What causes anxiety and anxiety disorders can be complicated. It’s likely that a combination of factors, including genetics and environmental reasons, play a role. However, it’s clear that some events, emotions, or experiences may cause symptoms of anxiety to begin or may make them worse. These elements are called triggers.
Anxiety triggers can be different for each person, but many triggers are common among people with these conditions. Most people find they have multiple triggers. But for some people, anxiety attacks can be triggered for no reason at all.
For that reason, it’s important to discover any anxiety triggers that you may have. Identifying your triggers is an important step in managing them. Keep reading to learn about these anxiety triggers and what you can do to manage your anxiety.
1. Health issues
A health diagnosis that’s upsetting or difficult, such as cancer or a chronic illness, may trigger anxiety or make it worse. This type of trigger is very powerful because of the immediate and personal feelings it produces.
You can help reduce anxiety caused by health issues by being proactive and engaged with your doctor. Talking with a therapist may also be useful, as they can help you learn to manage your emotions around your diagnosis.
Certain prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications may trigger symptoms of anxiety. That’s because active ingredients in these medications may make you feel uneasy or unwell. Those feelings can set off a series of events in your mind and body that may lead to additional symptoms of anxiety.
Medicines that may trigger anxiety include:
- birth control pills
- cough and congestion medications
- weight loss medications
Talk with your doctor about how these drugs make you feel and look for an alternative that doesn’t trigger your anxiety or worsen your symptoms.
Many people rely on their morning cup of joe to wake up, but it might actually trigger or worsen anxiety. According to one study in 2010, people with panic disorder and social anxiety disorder are especially sensitive to the anxiety-inducing effects of caffeine.
Work to cut back your caffeine intake by substituting noncaffeinated options whenever possible.
4. Skipping meals
When you don’t eat, your blood sugar may drop. That can lead to jittery hands and a rumbling tummy. It can also trigger anxiety.
Eating balanced meals is important for many reasons. It provides you with energy and important nutrients. If you can’t make time for three meals a day, healthy snacks are a great way to prevent low blood sugar, feelings of nervousness or agitation, and anxiety. Remember, food can affect your mood.
5. Negative thinking
Your mind controls much of your body, and that’s certainly true with anxiety. When you’re upset or frustrated, the words you say to yourself can trigger greater feelings of anxiety.
If you tend to use a lot of negative words when thinking about yourself, learning to refocus your language and feelings when you start down this path is helpful. Working with a therapist can be incredibly helpful with this process.
6. Financial concerns
Worries about saving money or having debt can trigger anxiety. Unexpected bills or money fears are triggers, too.
Learning to manage these types of triggers may require seeking professional help, such as from a financial advisor. Feeling you have a companion and a guide in the process may ease your concern.
7. Parties or social events
If a room full of strangers doesn’t sound like fun, you’re not alone. Events that require you to make small talk or interact with people you don’t know can trigger feelings of anxiety, which may be diagnosed as social anxiety disorder.
To help ease your worries or unease, you can always bring along a companion when possible. But it’s also important to work with a professional to find coping mechanisms that make these events more manageable in the long term.
Relationship problems, arguments, disagreements — these conflicts can all trigger or worsen anxiety. If conflict particularly triggers you, you may need to learn conflict resolution strategies. Also, talk with a therapist or other mental health expert to learn how to manage the feelings these conflicts cause.
Daily stressors like traffic jams or missing your train can cause anyone anxiety. But long-term or chronic stress can lead to long-term anxiety and worsening symptoms, as well as other health problems.
Treating and preventing stress often requires learning coping mechanisms. A therapist or counselor can help you learn to recognize your sources of stress and handle them when they become overwhelming or problematic.
10. Public events or performances
Public speaking, talking in front of your boss, performing in a competition, or even just reading aloud is a common trigger of anxiety. If your job or hobbies require this, your doctor or therapist can work with you to learn ways to be more comfortable in these settings.
Also, positive reinforcements from friends and colleagues can help you feel more comfortable and confident.
11. Personal triggers
These triggers may be difficult to identify, but a mental health specialist is trained to help you identify them. These may begin with a smell, a place, or even a song. Personal triggers remind you, either consciously or unconsciously, of a bad memory or traumatic event in your life. Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) frequently experience anxiety triggers from environmental triggers.
Identifying personal triggers may take time, but it’s important so you can learn to overcome them.
If you can identify and understand your triggers, you can work to avoid them and to cope. You can learn specific coping strategies to handle the triggers when they happen.
Here are three tips for identifying triggers:
- Start a journal. Write down when your anxiety is noticeable and record what you think might have led to the trigger. Some apps can help you track your anxiety, too.
- Work with a therapist. Some anxiety triggers can be difficult to identify, but a mental health specialist has training that can help you. They may use talk therapy, journaling, or other methods to find triggers.
- Be honest with yourself. Anxiety can cause negative thoughts and poor self-assessments. This can make identifying triggers difficult because of the anxious reactions. Be patient with yourself and be willing to explore things in your past to identify how they may affect you today.
The most common symptoms of anxiety include:
- uncontrollable worry
- muscle tension
- a fast heartbeat
- difficulty sleeping or insomnia
- difficulty concentrating
- physical discomfort
- feeling on edge
If you experience these symptoms regularly for six months or more, you may have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Other types of anxiety disorders exist as well. The symptoms for those may be different than GAD. For example, with panic disorder you may experience:
- a rapid heartbeat or palpitations
- feeling as if your throat is closing
If you believe you worry too much or suspect you have an anxiety disorder, it’s time to seek help. Recognizing the anxiety is often difficult because the symptoms become common over time.
Occasional anxiety is common, but chronic feelings of worry, fear, or dread aren’t. They’re a sign you should seek professional help.
Start the discussion by talking with your doctor. They’ll discuss your symptoms, conduct a health history, and do a physical exam. They’ll want to rule out any possible physical problems that may be causing the issues, too.
From there, your doctor may choose to treat you with medication. They may also refer you to a mental health specialist, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. These doctors can use a combination of talk therapy and medication to treat anxiety and prevent triggers.
Occasional anxiety is common, but chronic feelings of worry, fear, or dread aren’t common. They’re a sign you should seek professional help. The good news is that anxiety is a highly treatable mental health condition. However, many people with anxiety don’t seek treatment.
If your anxiety is impeding your day-to-day life, you should seek help. A mental health specialist can help you find a treatment plan that eases your symptoms and helps you cope with your anxiety triggers.