Whether it’s meeting new people, public speaking, a fear of heights, or worrying about the unknown, everyone has things that trigger their anxiety.
For some people, a specific event or situation always seems to spike anxiety.
But for others, anxiety might seem to be more random and unpredictable.
While there are different ways anxiety can be experienced, anxiety commonly includes intense worry, fear, or obsessive thoughts, which can be debilitating.
Anxiety is a normal part of life, and most people will experience it at one point or another.
Sometimes anxiety can be fleeting, a passing feeling that comes and goes. But anxiety can also be persistent – it may feel like a never-ending experience.
No matter how anxiety shows up for you or what your particular triggers happen to be, there are ways to decrease triggers and increase your ability to cope with anxiety when it happens.
What Are Anxiety Triggers?
Anxiety is a normal part of life, but it can cause feelings of fear, worry, and unease.
Different things can trigger the feeling in different people.
Some people may have anxiety that is specific to certain situations, while others may feel anxious all the time.
If anxiety is impacting your daily life to the point that your ability to function is impaired, you may be experiencing an anxiety disorder.
Common anxiety triggers are anything that sets off a chain of events, called the “fight and flight” response, that leads to a fear-based reaction.
These triggers include: genetics and brain chemistry, chemicals (substances and alcohol, even caffeine), internal and external stress, past events (situations that were scary, dangerous, or traumatic), and even some health conditions.
While it’s not possible to remove all anxiety triggers, there are some things you can do to decrease your triggers and manage anxiety to keep it from becoming severe.
First, we will discuss some of the anxiety triggers.
Use of Substances, Alcohol, or Drugs
Substances (alcohol and drugs) are common triggers for anxiety that people might not be aware of.
Many drugs can increase anxiety because they stimulate our central nervous system.
While alcohol and marijuana are not stimulants, but rather central nervous system depressants, it’s important to be aware that these substances can trigger anxiety as well.
Whether or not you are already experiencing anxiety, any drug, including alcohol and marijuana, can trigger anxiety.
Alcohol changes the levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which can worsen anxiety.
The sense of relaxation felt when drinking can often be attributed to the blood alcohol content (BAC).
An increase in BAC levels can cause temporary feelings of excitement. However, feelings of depression occur as BAC levels fall.
As a result, it’s possible that having a few drinks that make BAC rise and fall back can make a person more anxious than they were before.
Furthermore, anxiety can increase after alcohol is fully out of our system as our central nervous system tries to come back into balance.
Marijuana can trigger panic attacks when you’re using it.
Even if you don’t have a panic attack, but feel calmer while using marijuana, anxiety can get triggered as the marijuana is processing out of your system and your central nervous system tries to come back into balance.
Pay attention to your anxiety during and after using these substances so you can identify if they are a particular anxiety trigger for you.
If you’re not sure, or if you’re already experiencing anxiety, consider limiting your intake.
Caffeine is a stimulant that can make a person feel more alert and energetic.
However, it can also cause side effects, such as restlessness, anxiety, and irritability. In some people, caffeine may trigger or worsen anxiety symptoms.
If you’ve had too much caffeine, the physical symptoms you may experience are similar to those physical sensations that occur with anxiety.
So if you’re already anxious, you may want to consider limiting your intake of caffeine to decrease your anxiety triggers.
Stressful Life Events
External stress is a common anxiety trigger. Who doesn’t have stress in their life?
Everyday stressors can lead to anxiety, particularly when stress is not managed well.
Additionally, stressful life events, such as losing a job, getting married or divorced, having a baby, or experiencing a death in the family, can lead to anxiety.
Money is a common source of stress. This is especially true for people struggling to make ends meet or facing financial insecurity.
Identifying that money is an anxiety trigger can help so you can take practical steps like budgeting and problem-solving.
The term “toxic environment” can refer to a lot of different things.
It could be a work environment that is full of drama or a home life that is chaotic and stressful. It could also refer to a relationship that is unhealthy or abusive.
A toxic environment is any place with an unhealthy amount of negativity and stress.
Sometimes, staying in a toxic environment or situation can have an impact on your mental health, triggering anxiety or depression.
If you find yourself in a toxic environment, it is important to take steps to protect your mental health.
This may include setting boundaries, changing how you think and/or react, and taking breaks or leaving the situation.
Negative self-talk is a type of thinking that can fuel anxiety. It is very common and often includes thoughts about yourself that are very critical.
