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Triggers of an Anxiety Attack

Do you experience anxiety attacks when life seems overwhelming? An anxiety attack describes an episode of excessive worrying and may include physical symptoms like increased heart rate and muscle tension. It can be a mentally and physically exhausting experience that requires recovery time.

If occasional anxiety keeps you up at night, you might try to avoid activities, people, places or things that make you feel nervous or worry too much. However, you likely want to face some anxiety triggers, like going to a job interview or taking an exam, so you can reach certain life goals. Luckily, there are many ways to keep anxiety in check during a stressful event or when facing a trigger. The first step is identifying your anxiety triggers, so you can learn how to cope.

What Are Triggers?

A trigger is something your brain has learned to perceive as dangerous. For example, the site of a car accident might be an anxiety trigger for an accident survivor because it reminds them of the traumatic event. Someone else might experience anxiety when they fight with a spouse because the conflict feels like a threat to their relationship. People have unique triggers based on past experiences and traumas — some triggers are easy to recognize, while others are less obvious.

When you encounter an anxiety trigger, whether it’s a person, place, object, thought or a combination of factors, your body reacts as if there’s danger nearby. This experience can lead to emotions like worry and fear and physical reactions such as muscle tension, increased heart rate, shortness of breath and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Everyone has anxiety from time to time. However, if anxiety feels uncontrollable and takes over your life, you may have an anxiety disorder. These disorders are very common, affecting an estimated 31% of adults at some point during their lives.

Common Triggers of Anxiety Attacks

There’s a decent chance you already know one or two of your triggers. Maybe you often have finances on your mind or can’t seem to stop worrying about a health issue. That said, some anxiety triggers aren’t as easy to identify, and you may not be aware that they’re worsening or triggering anxiety.

To help you identify the causes of your anxiety attacks, here are common triggers:

1. Caffeine

If feelings of anxiety seem to worsen after your morning cup of coffee, you may want to cut back or start your day with decaf instead. Unfortunately, caffeine is a stimulant that can mimic anxiety symptoms, making someone feel nervous or jittery if consumed in large amounts.

People who have generalized anxiety disorder might find that even small amounts can worsen their anxiety. According to the Mayo Clinic, adults can generally have up to four cups of coffee a day without side effects. However, if you experience nervousness, increased heart rate or irritability after any amount of caffeine, try decreasing your intake.

2. Negative Thinking

Do you tend to practice negative self-talk or often fear the worst will happen? This type of thinking can trigger anxiety, impact your mood and keep you from coping with stressors effectively.

Consider breaking negative thinking patterns by working with a therapist who offers cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is an evidence-based approach used to treat a range of mental health problems like anxiety disorders and depression. With CBT, your therapist will help you identify negative thoughts and beliefs and replace them with positive ones.

3. Stress

It’s no secret that stress can be a major source of anxiety. Stressors like moving to a new house, going through a divorce or coping with job loss can make someone worry day and night. Sometimes, everyday sources of stress, like traffic or chores, can trigger anxiety. While it’s normal to feel anxiety during a stressful event or transition, it shouldn’t take over your life.

If anxiety symptoms have gotten out of control due to stress, consider learning ways to relax and calm your mind. