Knowing your triggers can help calm you.
Anxiety is common—it affects some 40 million Americans. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or harmless.
You may be so used to anxiety that you don’t notice it in yourself. Restlessness, tingling, irritability, tight muscles, insomnia, and digestive issues are all signs of anxiety. You might suddenly sweat, tremble, or feel your heart pounding and your throat closing: Those are signs of panic.
Forget blame: Your personal history, your current circumstances, and your genes all combine to make you more or less vulnerable to anxiety.
Anxiety may be keeping you from pursuing relationships, work, and hobbies that would require more of you. Knowing your anxiety triggers is one way to move past fear and live more freely.
You probably already have a general idea of what bothers you most. Do you worry about your health? Your finances? Are you afraid of dating or crowds? The next step is to get more specific. One or two of your triggers may surprise you. Once you know them, you’ll be able to catch anxiety more quickly. This will help calm you.
Here are common anxiety triggers:
- Health. You may have grown up with a chronically ill parent or a parent who overreacted when you were sick. Some people cope with health anxiety by steering clear of doctors and tests. When they see a scary symptom they ignore it. That’s not the best move. Other people read up for hours online whenever they’re waiting for an appointment or see a possible symptom. If you’ve been suffering unexplained symptoms, remember that a doctor may be able to help. A doctor may also relieve your anxiety. Be gentle to yourself when you don’t feel well—but also keep your life going if you tend to stay home whenever you’re slightly off.
- Prescriptions like birth control pills and OTC cough and congestion medications may create sensations that become anxiety triggers for you. Let your doctor know if you think anything you’re taking makes you anxious.
- Caffeine. Coffee may make you more alert but if you’re prone to panic or social anxiety, it may become an anxiety trigger.
- Skipping meals. Even if you can’t sit down to eat every meal, remember to eat healthy snacks like nuts. If your blood sugar falls, you may end up feeling agitated.
- Bills, taxes, and income losses. Some people put off paying their taxes or bills because they don’t feel on top of their finances. If you’ve ever unexpectedly lost a job or important client, you may be especially nervous when you don’t get a response to a work phone call or email. Remind yourself that every situation is different. Your intuition may be right—think about how you’ll handle the situation rather than constantly checking your email. Confide in someone who is confident about money but respects your concern.
- Parties or social events. Many people are afraid of rooms of people, especially strangers. Try not to stay at home alone all the time. Bring a companion or prepare yourself with conversation starters. You actually don’t need to talk about yourself—the most charming people are interested in others.
- Conflict. If any disagreement makes you sick to your stomach, you may need to talk to a therapist. You may have learned to overreact because of conflict in your home as a child.
- Stress. If you live with an unresolved problem like a chronically sick parent or spouse or bullying boss, monitor yourself closely. Overeating or eating badly, drinking alcohol, or staying up late are all common reactions to stress. Over time, they will lead to more anxiety, not less.
- Public performances. Many successful performers have stage fright—it doesn’t have to stop you. People often become afraid of their own physical reaction—instead, you can welcome the queasy stomach as a healthy sign of excitement.
- Personal associations. A smell, taste, or sound can become an anxiety trigger for you if it reminds you of a bad memory. Talk to a therapist if you have strange reactions you can’t explain.
Be honest—and gentle—with yourself. If anxiety is part of your day-to-day life, it’s time to give yourself a break and find new strategies and helpers.
Reprinted with Permission
Temma Ehrenfeld is a New York-based science writer, and former assistant editor at Newsweek.