How to Recognize and Overcome Triggers for Anxiety

For someone who lives with anxiety, an episode of overwhelming anxious thoughts or a panic attack can feel crippling. Not being able to return to calm is a terrifying experience, and it can change how you view the world for quite some time. In fact, the fear of entering another episode of anxiety can cause just as much trouble for people who have experienced bouts of anxiety in the past. They may stop any activity they believe led to the initial anxiety in order to protect themselves from future episodes.

What Are Anxiety Triggers?

Although for many, anxiety begins with no apparent cause, most people — over time — recognize situations and actions that lead to feelings of anxiety and panic. These are called triggers. They are not the reason someone has an anxiety disorder diagnosis — causes of anxiety disorders are complicated and can have factors ranging from genetics and past experiences to lack of coping skills — but they can exacerbate symptoms and signal significant episodes of anxiety.1

Many common anxiety triggers feel intuitive and are naturally associated with panic and anxiety, like high stress situations, debilitating or life-threatening diseases and unhealthy or abusive relationships. Other triggers may feel like normal life patterns to some but cause significant mental health problems for others. They include the following:

  • Food and water – Most people know that you need regular, healthy meals and plenty of water to stay healthy, but neglecting these daily needs can cause people to feel imbalanced and more prone to anxiety. It’s important not to skip meals or let yourself become dehydrated in order to feel your best both physically and mentally. Certain additives like food dyes and artificial sweeteners can also be triggers for some, so it’s important to pay attention to what you consume and try to eat as many whole foods as possible.
  • Medications and supplements – Hormone-based medicines or over-the-counter medicine and supplements can change the balance in your body and lead to episodes of anxiety. In particular, anything with added caffeine — even in food and drinks — can be an unexpected trigger. Making a list of all that you take and exploring with your doctor what might be a trigger could help relieve anxiety symptoms for some.
  • Drugs, smoking and alcohol – Abusing drugs and alcohol or relying on smoking to calm feelings of anxiety is likely to only make symptoms worse. Components of cigarettes as well as their smoke cause changes in blood pressure and breathing, and drugs and alcohol often bring on a host of side effects and health issues leading to deeper anxiety.2
  • Sleep disturbances – Not getting enough sleep has an overall negative effect on health. Making sure you’re giving yourself plenty of rest each night as well as creating an environment that promotes quality sleep is essential to feeling your best. It’s best to turn off screens well before bedtime and avoid texting or playing on your phone in bed.3
  • Social situations and performances – For many with anxiety, having to go to a party or perform in front of others can be a major trigger. However, neither of these can be completely avoided in normal life. Students will always be called on by teachers and professors, and friends will always have birthday dinners or parties. Learning to have a plan for these moments — both unpredictable situations and those you can anticipate — can help you feel at ease and be able to handle any situation. This will also boost your confidence and help you avoid debilitating negative thoughts.
  • Finances – All things money related can bring on anxiety for many people. Whether you’re concerned about being able to pay bills, getting out of debt, saving enough for retirement or feeling the pressure to keep up with others around you, finances can cause ongoing anxiety. Identifying your specific triggers and making plans to overcome these financial hurdles can help keep you in a healthier state of mind.

What Can I Do About Anxiety Triggers?

Although the temptation may be to avoid all anxiety triggers — and for some like drugs, alcohol, caffeine and additives, that may be best — many triggers are better overcome than avoided. Working with a psychotherapist can give you insight into how to prepare for situations that cause anxiety and tools to work through those times in a healthy way. This allows you to continue to heal and live your life at the same time.

For those who may not have an anxiety disorder but are in a close context with those who do, understanding how triggers work can help you support those around you and encourage them to continue to do the hard work of healing. Being particularly sensitive to their unique triggers can help them feel loved and give them confidence to overcome difficult situations.

Help for Anxiety and Panic Disorders

If you or someone you love is struggling with ongoing anxiety or panic, we want to help you heal. At the Talbott Campus, we seek to treat the whole person, mind, body and soul, so that you can live a full life with fewer symptoms of your diagnosis. Please call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline today to speak with an admissions counselor about how you can begin your journey to health.

By Becca Owens

1Common Anxiety Triggers for Anxiety and Panic.”, Accessed May 29, 2018.
2 Landau, Ian, “11 surprising causes of anxiety (sorry if reading this stresses you out!).”, October 14, 2016.
3Anxiety symptoms: 8 surprising triggers.”, Accessed May 29, 2018.

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