If you’re living with anxiety, you know how unpredictable it can be. There are days when fear feels overwhelming and completely unmanageable. There might also be days when you feel completely fine. Do you ever wonder why you can feel fine one second and overwhelmingly fearful the next? There is a simple explanation for the sudden onset of anxiety or panic attacks: triggers.
A trigger is simply an external source or stimulus that causes you to remember painful past events. When you’re triggered, your mind and body will react as if they’re experiencing that trauma all over again. If your feelings of anxiety were a fire, your triggers would be the match that lights it. At Sun Behavioral Health Delaware, we understand how debilitating these triggers can be. We want to help you heal and move past them.
What Triggers Anxiety?
Everyone’s triggers are different because everyone’s traumas are different. What affects you may not affect someone else. Triggers come in many forms, too. Some people may be triggered by a song, others by a smell. Some triggers revolve around words exchanged, arguments, physical pain, or the death of a loved one. Some triggers are big – like a car accident or a health scare. Others are small – an unpleasant exchange between coworkers or the taste of apple pie. There is no rule for what will trigger someone’s anxiety. These triggers are very personal and that is why it is important to identify them, and develop a personal strategy to manage them.
There are, however, common triggers to look out for that will impact almost anyone with anxiety. Some of these include:
- Caffeine. Caffeine causes your heart rate to rise which tells your brain “something’s wrong.” Too much caffeine can trigger anxiety and panic attacks.
- Money trouble. If you are struggling to make ends meet or keep a roof over your head, you might feel like you’re in a constant state of fear or worry.
- Stress. Any kind of significant stress is going to mimic anxiety. If you have an anxiety disorder, stress can make anxiety worse.
- Social gatherings. For some people, spending time with others gives them energy. For others, it’s draining and hard on self-esteem.
- Health issues. Human beings have very strong survival instincts. If we feel as if our survival is in jeopardy, we’re going to feel anxious.
- Alcohol or other drugs. Drugs and alcohol might seem like they’re curbing your anxiety, but they’re actually doing the opposite. Alcohol is a depressant. Drinking might feel good at the time, but the next day it’s going to make you feel down and anxious.
- Large changes in routine. People who are living with an anxiety disorder will thrive with routine because it’s predictable and safe. If there’s a large change to that routine, or if the routine is constantly interrupted, it can trigger anxiety.
- Poor diet. If you have an anxiety disorder, your diet matters. Gut health is tied to mental health. A poor diet will lead to poor gut health, which can send the brain signals that something is off.
- Lack of sleep. When we’re sleeping, we are giving our bodies and minds time to heal. When you’re not sleeping enough, your body is going to feel like it’s in “fight or flight” mode all the time.
- People from the past. There are probably people in your life that contribute to your anxiety. That could be because they helped to cause your anxiety when you were younger, or it could simply be because they say or do things that upset you. This is a very common trigger for anxiety.
How to Identify Your Triggers
As mentioned earlier, everyone has different triggers. Your background – the way you were raised, the relationships you were in, the things you’ve seen, the mistakes you’ve made, and the people you’ve chosen to allow into your life – are all contributing factors to what currently triggers you.
Finding and identifying your triggers is going to help you manage your anxiety or panic attacks. Once you identify them, you can learn how to catch them and manage them. The goal of identifying your triggers is to give them less power over you. But figuring out what they are isn’t always easy.
When anxiety hits, you’re not always thinking about what’s triggering you or what’s causing those feelings of fear. Let’s take a look at some of the helpful things you can do to identify your triggers.
- Keep a “worry log.” Worry logs are common in cognitive behavioral therapy, and they’ll help you notice when you’re worrying, what exactly you’re worried about, and what the probability is that the worst thing will happen. A lot of anxiety revolves around catastrophizing or “blowing things out of proportion.” A worry log will help you step back and look at your feelings from a neutral perspective. You can obtain a worry log online or through your therapist.
- Try a “body scan” meditation. People with anxiety often neglect how they’re truly feeling physically. Practicing body scan meditations will increase your awareness and help you find physical triggers.
- Keep a journal by your bed. Any time something comes up in your mind that makes you feel uncomfortable, write it down. Even if it’s just a single word or a sentence. Start to notice when those feelings of anxiety bubble up and write down what’s causing them.
