Common Anxiety Triggers and How to Manage Them
Common Anxiety Triggers and How to Manage Them
Medically Reviewed by
Marisa Savic, PMHNP-BC
November 28, 2023
Anxiety is an emotion that is a natural response to a stressful situation. The feeling of anxiety is defined as fear, dread, or uneasiness and it warns us to worry, think through and prepare for something bad that could happen. However, many suffer from excessive anxiety, which can result from an overactive stress system and/or a chemical imbalance in the brain, typically involving γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, or other neurotransmitters. When anxiety starts to impact your life, it becomes an anxiety disorder. Over 40 million adults in the U.S. have an anxiety disorder, and many more experience anxiety as a result of life situations or stress.
There are many things which can trigger anxiety, some of them common to large numbers of people, others more personal. Recognizing and managing anxiety triggers can help you be healthier, happier, and more productive.
Common Anxiety Triggers
Some of the most common anxiety triggers are:
Social situations. Many people claim to be more afraid of speaking in public than they are of death and even experienced professional speakers can get anxious in front of a crowd. Social settings like parties can increase anxiety and fear that others may be judging you, even when there is no evidence to indicate it. Some people avoid social situations to reduce anxiety, which can lead to long periods of isolation and subsequent worsening of symptoms.
Work-related pressure. In the current environment, job insecurity is pretty much universal. The fear of losing one’s job can also feed into performance stress. You might wonder if you are ever going to be good enough, which leads to trouble focusing and worsened work quality. Tight deadlines, heavy workloads, and conflicts with coworkers and managers can also cause anxiety. Work can also exacerbate social anxiety by having social components to your job, like presenting on topics in front of more senior team members or having to reach out to strangers to coordinate tasks or make a sale.
Health concerns. People with chronic illnesses are often anxious about changes in their health, the unknowns associated with treatment, lifestyle changes they need to make, etc. You might also be anxious about the health of your spouse, parents, children, even your pets. Many people struggle with hypochondria, or illness anxiety disorder, and worry excessively about the possibility of being ill.
Financial issues. It can often seem as if everything is going up except your income. High levels of debt, in particular, can be a major cause of anxiety. Additionally, housing costs are a significant issue in many parts of the U.S. with rents increasing and many people being unable to afford to buy due to high prices and/or shortages. Having a safe place to stay is paramount to mental health stability and the risk of losing housing is extremely anxiety-inducing. Many also struggle with anxiety about whether they will ever be able to afford retirement.
Relationships. It’s understandable that a big life change like a divorce or a breakup can cause anxiety, but all types of relationship conflicts can increase worry. Whether it’s fighting with your teenager, dealing with political differences at family gatherings, or struggling with a friend’s behavior, it’s common to struggle with anxiety when things are rocky with others.
Personal triggers. Some people have anxiety triggers that are unique to their own experiences. Anxiety may be more related to one particular stressor over another due to your history. For example, someone who may have grown up with little money may struggle with immense financial anxiety even when there are no current financial concerns. Anxiety can also be tied to previous events that induce anxiety and any reminder can trigger the same response. Often this is seen with individuals who suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. An example could be an adult who suffered abuse as a child and when they hear a door slamming they think back to their experience and relive the anxiety. Many individuals have specific phobias that increase their anxiety as well, such as fear of heights, fear of flying, and fear of closed spaces.
Identifying Your Anxiety Triggers
Because anxiety triggers vary so much from person to person, the first step towards managing them is identifying what they are.
There are several things you can do to help you identify these triggers, some examples include:
Journaling. Sometimes we don’t fully understand that we are even feeling anxious and free writing can help our consciousness catch up with what’s going on subconsciously.
Practicing self-awareness. Monitoring your own anxiety levels throughout the day and making note of what’s going on around you can help you identify your triggers.
Speaking with a therapist. A good therapist can help you put two and two together to identify what is triggering your anxiety and can then work with you on managing it.
