Anxiety is one of the most common reasons people enter therapy. When left untreated, many people struggle with constant feelings of being overwhelmed, frightened, or unable to calm down and sit still. There’s no doubt that therapy can provide fantastic support in helping you learn how to manage your condition.
While anxiety may feel like this random sensation, it’s often triggered by a particular stimulus. Learning the common anxiety triggers can help you feel more empowered in your recovery- it can also help you prepare for how you will cope with these issues when they inevitably arise.
Environmental and Health Triggers
Caffeine - Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and works as a way to get our day revved up and going. But too much caffeine can also make you feel nervous or agitated, and for some people, having a cup of coffee or an energy drink will trigger feelings of anxiety. People with panic disorder and social anxiety disorder appear to be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine.
Alcohol - While a glass or two of wine can seem like a great way to relax, those with anxiety disorders may find that alcohol makes their anxiety symptoms worse. And unfortunately research shows those with anxiety disorders are two to three times more likely to have an alcohol or other substance abuse disorder at some point in their lives than the general population.
Medication - Some medications can cause anxiety or worsen anxiety symptoms. Some medications used for asthma, blood pressure, cough, birth control, and congestion may trigger anxiousness and panic attacks.
Sleep - When we get a great night's sleep we wake refreshed and ready for our day. Poor sleep, especially compounded over many nights or weeks can wreak havoc on our bodies and create a stressed out physical state ripe for irritability and anxiousness.
Thyroid - Your thyroid produces hormones that your body uses to regulate metabolism and energy. But when your thyroid produces too many hormones, it can create nervousness and other symptoms that mimic anxiety symptoms, such as heart palpitations, irritability, and insomnia.
If you're experiencing anxiety, a conversation with your doctor about your health and any medications you're taking is a great first step towards feeling better.
Compounded Little Stressors
It’s not a surprise that significant stressors like relationship breakups, job changes or deaths can trigger anxiety. However, most people overlook the power of how small, chronic, daily issues can affect their emotional well-being.
Everyone faces stress, but not everyone deals with their stress in the same ways. Some people attempt to avoid how they feel altogether. They pummel through their days, attacking their to-do lists, almost acting robotic in the ways they maneuver daily obstacles. Others attempt to escape. They may turn to mood-altering substances, like drugs or alcohol, or other compulsive behaviors, like overeating or shopping, to avoid facing their feelings.
When you don’t address your stress productively, you face a higher risk of anxiety. That’s because the stress starts running your life - rather than you running your life.
70% of American adults report experiencing at least one kind of traumatic event during their lifetime. Trauma doesn’t discriminate who it affects, and trauma is a severe risk factor for almost all behavioral health problems.
Trauma can impact one’s physical and emotional safety. Often, it activates a fight, flight, or freeze response in people. Therefore, when you are reminded about the traumatic event your body moves into survival mode and this mode can be undoubtedly stressful.
Trauma can compromise how secure you feel in this world. Therefore, you may notice yourself feeling more anxious in relatively benign situations (i.e., with friends or at a crowded restaurant). In fact, trauma can have a subtle way of making you feel anxious without even realizing you’re anxious.
Even if you love them unconditionally, your family and friends can be your greatest anxiety triggers. Your loved ones should have your best interest at heart, but they also come with their own opinions, personalities and specific ways of doing things. Undoubtedly, this inherent mismatch can cause tension, which can heighten the anxiety you feel.
It’s normal to feel anxious when there’s conflict in the relationship. You don’t want to hurt the people you love. Likewise, you don’t want to be a people-pleaser and risk getting hurt, either.
However, unresolved tension and problems can exacerbate anxiety. If you don’t learn how to work out these problems, they can resurface time and time again. And that can cause stress for even the most confident person.
Negative change is notoriously stressful, but even positive experiences can trigger anxiety. Why? Because change can naturally disrupt your normal routine. It shifts the way you think, behave, and feel about things. It may also start out positively only to add more stress later on.
All changes can cause anxiety. Whether we like it or not, most of us are creatures of habit. We like our set schedules and we find a sense of comfort in having a familiar pattern.
Even if something really great happens, don’t be surprised if you find yourself feeling anxious and uncertain. It’s your mind and body adjusting to this new transition.
Thinking About Your Anxiety
It may seem silly, but even just thinking about your anxiety condition may make you feel more anxious. That’s because many people criticize or shame themselves for their feelings. Maybe you assume that you shouldn’t be afraid, insecure or sad about a particular situation. Perhaps you judge yourself for struggling with anxiety in the first place.
When you fail to accept your feelings for what they are, your anxiety may actually worsen as a result. Rather than finding peace with imperfection, you’re creating (potentially unrealistic) expectations for where you think you’re supposed to be. This pressure is enough to make anyone feel anxious.
Managing Your Anxiety Triggers
Although it can feel frustrating and even debilitating, anxiety is treatable. As you identify your personal anxiety triggers, you can also learn how to develop healthy strategies to cope with your symptoms.
Do you need some additional help in treating your anxiety? Therapy is a great place to start. As a Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional (CCATP), I can help you reduce, rethink and relax. Contact me to find out how.