- Keep track of what you’re putting into your body. Because triggers are so frequently food or substance-related (like alcohol or amphetamines), write down what you’re doing and notice how it makes you feel. If you drank heavily the night before and the next day you’re feeling constantly anxious, you’ll know the alcohol triggered you. The same goes for food.
- Keep track of what you’re reading and watching. If you just watched a movie and you’re suddenly feeling on edge, stop and ask yourself “why?” What was it about the movie that triggered you? Was it a topic? The music? A certain scene? If you can figure out what it was, you can avoid it in the future (or address it with your therapist).
How to Manage Your Triggers
Once you’ve begun to recognize your triggers, you can begin to manage them (or stop them from happening). This is a process that takes time – it won’t happen overnight. Remember that you’ve spent years developing triggers through trauma and there is no “quick fix.” There are things you can practice daily that will make the triggers less frequent. Here are some things you can do to stop them in their tracks:
- Exercise daily. A recent article from Harvard Health Publishing talks about how exercise can be as effective as antidepressants. Why? It improves brain function and lowers blood pressure. Exercising while living with anxiety isn’t always easy. Force yourself to move in small increments. 5 minutes one day, 10 the next. If you skip a day, practice self-compassion. Take baby steps, and give yourself some grace.
- Breathe. It sounds simple, but it works wonders. People who battle anxiety daily have difficulty controlling their breathing. That is because when the “fight or flight” response is activated, our breathing naturally becomes faster and more shallow. As heart rate increases, the length of breath decreases, which causes heightened physical anxiety. Deep breathing exercises (regularly – not just when you’re feeling anxious) will change the way your body reacts to stress.
- Find a quality therapist and see him/her regularly. This point cannot be stressed enough. If you find a therapist or counselor that you like and can trust, it’s a game changer. A therapist can help you create healthy coping mechanisms to combat your anxious thoughts. A good therapist can also give you someone to talk to, which is vital to the healing process.
- Maintain a comfortable daily routine and carve out time for self-care. A steady routine will give you back some feelings of control that you lose while you’re in panic mode. Anxiety disorders take away our sense of safety and certainty. A quality routine that includes self-care (hobbies, exercise, healthy eating) will increase feelings of safety and well-being.
Treatment for Anxiety
When anxiety starts to damage your social life, work life, or home life, it’s time to seek treatment. Treatment for anxiety disorders typically consists of individual, group, or intensive outpatient therapies. It can also include medication to help manage the symptoms associated with this disorder. Each treatment facility, primary care provider, and mental health rehab offers a variety of treatments. At Sun Behavioral Health Delaware, we offer the following treatments and services:
- Psychiatrists and nurse practitioners
- Compassionate around-the-clock nursing care
- Life skills counseling and healthy living groups
- Stress management
- Recreational therapy
- Family therapy and counseling services
- Collaboration for outpatient providers
- Aftercare planning and continued recovery
Anxiety disorder can feel impossible to live with. It’s overwhelming to greet each day with fear and worry. The good news is that treatment is available and anxiety doesn’t need to hold you back from living your life. There are options available to suit everyone’s needs. You don’t need to feel this way forever.
At Sun Behavioral Health Delaware, we’ve created a caring and healing environment for people just like you. We are here to help. To learn more or to set up a consultation, call us at (302) 604-5600.
FAQs About Common Anxiety Triggers
What are 3 things that cause anxiety?
Three common triggers for anxiety are caffeine, alcohol, and a lack of physical exercise. There is no set “cause” for anxiety, and each person has unique triggers.
What brings on anxiety all of a sudden?
Usually, if you’re hit with a wave of anxiety, you’ve been triggered by something. It could be something someone said, something you heard, or even something you tasted. Whatever it was, it brought up something painful from your past – whether or not you realized it. When this happens again, try to ask yourself “why?” If you can identify what triggers you, you can address it and find healthy ways to manage it.
How can I figure out what’s triggering me?
To find out what’s causing your triggers, try journaling, meditation, or talk therapy. If one thing doesn’t work, don’t give up! Everyone can identify their triggers, it just takes time and patience. It might be a little painful to go back in time and address your traumas, but once you do, your healing can begin. Talk with a licensed therapist to learn more about identifying your triggers.