The Top 10 Common Anxiety Triggers You Should Know About
Identifying what triggers your anxiety will help you manage your symptoms. Here's what to know.
Lara Vukelich is a freelance writer in San Diego, California. She writes creative content and SEO-driven copy that can be found everywhere from Huffington Post and Quiet Revolution to Expedia, Travelocity, MyMove and more. She has a master's degree in mass communication and media studies.
Dr. Vivian Sun is a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received her medical degree from University of Maryland and psychiatry training at University of Pennsylvania and Stanford. She is board certified in general and child/adolescent psychiatry and specializes in the treatment of conditions such as ADHD, autism, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD.
ExpertiseADHD, autism, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. Credentials
Medical Board of California, Medical License
American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, General and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
University of Maryland School of Medicine, Doctor of Medicine
Residency in Psychiatry University of Pennsylvania
Fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Stanford University
Feeling stressed or anxious is completely normal, especially in certain situations like giving a presentation or meeting new people. However, an intense, persistent worry indicates an anxiety disorder, which can impede your ability to function during everyday activities.
Anxiety triggers are stimuli that cause your anxiety symptoms to surface. For instance, if you're anxious about being rejected, your anxiety may be triggered when a friend stops returning your text messages. Identifying and accepting your triggers will allow you to develop specific coping techniques that help manage your anxiety while doing things that make you anxious.
Anxiety looks different for everyone, so your triggers will be unique to you. This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some common anxiety triggers and possible coping techniques.
1. Being in social situations
Social anxiety disorder, also called social phobia, involves feelings of self-consciousness and concern about being judged in social situations. You may notice sweaty palms, fast heart rates and other symptoms of anxiety at even the thought of attending a party.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, people with social anxiety disorder may avoid social situations altogether. If you experience this trigger, it may help to make sure you bring a friend or family member who can put you at ease. Start by going to smaller gatherings and work your way up to larger events.
2. Taking certain medications
Substance-induced anxiety can be caused by taking or stopping certain medications, including steroids, stimulants and decongestants. These drugs may affect your brain chemistry and lead to anxious thoughts. If you suspect a new medication is causing anxiety, you may want to talk to your doctor about alternatives.
3. Drinking too much caffeine
In addition to prescription and over-the-counter medications, caffeine is a common stimulant that can lead to increased anxiety. While caffeine is harmless to many people, it is ultimately mood-altering and may make anxiety symptoms worse. If you suspect that caffeine is a trigger, consider weaning yourself off food and drink like soda, caffeinated coffee and chocolate.
4. Not getting enough sleep
Lack of sleep, especially serious sleep disturbances like insomnia, can be a sign of an anxiety disorder. If you're worried about the events of the following day or stressed about a social interaction that happened today, you may end up tossing and turning until all hours.
Nighttime anxiety may actually affect your rapid eye movement sleep. This turns anxiety and sleep into a vicious cycle. You can't sleep because you're anxious, and then you wake tired and anxious because you didn't get good sleep. If you think lack of sleep is a trigger of your anxiety, consider changing your sleep routine. Eliminate light and noise from your sleep environment and avoid caffeine and alcohol shortly before bed. A nighttime tea may also help.
5. Being in a cluttered or messy space
Sometimes outward mess can trigger internal stress. You may be overwhelmed by the number of outstanding tasks in your life when you look around and see dirty dishes or stacks of mail. Disinterest in cleaning up may also be a symptom of depression, which is often related to anxiety. If you suspect that a messy home triggers your anxiety, create a short list of tasks to complete each day. It may also help to bring in outside housekeeping help to relieve your stress related to cleanliness.
6. Being stressed
Stress is usually defined as a reaction to an external source, such as the loss of a job or a difficult relationship at home. Stress typically passes when its cause goes away. On the contrary, anxiety is generated internally and won't always pass when an external stressor ends. While the two phenomena are often related, they don't always occur simultaneously. That being said, an increase in stress may exacerbate your anxiety.
If stress is an anxiety trigger for you, consider ways you may be able to limit external sources of stress. Eliminate unnecessary obligations from your calendar, put your bills on autopay, and let your boss know when you need help at work. And, as simple as it sounds, sometimes breathing techniques and similar coping mechanisms can help mitigate anxiety caused by stress in the short term.
7. Experiencing financial troubles
Money is another common cause of anxiety for many people. 77% of Americans say they're anxious about their financial situation. Debt can feel debilitating and many people are living paycheck to paycheck. If you're experiencing anxiety because of money trouble, taking action may help. Explore debt consolidation options and check out budgeting apps that help you manage your money. A consultation from a financial advisor may also help -- some will offer a free first meeting.
8. Being in conflict
Fear of conflict may be related to social anxiety disorder. Whether it's work conflict or arguments at home, being in a state of frustration may often trigger anxious thoughts and feelings. Talking to a therapist may help you manage this trigger around people who you can't remove from your life.
9. Experiencing major life transitions
Moving, getting divorced and switching careers are some of the most stressful life events, according to a 2020 study. Nearly half of all respondents in the study said moving was the most stressful life event they've gone through, while 33% of people said getting married was their most stressful experience. Major life events can definitely trigger both stress and anxiety.
If you know that transitions trigger anxiety, start planning steps to complete the transition (call movers to get quotes, buy boxes, book housecleaner) in advance whenever possible. While anxiety can cause people to freeze, creating and checking off action items may help you to feel more in control.
10. Falling into 'negative self-talk'
If you already have anxiety, getting down on yourself may exacerbate the symptoms. Cognitive therapy can help you develop healthier ways to deal with your mistakes and learn to interrupt negative thought patterns.
How can you identify and manage your anxiety triggers?
There are many myths about anxiety, including that it's made up or the same as being shy. In fact, anxiety doesn't just go away but you can learn to manage your triggers. Here are some steps you can take today to identify your anxiety triggers and begin to manage them.
Work with a therapist: One of the best ways to identify triggers is to have an objective mental health professional talk to you about your history of anxiety. A therapist can help you reflect on past situations where you've felt triggered. Identifying a pattern will allow you to better predict what will cause anxiety in the future. Your therapist can also work with you about developing positive self-talk.
Keep a journal: Tracking your own journey day-to-day allows you to identify triggers in real time and track patterns. Writing also creates a place for you to safely emote when you're feeling panicked. Looking back on past entries can be very informative.
Set boundaries: Once you've established what your triggers are, set healthy boundaries with your triggers in mind. If you know that social situations cause anxiety, for instance, you can start saying no to events that you know won't be fun for you. If you know that travel is a trigger for anxiety, you can book a separate hotel room for yourself on your next getaway with friends.
Get educated: Learning more about an anxiety disorder may also help you navigate it and avoid the most common triggers. While you can't think your way out of anxiety, you can learn tips and tricks about what has worked for other people in terms of reducing symptoms.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.