Anxiety Triggers and What To Do When You Feel Anxious

In a world of growing mental health awareness, it comes as no surprise that anxiety is one of the leading diagnoses. While it’s perfectly normal to have some anxiety on a fleeting basis, it’s not normal for it to wreak havoc on your day-to-day life. What triggers one person’s anxiety may not even register on the radar for another, so it’s important to learn and take stock of what may or may not provoke your anxiety. 

1. Caffeine

Topping the list, caffeine can do many things, including inducing anxiety. It can be great in small doses, though tolerance levels will vary from person to person. In some people, too much caffeine can be a trigger that worsens existing anxiety. Fortunately, it’s also an easier trigger to control. For example, some people may find their anxiety improved simply by cutting back from three to two cups of coffee. 

2.  A Messy Home Environment 

This one often surprises people. A messy home environment doesn’t always cause stress or anxiety for people, but in an individual with anxiety, it can make a huge difference. If you struggle with anxiety, consider evaluating your home environment. A cluttered home can sometimes be an issue because it sits at the back of your mind on your to-do list. The proverbial mental to-do list can be triggering for anxiety, resulting in a number of responses including insomnia, increased stress, reduced ability to focus, and more. Small changes, such as adding the house to your to-do list, or simply tidying up on a regular basis have the potential to reduce anxiety; but this may not be true for everyone. 

3.  Self Neglect

Self-neglect and self-care are often tough pills to swallow, yet still surprisingly common in the world of anxiety. Neglecting yourself and not taking care of your personal needs can be an anxiety trigger. Whether you’re not showering regularly, skipping meals, staying up too late, or not going to the doctor, it’s important to evaluate these behaviors and work to take better care of yourself. If you are struggling with getting these tasks done, there may be more at play, such as depression, which can sometimes go hand-in-hand with anxiety. 

4.  Not Enough Sleep 

Sleep, or lack thereof, is linked to a slew of mental and physical health issues, so it should come as no surprise that anxiety is one of them. While staying up later than usual on occasion likely won’t cause any harm, a lack of sleep over a long period of time can exacerbate anxiety symptoms in some. In some people, small changes such as practicing good sleep hygiene or creating a more realistic sleep schedule can make a huge difference. 

5.  Stress

Unfortunately, stress is a common part of life. Even worse, it can also become a trigger for anxiety. It’s extremely difficult to control stress, which in turn makes it equally difficult to control the anxiety that results. While there are ways to reduce stress, it’s important to find a way that works best for you and your situation. 

6.  Finances 

Often going hand-in-hand with stress are your finances. For some people, it doesn’t matter if they’re completely broke or living with a hefty cushion; finances simply cause them anxiety. While this may seem like a more challenging anxiety trigger, it can be surprisingly helpful to sit down and make a plan. Many find that having a plan, even just a simple one, can reduce their anxiety significantly. 

7.  Social Gatherings 

There are several different types of anxiety, and social anxiety is surprisingly common. The idea of having to interact with people, whether it be strangers, acquaintances, or even close friends, can quickly trigger anxiety in some. If you think you may be suffering from a form of social anxiety, it’s best to work with a trained mental health professional who can work with you to identify and find a solution that works best for your situation. 

8.  Work Environment 

A stressful job or work environment can bring on the occasional bout of anxiety. While it’s normal to deal with occasional work-related stress and anxiety, it’s abnormal for it to be a daily part of the job over several months or years. Unfortunately, this may be a more difficult trigger to address. Whether the job or the work environment is causing you stress, it may be time to work with a mental healthcare provider who can help you address and deal with the stress and anxiety that goes along with it. 

9.  Conflict 

Any type of conflict can trigger anxiety, whether it’s an argument with a co-worker, your spouse, parent, child, or even some random person on the internet. Fortunately, conflict as an anxiety trigger can be addressed. By learning better conflict resolution, you can work to better manage your anxiety at the same time. 

10. Medication

Certain medications have some ugly side effects — and can cause anxiety symptoms or an anxiety attack. Prescription medications to watch out for include thyroid drugs and asthma drugs, while over-the-counter decongestants have been known to cause anxiety symptoms in some people. If you suddenly stop taking certain medications sometimes used to treat anxiety, such as benzodiazepines, withdrawal may cause added anxiety.

What to do when you feel anxious

So what can you do if you’re feeling anxious? Start by facing your anxiety. Then, there are a few strategies you can take to calm that anxious feeling to a more manageable level.

1. Think of yourself as a firefighter

Put out the flames of anxiety with some cool breaths. Breathe in and out, deeply and slowly. When you slow down your breathing, you trick your body into thinking you’re relaxing or going to sleep.

2. Cool down anxious thoughts

Thoughts like, ‘I can’t stand this; this is awful!’ fuel the fire of anxiety. Instead, think about what you can and cannot change about the situation. Then take steps to change what you can, and work on accepting what you can’t.

3. Get some perspective

Anxiety can stem from needless worry about a lot of things that aren’t important in the long run. Consider how this will really impact you in five minutes, five months or five years.

4. Soothe your system

Try some yoga stretches, or take a tennis ball and rub it under your foot or behind your back. Find gentle ways to calm your body.

5. Talk it out

Research proves that simply naming your feelings can help calm you down. This is easier to do when you share your feelings with others.

6. Don’t ignore

Anxiety is like a red flag, telling you that something needs attention. Don’t ignore this sign — contact a professional to help you through it.

7. Rule out other causes

Sometimes, medical issues can mask themselves as anxiety or mimic its symptoms. Don’t forget to get your checkup each year.

8. Wait it out

Sometimes, you just have to let anxiety come and go, like riding a wave. Remember that it’ll fade and that “This, too, shall pass.

9. Be mindful

Stay in the moment instead of jumping ahead. To bring yourself back to the present, try this 5 senses exercise. Hold your fist out, and extend one finger at a time as your name: 1 thing you can taste; 2 things you can smell; 3 things you can touch right now (like your skin against the chair, a soft sweater); 4 things you can hear; and 5 things you can see in the immediate environment.

Focusing on a sensory experience, moves you out of your head, away from your thoughts, and directly into your body.

What to avoid when you have anxious thoughts

Avoid soothing your anxiety with things that can lead to more anxiety. For example, stress eating is like putting a Band-aid® on a gaping wound. You want to deal with your anxiety directly.

Dredging up bad experiences from the past or imagining scary scenarios in the future will just heighten your anxiety, too. When this happens, realize what you’re doing.

Remind yourself that you encounter stressful things every single day, and you find ways to handle them. Bad things happen relatively sparingly and our brains are well-equipped to handle a crisis if one occurs. Be engaged in your real life, not in imagined moments, and don’t create ‘what-ifs.’

The best way to begin is to work on developing a new relationship with your thoughts.

Thoughts are like clouds. They’re not good or bad, they just come and go. You don’t have to react to them — ‘Oh, wow, that’s interesting. I wonder where that thought came from,’ works better than ‘Oh, no, that’s terrible.’ Being grounded in the present moment, without judgment, is the place to be.

Knowing the triggers that are associated with your anxiety can help you work to keep your anxiousness in check, which will help improve your overall mental health and well-being. 

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