Identifying your anxiety triggers

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders, and with reason; life is certainly stressful these days. It can be debilitating, making it difficult to go about your day-to-day life, especially if you get panic attacks. But what exactly triggers anxiety or panic attacks? And more importantly, what triggers yours?

There are many potential causes of anxiety and panic attacks, but some of the most common triggers are from sudden spikes in stress, genetics, and environmental factors. While I would entirely love to go down the rabbit-hole of “trigger comes from past event trauma which comes from…,” I don’t believe I have the proper psychology degree to help with that.

No, I mean it. I would love to. Psychology is fascinating!

First of all, if you are struggling with anxiety or panic attacks, it is important to seek out professional help. A therapist can help you identify your specific triggers and work on strategies to manage them.

BUT I am very well aware that we can’t all afford a therapist. They aren’t fully covered by health insurance in most countries, and the ones that ARE covered have waitlists about as long as my list of reasons why I will never again google “what do these symptoms mean” to find out what I’m dying of.

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Two types of triggers

I’d like to start by saying that there are two big families of panic attack triggers: event-based, and environment-based. An event-based trigger is a clear and obvious thing that is happening before, whilst, or after(by anticipation) your panic attack. Those are the ones you can more easily point out, and they are the ones I’ll be talking about for most of this blog post.

Environment-based triggers are not as obvious, and they are usually part of your daily life. Some examples could be caffeine, a high-stress work environment, or being poor and having issues getting out of poverty. I’ll be talking about those towards the end of this post.

Some common triggers

We’re all different, and we all come from different places. While quite a few triggers may be similar, none of us are the same. That’s why I can’t just write you a neat and tidy blog post about all the anxiety triggers that exist and be done with it.

There are common ones, however. For example, I’m pretty sure most of us would get a panic attack if an emergency arises and we don’t have the funds to cover that new bill. And no, I don’t mean “we’re all a little anxious,” I mean a full-on panic attack.

  • being late to work, an appointment, etc
  • waiting on information/a phone call/an answer (varying intensity based on its importance)
  • overwhelm in any form and from any source
  • even small things you’re overthinking about (the thing may vary, but the trigger sure is common)
  • Conflict

Even then, the fact that these are common doesn’t mean that it’s always the same reason behind the trigger, which is why these bullet points are kept vague. It’s on purpose 🙂

For example, “being late” triggers me because I feel like it’s extremely disrespectful to waste someone else’s time(and some childhood issues but we can sweep those under the rug). Maybe it triggers someone else because they once were fired for being late, or being late had unforeseen but important consequences down the line.

Identifying your personal anxiety triggers

If you’re newly diagnosed and unfamiliar with anxiety and its triggers, or are just looking for more information to figure yourself out, I suggest taking notes.

It could be on your phone’s notes app, another, fancier app, a notebook, post-its, your agenda or your diary. Doesn’t matter, as long as you document each of your panic attacks and any spike in stress that you notice, and the information is kept all in one place.

It may take some time, depending on how much data you collect, and how often you get panic attacks, but you will eventually start seeing a pattern.

Out of that pattern, you will be able to group similar occurrences under “themes” of sorts. Again, it may be difficult without a therapist because they are good at spotting these things, but depending on how familiar you are with your own past trauma and other issues, you may be able to figure out what lies behind the “theme.”

That is the real answer, and that is what we are trying to find.

anxious woman with a notebook, caption reads "take notes: document your panic attacks and anxiety level spikes for further reference"

Learn how to manage your anxiety and panic attacks

Okay, so you identified the “theme” triggers, and possibly even managed to find what’s behind those themes. Now what?

There are two ways to address this: working through the theme triggers to better understand how to avoid triggering situations, and lowering exposure to anxiety-inducing things and habits. Those can go hand-in-hand, but you don’t have to do it all at the same time.

There are too many possible event-based triggers for me to give advice on each of them, but once you’ve identified the specific things, a google search might give you some tips on how to avoid them.

A few of my personal solutions were things like avoiding highways and driving through the city streets instead, or buying a stack of eco-friendly paper plates when the dishes were piling up and it became too much to deal with. Switching to those paper plates allowed me some time to catch up on the dishes I had to do without adding to the pile.

now, about environment-based triggers…

I mentioned caffeine, a high-stress work environment and poverty earlier, and I will add a few more:

  • a messy home environment can affect your mental health in many ways
  • lack of sleep, especially if you’ve been having consistent insomnia for some time, will make you prone to higher anxiety levels
  • neglecting yourself: not drinking enough water, not eating enough food, or healthy foods, will cause higher stress levels(looking at you, carbs! Mean, delicious, evil and tasty carbs!)
  • Smoking cigarettes, which is hilarious to me because I smoke WHEN I’M STRESSED.
  • Other mental health issues, although that’s not something we have much control over.
  • Some medications can have effects on anxiety
  • Information overload (using social media too much, or exposure to screens’ light in general)
  • feeling the need to be in control of situations(probably anxiety-related, too) and stressing when you are not in charge.
no coffee, no cigarettes sign. sad emoji with the hashtag: addicted to coffee

How to live a healthier life with less anxiety

There are a variety of things you can do to help manage your anxiety. By studying your theme triggers, you can learn how to sidestep them. Reducing your contact with things and activities that spark anxiety helps lower your overall anxiety levels.

Make sure to take notes, identify your personal anxiety triggers, both event-based and environment-based, and work with that information to figure out what your next steps are. By learning how to manage your anxiety levels and reduce the frequency of your panic attacks, you can reduce the amount of stress in your everyday routine, which will lead to a calmer life.

If you are interested in more anxiety management tips and tricks, head over to this blog post!

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