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Memory and Bad Habits Provoke More Anxiety

Updated on January 13, 2016
Think | Source

You Are What You Think

Our thoughts are unique to each and everyone of us. We all think, but the interpretations of our thoughts may differ. The way we think and assimilate thoughts is very important when it comes to having an anxious mind, and this is why cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the primary therapy in trying to solve an anxiety problem. If we can change the way we think in a positive way, then it will have a positive impact on the way we behave.

Whether you are suffering from generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), or any of the other anxiety disorders, it is highly likely that you have set up a pattern of bad habits when it comes to how you interpret both your thoughts and situations. These bad habits can be said to be behavioural, but as the behaviour becomes your 'norm', the brain stores these personal norms in memory. This is why it can seem so difficult to break the bad habits, and when chronically anxious, it feels as though you think and behave instinctively.

Alert and Anxious - Forming Bad Memories

Watching from the sidelines
Watching from the sidelines | Source

I recognised that memory was playing a part in keeping my panic disorder alive years ago, and it was also maintaining the bad habits I had formed. For example:

  • Having panic attacks whilst carrying out the same action (memory)
  • Reacting with ritualistic actions to a fearful thought (bad habit)

Where my agoraphobia and panic attacks were concerned, for example, it only took me to be in the same place where a panic attack had happened before to initiate subsequent panic attacks.

Once you have become very anxious and fearful, your sensitivity is heightened generally, your eyesight is clearer and your hearing is more acute. You are 'on alert'. You don't realise it, but you are absorbing much more of your surroundings than you think you are.

I had a panic attack when I was cooking dinner. It only took that one panic attack in the kitchen, stood at the cooker at a certain time, to cause further attacks to happen in exactly the same situation. I found I became fearful in the shower but had no idea why because having a shower is nothing to be afraid of. I couldn't understand it until I saw that memory was playing a big part.

For some strange reason the word 'breathing' would make me feel like I couldn't breathe properly. I had built up a mental picture of the word breathing being something to fear. All this is laid down in memory.

Traumatic Memory and Response

Can We Erase Memories?

When reactionary feelings and behaviours are called up from memory, it can seem like there is no way to break the chain of thinking or action. When you have been convinced that a place, time of day, a situation or even a certain action no matter how small, will cause you to become super anxious, how can you convince your brain otherwise?

The answer of course is that we can't erase memories. I believe we can overwrite memories or at least lessen the impact of memories, by changing our response to them when they are called up. I also believe that by changing our behaviours or actions, we can form new memories. New memories can overwrite or lessen the impact of those old memories. So how can you do this?

Breaking the Chain Reaction


Reactionary Behaviour and Forming Bad Habits

Anxiety disorders build up and don't happen overnight. They tend to worsen when our reactionary behaviour becomes ingrained in our memories. Someone who has lots of panic attacks will tell you that even though they know the panic attack won't kill them, as soon as one starts its hard to believe that there isn't something seriously wrong. Their physical reactionary behaviour is always the same too.

They tend to move around a lot, sometimes escape the place they are having the panic attack in, and most of all internalise everything that is happening to them. This isn't all purely down to being fearful, as some of it is down to instinctual thinking brought up by remembering the last panic attack, how it felt, and what pattern of behaviour followed. Bad habits are built up in this way.

Making New Memories

If making bad memories can cause a negative response, then it sounds to sense that making good memories can initiate a positive response. You have to overwrite those bad memories.

It helps if you become aware of the way you react to triggers, so get yourself a notebook and keep a diary for a few weeks. You are working towards understanding how you think and act by reaction. There are a few examples below:

Planning a shopping trip
I might have a panic attack
Safety behaviours or not going shopping
Feeling anxious whilst out of home
I need to get home quickly
Jumping in a cab - rushing home
Going to sleep
I bet I feel anxious tomorrow
Over checking for symptoms on waking

Same Places - Fear - Thinking Differently

With diary completed and a greater understanding of how you think and react, you can get a clearer picture of the patterns ( bad habits), that have been stored for so long in memory.

Actual circumstance

Brings an instant thought

Causes an habitual response

With this understanding you can begin to change the way you think and behave. It takes great dedication but changes can be achieved.

I began by changing the way I approached triggers, i.e the situations that made me very anxious or fearful.