Managing Your Anxiety Triggers
Most people can’t just get rid of anxiety triggers. For example, if your job is a mess of anxiety, you may still not be able to quit it right away. Or if your relationship with a family member who lives with you increases anxiety, you may need more time and money before you can move out. This means you need to manage your anxiety. Some great ways to do so include:
Lifestyle changes. It’s key to get enough sleep. The occasional “short night” won’t hurt you (such as if you have an early flight), but you should aim to consistently get an appropriate amount of sleep for your age, which for adults is between 7 and 9 hours a night. While it can be difficult to push yourself to exercise, it is one of the best ways to reduce symptoms of anxiety and exercising thirty minutes 3-5 days a week can vastly improve your well-being. Try to eat healthy foods or notice what foods make you feel worse; for some with unexplained anxiety, keeping a food diary can help identify possible triggering foods. Try to avoid alcohol and using substances, which may seem to reduce anxiety in the moment but often worsen it in the long run. Additionally, limiting caffeine can reduce anxiety symptoms and the risk for insomnia, which can be an anxiety-inducing experience for many.
Meditation and mindfulness. Evidence shows taking a few deep breaths is an excellent way at managing anxiety in the moment. Routinely practicing deep breathing exercises helps reduce overall anxiety and prepares you for managing symptoms in the moment. Yoga helps many people gain control of their breathing and is a good source of exercise in addition to being a form of practicing self-awareness. You can also put a meditation app on your phone. Typically these programs provide short guided meditation sessions that you can use during, say, a break at work, to help reconnect to your body and breath, which in turn reduces anxiety.
Open communication. Discuss your triggers with those closest to you. Your partner might not realize that they have a habit that increases your anxiety and just talking about it can relieve the stress in addition to solving the issue. Another way to reduce anxiety is to connect with others facing similar situations, such as support groups or close friends. Feeling alone in anxiety symptoms can make them harder to escape, and connecting with others who similarly struggle can reduce the intensity of your symptoms and increase your ability to gain control over them.
Setting boundaries. “No” is one of the most important words in the English language. For many people-pleasers, it can be hard to vocalize to others that you cannot take on more responsibility since it will worsen your anxiety. However, practicing awareness of your symptoms and saying “no” when you don’t think it will be good for your well-being is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of feeling overwhelmed. Explaining why you need to say “no” can be beneficial in certain circumstances, like at work or in a relationship, but generally others understand that setting limits is important.
Time management. Learn how to prioritize tasks and set realistic goals. Falling behind can increase the risk for anxiety but putting effort into developing organizational and time management skills can help you meet your goals and improve overall anxiety levels.
Therapy and/or medication. You should seek professional help if your anxiety is leading to worsening mood symptoms and/or if it is interfering with your ability to do things you want and need to do. The gold standard therapeutic treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy, in which a therapist will work with you to identify, reframe and gain control over anxious thoughts. Some people may benefit from taking medication to lessen their overall anxiety, and many medications are evidence-based to improve symptoms of multiple anxiety disorders. Work with a provider to see what treatment plan would be best to reduce and manage your symptoms.
At Eleanor Health, we provide personalized mental health support designed to help you understand your anxiety triggers and appropriately manage symptoms. We help adults who use substances and/or drink alcohol to manage anxiety find alternative methods to work through their symptoms, including with medication management and therapy. If you need help with your anxiety, contact us to schedule an evaluation and see how Eleanor Health can support you.
Marisa Savic, PMHNP-BC is a board certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner who received her nursing and master’s degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. Marisa has worked as a provider, clinical manager, director of clinical quality, and program manager of addiction treatment at numerous companies specializing in telepsychiatry as well as working in person at inpatient, outpatient, detoxification and crisis center facilities. She currently works as a full time provider at Eleanor Health and her clinical interests include therapeutic communication, evidence-based treatment and nonjudgmental care.