Most people have experienced anxiety at some point in their lives. When we are worried or stressed, it can lead us to feel more anxious about life. Learning to ease anxiety before it spirals will make your life easier.
Although feeling anxious is normal, if it becomes a daily occurrence or interferes with your ability to function, it’s a mental health disorder. Millions of people have been diagnosed, but unless you’ve experienced it, you might not understand how anxiety is different than just being nervous or worried.
If you have been diagnosed or suffer from anxiety on a regular basis, understanding your triggers will help you learn to control your reactions and lessen the severity of an attack.
Before we talk about triggers, it is useful to understand the different ways anxiety can present in people. The symptoms experienced can vary from person to person, but here are some of the most commonly reported:
- Excessive sweating – often accompanied by body odor
- Excessive nervousness
- Rapid heart rate
- Problems sleeping
- Muscle tension
If these symptoms sound familiar and you have not sought medical help, it might be helpful to speak to your doctor. If there are no medical reasons for these symptoms, you might be referred to a psychologist to talk about your anxiety.
Anxiety triggers vary from person to person, but several common triggers have been reported. In looking over this list, you’ll see why they’re common. Any of these could cause any person to worry. Unforeseen situations can affect anyone, but for someone with anxiety, the reaction is bigger and tends to last longer.
- Medical diagnoses – Any health-related condition can be scary, especially if it’s something serious like cancer. In addition, because chronic illnesses can become worse over time without warning, that fear is something that looms over the patient.
- Caffeine – I know, many of us love our caffeine. You can’t imagine life without your morning cup of joe. However, drinking too much caffeine can induce anxiety and its related symptoms, such as rapid heart rate and sleep trouble.
- Crowds – Large crowds or small spaces with many people can make you feel confined, even if you’re not normally claustrophobic. The feeling of being trapped can trigger anxiety. Large social gatherings can also have this effect, especially if you’re out of practice and have been a homebody for some time.
- Medication – Mixing over-the-counter meds with your prescriptions can have some adverse effects. Make sure you mention anything you might take to your doctor or pharmacist. If there is a connection between medications, they might be able to suggest a substitute.
- Stress – Whew, this is a big one. As much as I’d love to give you the secret to living a stress-free life, I don’t think it exists. The thing about stress is that it can compound a number of issues that make your anxiety worse, yet another vicious cycle. For example, you get stressed out, which triggers anxiety. Then you’re not hungry because of the stress and worry, so you don’t eat, which triggers more anxiety.
- Conflict – Conflict can be another form of stress. It can be disagreements with co-workers or loved ones or even conflict within yourself. If you feel at fault for something or if you think you should be able to fix a situation but can’t, it can make your anxiety worse.
How to Identify Your Triggers
While the list above is a good starting place, anxious feelings can arise for a multitude of reasons. You need to understand your personal triggers so that you can recognize situations and keep the anxiety at bay.
Often, our anxiety is rooted in past experiences. If you suffer from anxiety, hopefully you are working with a therapist who can help you recognize the events or situations from your past that may have been the root of your anxiety.
Identifying your triggers is the first step in learning how to cope and developing strategies for easing the impact of the symptoms.
I’ve mentioned the benefits of journaling before. Here, though, you would be journaling with a specific purpose in mind: to track your anxiety and what triggered it. By keeping a list of triggers, you might be able to see a pattern develop. All you have to do is write down daily any time you felt anxious and what was happening at the time. Describe what the situation was and what your feelings were.
Journaling helps you get rid of negative thoughts and over time, you might be able to see how your anxiety manifests.
As mentioned above, if you’ve been officially diagnosed with anxiety, you’re probably working with a therapist. If you haven’t been diagnosed, but your anxiety is negatively impacting your daily life, you should consider looking for professional help.
A therapist will ask you some tough questions, but in answering them, you might have the breakthroughs you need to improve. Therapists will often push you past your comfort zone to find the answers, which is something most people can’t do on their own.
Pay attention to your body. If you’ve been skipping meals, are you more anxious? If you haven’t slept well for a few days, are you more agitated? Our bodies will usually give us warning signs when we’re not getting what we need.