Where cooking dinners was concerned, I started to prepare dinner at a much earlier time so all I had to do was turn on the heat! Whilst cooking, I turned on a TV and concentrated on that. I took a walk around the garden halfway through cooking the meal. I did anything and everything to change the habitual way I had cooked dinner before. I did not get anxious cooking a meal that day or thereafter. Had I become anxious again, I would have changed the way I did things again. I laid down a new routine in memory that did not have the anxious attachment.

What you are trying to do is cause a different reaction that does not automatically trigger a stressful or fearful response.

When we are in certain habitual situations that our memory connects with negative responses, our brains begin to attach certain visual and auditory factors to the whole picture, which in turn compounds both the mental and physical reactions. Seeing that building, that person, that place, doing a certain action at that time of the day is all it can take. Hearing the phone ringing can trigger an anxiety attack.

Perhaps you could change the ring tone on your phone and turn it down a notch. Put your phone in a different place. Avoiding people and places is somewhat difficult sometimes and is actually NOT the answer.

I already said, that we are on alert. When roused our eyesight becomes sharper than usual. This is part of being sensitised by a chronic and high state of anxiety. One needs to tackle the core anxiety problem by way of relaxation, meditation or other such exercise to minimise the level of sensitisation. Once you can bring yourself down on a daily basis to a calmer level generally, you will find that the heightened sensitivity slowly dissipates.

The nervous system takes a battering when you are constantly anxious and so it also takes time to heal. Laying down new memories, actions, and thoughts, doesn't miraculously get rid of your anxiety problem overnight, but with time, dedication, and consistency, you can change the way you respond to your triggers. If you are addressing your general anxious state at the same time, you will see huge changes in just a few weeks.


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    • meloncauli profile image

      meloncauli 3 years ago from UK

      Thaak you so much for reading and stopping to leave me a comment.

    • velamasita profile image


      such a great explanation. Love it :)

    • meloncauli profile image

      meloncauli 3 years ago from UK

      Thanks for your comment Rahman K Smith. I do hope it is useful to some sufferers :)

    • Rahman K Smith profile image

      Rahman K Smith 3 years ago from Everywhere, everywhere, all over, all over.

      I think it's great how you give specific and tangible suggestions. Few people have access to good therapy, thus it's important to learn to be your own therapist. Thanks for the great hub.

    • meloncauli profile image

      meloncauli 3 years ago from UK

      Thanks wordswithlove. It can work with dedication :)

    • wordswithlove profile image

      Neetu M 3 years ago from USA

      Very interesting and well-written hub. Anxiety affects many of us, but some of us buckle under it, causing all the effects you have stated. I am so glad you were able to identify the sources, the memories associated with yours, and able to use cognitive methods to rewire your mind to making different associations to alleviate the anxieties.

    • meloncauli profile image

      meloncauli 3 years ago from UK

      You're welcome @catgypsy I wish you luck on trying this out as it can be very affective. May you make lots of new positive memories. :)

    • catgypsy profile image

      catgypsy 3 years ago from the South

      Well written hub, as usual. You truly understand anxiety problems. I am working on this right now, trying to change my reactions to things. It is very hard and takes time. I think that's one of the challenging parts of working on anxiety, that it takes time and so it's easy to get discouraged. I love your hubs about this because you know what you're talking about and always give such great information. I have never heard about changing the pattern of what you do before, but it's a great idea. Thanks, meloncauli.

    • meloncauli profile image

      meloncauli 3 years ago from UK

      I'm glad to hear that denise.w.anderson It certainly went some way in helping me turn things around.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      It is amazing how we can have an effect on our anxiety by the physical actions that we do, as well as our thought patterns! Memory is such a big part of anxiety, these suggestions of how to modify our memories have worked many times in my life as well.

    • meloncauli profile image

      meloncauli 3 years ago from UK

      Many thanks for dropping by and the vote gsidley. It takes a lot of digging and determination - a bit like being your own psychologist!

    • gsidley profile image

      Dr. Gary L. Sidley 3 years ago from Lancashire, England

      An interesting slant on psychologically treatments to panic/anxiety. As you'll be aware, most talking treatments (at least those of a CBT slant) aim, explicitly, to change beliefs. Your greater focus on changing memories associated with the panic is a fascinating permutation of the traditional approach. Voted up.