Some common examples of unhelpful negative self-talk include things like: “I’m not good enough,” “I’ll never be able to do this,” or “Something bad is going to happen.”
Negative self-talk can impact people in many ways and is often associated with underlying mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
Such unhelpful negative talks can reinforce and fuel anxiety. Learning how to change your negative self-talk with a therapist can help.
Unrealistic expectations are when we set our sights too high and expect perfection.
This can be a problem because it can lead to disappointment, frustration, anger, and anxiety.
Anxiety can be triggered when we fail to meet expectations, especially if we’ve set those expectations ourselves.
People with anxiety are more likely to have perfectionistic tendencies. Perfectionism is a personality trait that is characterized by the need to be perfect and the fear of making mistakes.
People who are perfectionists often have high standards for themselves and others.
Dangerous, Scary, or Traumatic Experiences
Dangerous, scary, or traumatic experiences, such as car accidents, natural disasters, and military combat, can lead to anxiety.
After going through a dangerous, scary, or traumatic event in the past, our brains may learn that all situations similar to these past events are dangerous.
It’s possible that anything that reminds us of the past event can trigger anxiety.
In some cases, the anxiety may be so severe that it leads to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Evidence-based therapy can help decrease these triggers by “updating” or “rewriting” what your primitive brain learned from these experiences.
Therapists specialize in helping people work through trauma and anxiety.
Exposure to Violence
For some people, these feelings of fear can trigger anxiety.
Pay attention to how you feel after reading the news, watching a violent or scary movie, or playing an intense and violent video game.
If your anxiety is triggered, consider limiting your exposure to violence.
Genetics & Health Conditions
Genes can play a role in your likelihood of experiencing anxiety.
If you have a family history of anxiety, you may be more likely to experience anxiety than someone who doesn’t have the predisposition.
Certain health conditions and medical situations can also trigger anxiety in some people. These may include:
- Thyroid disorders like hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism
- Heart disease
- Medication side effects
- Lack of oxygen or respiratory disorders, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, or asthma
- Illicit drug use or withdrawal from drugs/alcohol
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
How to Decrease Anxiety Triggers
Anxiety can be triggered by a variety of things, both big and small.
If you’re prone to anxiety, it’s important to be aware of the potential triggers in your life so that you can decrease them as much as possible.
Practice relaxation techniques
One effective way to cope with anxiety when it happens is to practice relaxation techniques.
When you understand your anxiety triggers and know how to effectively calm down and relax your body, you’ll be better able to handle everyday anxiety.
Some common relaxation techniques include:
- Deep breathing
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Mindfulness meditation
Caffeine is a stimulant that can increase your heart rate and make you feel more anxious.
When you have too much caffeine, you can feel the same physical sensations that are caused by anxiety.
So if you’re already experiencing anxiety or know that you’re prone to anxiety, it’s best to stay away from caffeine altogether or at least limit your intake.
Get enough sleep
Sleep deprivation can increase the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
This can make a person feel more anxious and stressed. And we know that when stress is not managed well, anxiety can get triggered.
Therefore, it’s important to get enough restful sleep each night.
Most adults need somewhere between 6-9 hours of sleep per night.
If falling or staying asleep is tough, consider following a regular sleep schedule and establishing a nightly routine to help you wind down before bedtime.
Regular exercise is one thing you can easily do on your own to reduce anxiety.
There are many health benefits of exercising.
Not only does exercise release endorphins that improve mood, but it also helps to promote better sleep and reduces stress levels.
Exercise can include playing sports, taking a walk, stretching, doing some yoga, etc. Aim for a total of 30 minutes of exercise a day, a few times per week.
This may include exercise, relaxation techniques, setting realistic expectations, saying “no” and setting boundaries, and talking to supportive people.
Identify your triggers
Keeping a journal can help you to identify the things that trigger your anxiety.
Once you know what your triggers are, you can start to decrease them or be prepared with coping strategies for them if they’re unavoidable.
When to See a Healthcare Professional
If you feel symptoms of anxiety that are impacting your quality of life, it’s important to seek professional help.
A healthcare professional can help you to understand your anxiety and develop a treatment plan.
Some symptoms that warrant professional help include:
- A rapid heartbeat or palpitations
- Feeling as if your throat is closing
If you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, you should seek professional help.
Some types of help include:
- Talking to a therapist to identify and decrease triggers, uncover root causes, and learn strategies to manage anxiety.
- Taking medications prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist to decrease symptoms of anxiety.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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