symptoms here in a bit. Most of us have been in this situation before where we opened up an old container we had forgotten about only to find what looks like a new fourth grade science experiment growing inside. And the reason this happens is because we created an environment where mold has the ability to thrive! Mold is going to do exceptionally well with a bit of leftover food, a certain temperature, and trapped moisture. Here we've got the perfect recipe to create a space where mold is going to do very well.

Let's pivot this example into our feelings of anxiety.

Do you live a life where anxiety is going to thrive? Forget whether or not you have any type of anxiety disorder, but do your daily activities foster an environment where anxiety can grow?

Now, I'm sure you didn't come here to learn a bit more about how you can help your anxiety grow, but having a higher level of understanding of what fuels persistent anxiety will help to teach us how to create an environment where intense anxiety does not occur as often. It should of course be noted that occasional anxiety is part of everyday life and working to rid ourselves of this experience only exacerbates the physical symptoms of anxiety. This would be like trying to rid the earth entirely of mold, which can have some positive benefits. Alright, I'm done talking about mold. Below we are going to discuss what a life looks like where anxiety is going to thrive so we can create a better awareness of how to not engage in this life.

Enough Sleep

Our first step we can engage in if we want to live a life where anxiety thrives is not getting enough sleep. This is pretty much the case when it comes to any mental illness and mental health professionals seems to agree on this across the board. Studies show that not getting enough sleep exacerbates anxiety triggers and increases the changes of anxiety attacks. It should be no surprise that not getting enough sleep aids in anxiety's ability to take root.

Action step: Keep consistent sleep and wake times, only deviating in special circumstances.

Reassure Yourself

This is one of the most important pieces of creating a life where anxiety thrives. It is not crucial to the initial onset but it is perhaps the one that aids the most in it's growth. I like to think of consistent reassurance as the fertilizer to our anxiety garden. I tell this to all of my clients with obsessive-compulsive disorder that anxiety eats little reassurance cookies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Another example is to think of when you want to feed one bird how several more come your way. If you want to tend to the space that your anxiety needs, consistently reassure yourself.

Action step: Learn to embrace the acceptance of uncertainty and minimize reassurances.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Anxiety can certainly take a toll on our mood as it requires a lot of energy to deal with it. The last thing we want to do is go for a run or exercise, especially if you are a sufferer of panic disorder. After coming down from the rapid heart rate experience we do not look forward to creating an increased heart rate again. And exercising immediately after panic attacks is not necessarily a great idea, but living a sedentary lifestyle where your heart rate is not increasing at your own volition on occasion will help create an environment where anxiety thrives. I have heard it said before that the most underused of all anti-anxiety medications is exercise. And while using psychopharmacological intervention can be the right choice for a lot of people, I like to think of some of the more natural ways we can approach a reduction in the symptoms of anxiety disorders.

Action step: Add some sort of exercise routine where you are either breaking a sweat or seeing an elevated heart rate at several points throughout your week. As always consult your healthcare provider if you have any sort of medical condition this might interfere with.

Poor Diet and Substance Abuse

While I am certainly far from a nutritionist, it is well documented that having too much caffeine or engaging in alcohol abuse can have a negative effect on anxiety. This is also true of other drugs but I think it's important to specifically touch on marijuana. We have seen a number of clients who use marijuana as a way to reduce anxiety, but most of the research shows that marijuana generally increases anxiety. Additionally, anxiety will thrive off of dehydration and a balanced diet of sugar, saturated fats, and processed foods.

Action step: Audit your use of substances (caffeine included) as well as nutritional intake and evaluate if what you are putting in your body is serving you in the ways that you want it to.

Understand your Anxiety

Above we have identified four ways that your anxiety thrives. However, it is also very important that you have a high understanding of how your anxiety works. There is a reason that we have diagnoses of social anxiety disorder and specific phobia. It is because they point to different symptoms and different causes. As a mental health specialist, I have seen that anxiety believes it's job to be to get us to avoid as much as possible. It minimizes our life as to minimize the risks that we take to protect us from every having to feel uncomfortable. And while I might want that to happen if some sort of immediate harm is going to befall me if I do not take the path of avoidance, engaging in consistent avoidance in my daily life has not lead to living a life of as much value.

If you have social phobia your anxiety is going to try and keep you out of social situations. And it is true that staying out of the social situation will keep you from having to deal with a brief period of anxiety. But the research shows that when the anxiety returns, it will return to the same level that it peaked at originally. This is pretty much the entire basis for exposure therapy. Thus the effective treatment for finding different ways to respond to these everyday situations is to continue to engage in social events. In doing this we teach our nervous system that the bodily sensations we are experiencing are a normal part of life and not something that we need to escape from

When To Get Help

If you are here and wondering if you struggle with anxiety, it probably is a good time to get some help. The reason that I would suggest this is because it will help you create a basis for if you need to do some more work or seek out treatment at other points in your life. I do not go to the doctor every time I get a headache. I recognize that I life in a body that is going to be affected by the elements of life and do not expect it to feel 100% all of the time. If I sense a cold coming on, I impose a few interventions like getting some more sleep, staying extra hydrated, staying out of the gym, and maybe even taking some medication. If it's getting worse or not getting better at all, that might be when I decide to phone my doctor to get in for an appointment.

But if you are wanting more of a rule of thumb to follow to know when it is time to get yourself some help, go with this. It is time to get some help with anxiety when your life is getting smaller. When anxiety is getting you to avoid more and more in your life, this is the biggest indicator that it is time to do something. You of course have to ask yourself if you care about the things that you are not doing and if they are valuable choices or not. It might be a wise idea to avoid family for a certain period of time while you work on yourself, or perhaps you do truly need to leave that job. But when anxiety is taking over the parts of your life that you find value in, it is time to see a therapist and take your life back.


If you are looking for a support group to help improve the relationship with your anxiety, Thrive offers an Adult DBT Group. Additionally I would recommend checking out our course on Anxiety as well.

Of course, if you are already signed up for Thrive's membership all of these courses are included at no additional cost to you!

Take the next step

Contact Us

Contact Us

Please fill out the contact for and one of our team members will get in touch with you in the next 48 hours.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.