Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. Afterall there are always going to be unexpected circumstances that come up in life that leave you feeling more worried, scared, or anxious than usual.
Experiencing anxiety is part of being human and it may surprise you to hear that it is a normal process designed to get you into action. That said, if you suffer from anxiety every now and again or if it gets in the way of your daily living, you're not alone. Millions of adults suffer from anxiety and in Australia one in five adults reported feeling stressed or anxious most/all of the time (Melbourne Institute 2021). It is the most common mental health condition in Australia.
If you are someone who suffers from anxiety on a regular basis, it can be helpful for you to learn about your triggers. Identifying anxiety triggers can help you stop an anxiety attack from happening. It can also help you lessen the severity of other anxiety symptoms.
Before you start to look into what is triggering your anxiety, it can be helpful to know what anxiety looks and feels like. While anxiety varies from person to person, there are some common symptoms that people suffering from anxiety regularly report. These symptoms include:
If you have been experiencing any of these symptoms on a regular basis, it’s very possible you are dealing with anxiety.
Assuming all other medical issues are ruled out, you’ll want to consider anxiety as the cause of what you are experiencing. Once you’ve learned you are dealing with anxiety, the next step is to determine why it’s happening to you. Let’s take a look at some common anxiety triggers before we dive deeper into identifying your personal ones.
There are some anxiety triggers that many people seem to experience. When you read through the list, you’ll see why - it’s common for our minds to react to traumatic or unforeseen situations like these!
Worrying about too much can definitely bring on anxiety. It can also contribute to other behaviors that will worsen your anxiety, like skipping meals, drinking coffee, or consuming alcohol.
You may experience some of the common anxiety triggers listed above, but anxious feelings can arise in people for many other reasons as well. It’s essential that you learn your personal anxiety triggers so that you can get to know them and lessen their impact. And maybe even prevent them from happening again.
The past can be a great place to start looking when seeking out personal anxiety triggers. There can be events that happened to you long ago that are the deep-seated cause of your anxiety. People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) especially notice anxiety that stems from traumatic events that happened to them years ago.
Before I started working as a psychotherapist, I thought PTSD was a result of a particularly traumatic event like physical abuse. That’s not always true. I often see well-adjusted adults who have experienced bullying or relational conflict at work who also display signs of PTSD. Their experience was traumatic because it likely shattered a belief, they held dear, and they had no choice in what was happening to them. They felt like they had to ‘grin and bear it.’ In the extreme cases where systematic bullying had occurred over a period of time, clients found themselves at a point where they were reluctant to return to work.
Identifying your own triggers for anxiety is the first step in maintaining the condition and learning how to cope with it in a healthy way. Here are some methods you can use to learn more about what causes your anxiety:
Writing down your thoughts and feelings when your anxiety is triggered is a purposeful way to notice patterns. Keeping a daily journal and writing in it for just 10 minutes a day not only gets those negative feelings out of your head, but you can start to see how your anxiety manifests.
It’s helpful to journal during times you aren’t feeling anxious as well. These details can help you figure out the causes and how to overcome those unwanted feelings.
If you are unfamiliar with journaling, here's link to Writing it Out: Journaling for Stress, Burnout, and Overwhelm to help get you started. In it you will also find 12 Free Journaling prompts to download.
Take note of the times when you feel anxious, and how your body is working during those times. Do you feel more anxiety after a day or two of unhealthy eating or too many cups of coffee? Maybe you feel more agitated when you haven’t slept well in the last 2-3 nights. Or perhaps when you visualize attending a particular social event?
Sometimes our own bodies can be the greatest guide providing signposts for when we are starting to feel anxious. If you'd like to find out to get started, read an earlier blog of mine, Listen to your body wisdom to find out how to start listening to your body.
Speaking with someone with experience in working with mental health can be the most effective way for you to identify your personal anxiety triggers. A therapist can ask questions and help to expose you to new ways of thinking that you may not find on your own.
An experienced therapist can provide you with a range of possibilities that you may not have previously considered enabling you to make quicker “breakthroughs” in your quest to identifying your anxiety triggers. Consider enlisting the support of a professional who can listen to how you feel, help you uncover the root causes of your anxiety and help you to change your relationship with it so that it can become an enabler in your life.
Sadly only 27% of people in Australia who experience the negative impacts of anxiety seek help and the average time from symptom onset to seeking professional help is 8.2 years. That is a long time to be suffering without a proven solution. Not to mention the likely effects on self-esteem, career, relationships and health, to name a few.
If you are on the fence about enlisting the support of a professional, read an earlier blog, The top 9 excuses why smart people don’t see a counsellor… and why they’re all wrong. It may change your mind and get you the solutions you need quicker.
It can be difficult to reach down deep and determine your anxiety triggers. Often the root cause of the anxiety is hidden and numbed out. Most people want to avoid talking about it and feel they have to silently deal with it. However, this is not helpful, nor is it true.
If you would like to develop self awareness so that you can start to examine your triggers, take a look at an earlier blog 10 Savvy ways to develop self-awareness for some ideas on how you can do that.
Be honest with yourself and the people you confide in. Share how you are feeling and what events led to the anxious thoughts. You're kidding yourself if you think nobody notices how you're feeling and that you have kept your anxiety a secret. Avoid sweeping past events or possible triggers under the carpet. That way they cannot fester and grow and become ‘too hard’ to deal with.
Learning more about your anxiety triggers can help you overcome the symptoms and associated negative feelings. It can also assist you with preventing anxiety from occurring as often. In this case, ‘knowledge is power’ if you are aware of your triggers you can mitigate against them and over time, they can have less influence on you. You cannot deal with or mitigate against something you don’t know.
The most important thing to do is keep an open mind when identifying your anxiety triggers. You may be surprised when you figure out what they are. Know that you are not alone in feeling anxious, and that it is okay to talk to others about it. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t get scared, nervous, worried or anxious from time to time.
Members of the VIP list receive tips on how to work, sleep and feel better, free downloadable content and more in the weekly newsletter delivered on Tuesdays.