Be Honest with Yourself
We lie to ourselves all the time. It’s easier than digging deep, especially if it leads to past trauma. If you’re struggling with things, it’s hard to talk about, so we deal with it silently by ourselves. That’s not the way it has to be.
If you are honest with yourself, you can admit when you need some help. Find someone to confide in and be honest with them as well. Don't ignore past issues and pretend they don’t exist. Uncovering your triggers is the only way to get better.
Coping with Anxiety
Once you have an idea of what your triggers are, you’ll know what to look for so you can avoid it. However, as diligent as you might be about avoiding triggers, it doesn’t always work. You can’t live a stress-free, conflict-free, worry-free life (but if you figure this out, please let me know).
You’re going to face times when the triggers are there and you can’t escape them. Instead, you need to give yourself strategies to cope with the feelings and symptoms of your anxiety.
Here are some ways that might help you ease anxiety:
One common symptom of anxiety is feeling like you can’t breathe. It adds stress and makes the anxiety worse, so learning some deep breathing techniques can help. Sometimes, it’s enough to close your eyes to the world around you and take some slow, deep breaths.
Other times you need something more focused. Specific techniques tend to work well if you have a kid with anxiety because they really don’t want to be told to just take a few deep breaths.
One method is Take Five – With your palm up, trace up your thumb as you inhale and exhale as you trace down. Do this for each finger.
Another method is Flower-candle – imagine in one hand you are holding a flower and in the other a candle. Inhale to smell the flower, exhale to blow out the candle.
If you’ve been around here for a while, you know that I’m not some fitness guru. I don’t particularly like exercise. However, I admit there are lots of benefits to keeping yourself active. Physical activity can be fun. If you enjoy it, it will help keep anxiety from rearing its head because you’re happy.
Choosing a form of physical activity that you don’t enjoy won’t have the same effect because you’ll dread having to do it. Find something simple you like whether it’s yoga in your living room or a walk with your dog while you listen to some good music or a funny podcast.
Keeping your body moving and healthy can have a huge impact on your overall mental well-being.
Get Good Sleep
I’ve talked about the effects of not getting enough sleep. It’s a fight I think every parent has had with their kids—and not just the toddlers. Teenagers notoriously don’t want to keep a regular schedule for sleep.
Your brain and body need to recharge fully every night to be able to handle what happens during the day. If you are well-rested, you will be better able to handle the stress and conflict all day. If you haven’t gotten enough sleep, those things could push you to your breaking point.
Make sure you avoid screens at night and try to give yourself a regular routine.
I know I mentioned journaling above, but in addition to being a great way to track your anxiety triggers so you can look for patterns, journaling also offers tons of benefits for your overall mental health. If you’re not sure where to start, try a journal that comes with prompts to respond to.
Choose Happy Things
When you are happy, anxiety is less likely to rear its head. What kinds of things make you happy? Is it chatting with a friend over coffee? Sharing memes with loved ones on social media? Watching a comforting TV show?
If you make a conscious effort to bring a little more happiness into your life, it will be harder for anxiety to take hold. Do the things that make you happy.
We live in a go-go-go world. Many of us (cough *moms* cough) feel guilty if we take a break to just relax. In addition to working our jobs and raising our families, we often continue to say yes to other obligations. Then, guilt sets in if we discover we really can’t do it all. It’s important to squeeze some time in each day that is just about yourself.
You don’t need to go on vacation or spend the day at a spa (although, if you can, great). Everyone can find at least a few minutes to unwind by listening to a favorite playlist or podcast, reading a book, or taking a walk. You need to prioritize yourself sometimes.
Many of the things I’ve mentioned above can easily fall under the larger umbrella of self-care. This is another reminder that you can’t continue to take care of others if you’re not okay. Self-care does mean putting yourself first for a while and getting what you need.
I’m not here to take the place of your doctor or therapist. But let’s face it—many of us don’t do the things we should. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will be run down and then anxiety can easily spike.
The methods I talk about aren’t a cure for anxiety. If you do things to prevent an anxiety spiral or at least dimmish its effects, I’d call that a win.