Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the U.S., affecting nearly 40 million adults. The persistent stress, worry or fear accompanying anxiety can interfere with daily life and impact work, school and relationships. Anxiety can be debilitating, especially when it triggers panic attacks. Identifying anxiety triggers and developing coping strategies is critical to avoiding panic attacks and successfully managing this common and challenging condition.
What Triggers Anxiety?
Specific situations or actions that lead to feelings of worry or fear are known as anxiety triggers. In severe cases, these triggers worsen symptoms to the point that an individual suffers a panic attack. Panic attacks are sudden episodes of severe and debilitating fear. Anxiety attack triggers include both internal factors, such as underlying medical conditions, and external factors, such as stressful life events.
A list of anxiety triggers includes but is not limited to:
- Caffeine: Caffeine consumption triggers anxiety and worsens symptoms.
- Health Problems: Medical conditions, such as heart problems, overactive thyroid function and low blood sugar, can trigger anxiety.
- Medications: Prescription and over-the-counter medications, such as hormonal birth control and cold medicines, can trigger anxiety.
- Relationship Problems: Some people may find that conflicts with their spouse, parents or other family members can trigger anxiety.
- Stress: Stress brought on by significant life events such as graduating from college, death of a loved one, divorce or job loss is a common anxiety trigger.
- Conflicts at Work, School or Home: Disputes between co-workers, classmates or family members can cause significant stress and trigger anxiety.
- Social Events: What triggers social anxiety and anxiety attack symptoms differ from person to person. Social anxiety triggers can include attending parties, school or concerts
- Finances: Concerns about paying bills or saving money for retirement can trigger ongoing stress and anxiety.
- Substance Abuse: Use of substances such as amphetamines can trigger anxiety. Alcohol is also a known anxiety attack trigger.
- Public Speaking: Performing in front of an audience can trigger significant fear for many people.
- Interruptions in Sleep Patterns: Insufficient or interrupted sleep are known anxiety triggers.
- Changes in Routine: Significant changes in routine, such as starting a new job, having a baby or beginning college can generate substantial stress and anxiety.
Identifying Anxiety Triggers
Individuals dealing with anxiety may wonder how to identify anxiety triggers. Although anxiety triggers are unique to each person, there are many common factors among anxiety sufferers. Identifying anxiety triggers can help an individual learn the proper coping strategies to manage their condition successfully.
Tips for recognizing anxiety triggers include:
- Keep a journal: Keeping track of your feelings on paper if a great way to help analyze what situations make you feel anxious. In addition, writing down any effective coping strategies can be helpful to refer back to in the future.
- Identify major stressors: Life stressors such as relationship issues, job change or loss, pregnancy or death of a loved one can all result in anxiety. Think about any current stressors that may be currently affecting your anxiety level.
- Reflect on past experiences: Previous trauma can trigger anxiety. Take some time to consider how negative past experiences might still be affecting you today.
- Talk to someone: A trusted friend or family member can provide valuable insight on situations that trigger your anxiety. If you need additional help, consider contacting a professional therapist to help you work through your triggers.
- Listen to your body: Take note of what you’re eating. Caffeine, sugary foods and alcohol can all raise cortisol levels which can increase anxiety.
Identifying anxiety triggers requires significant time and energy but can allow an individual to develop the proper coping techniques for managing their condition. Once anxiety triggers are identified, an individual can learn how to cope with them.
Coping with Anxiety Triggers
Without known triggers, anxiety can be challenging to manage. However, coping techniques can limit anxiety regardless of a known trigger.
Self-help tips for managing anxiety include:
- Schedule worry time to limit its ability to dominate the day
- Practice deep breathing exercises
- Exercise regularly to reduce stress
- Get adequate sleep
- Limit caffeine intake
- Practice relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation
- Accept a loss of control
- Maintain a daily routine to reduce uncertainty
For some, dealing with anxiety triggers involves confronting an activating situation directly. For example, joining a public speaking group may allow someone to gain enough experience speaking in public that it no longer triggers their anxiety. Anxiety support groups or professional therapists can also help someone learn how to face their anxiety triggers.
Avoiding known triggers can also help prevent anxiety symptoms. For example, avoiding crowded spaces, abstaining from caffeine or alcohol use or ending damaging relationships can limit anxiety attacks.
Treatment for Anxiety & Panic Attacks
Managing life with anxiety and panic attacks can feel insurmountable at times. Fortunately, managing anxiety is possible through a combination of professional help and self-care. Treatment options for anxiety include:
- Medication: Anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants and buspirone can help reduce symptoms of anxiety.
- Psychotherapy: Therapeutic techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and occupational therapy can help individuals better identify anxious thoughts and change behavior patterns to cope with anxiety more effectively.
- Systematic desensitization: Desensitization involves gradually exposing a person to an anxiety trigger point, so they eventually become comfortable with it. A licensed mental health professional trained on how to safely desensitize anxiety should be sought for this approach.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese treatment that works by sticking thin needles into specific pressure points on the body, thought to restore inner balance.
- Meditation: Successful meditation can allow individuals to better understand the source of their anxiety and how to manage it.
- Breathing exercises: Deep breathing exercises help individuals avoid hyperventilation and feel more calm, reducing anxiety attacks.
- Yoga: Practicing yoga can promote mindfulness by centering the mind and body through movement and stationary poses.
Related Topic: Moderate anxiety treatment
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Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Facts and Statistics.” Accessed July 20, 2019. Bergin, Jocilyn; Kendler, Kenneth. “Common psychiatric disorders and caffeine use, tolerance, and withdrawal: an examination of shared genetic and environmental effects.” Twin Research and Human Genetics: The Official Journal of the International Society for Twin Studies, August 1, 2013. Accessed July 20, 2019. Goldstein-Piekarski, Andrea, et al. “Sex, Sleep Deprivation, and the Anxious Brain.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, September 18, 2018. Accessed July 20, 2019.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Facts and Statistics.” Accessed July 20, 2019.
Bergin, Jocilyn; Kendler, Kenneth. “Common psychiatric disorders and caffeine use, tolerance, and withdrawal: an examination of shared genetic and environmental effects.” Twin Research and Human Genetics: The Official Journal of the International Society for Twin Studies, August 1, 2013. Accessed July 20, 2019.
Goldstein-Piekarski, Andrea, et al. “Sex, Sleep Deprivation, and the Anxious Brain.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, September 18, 2018. Accessed July 20, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.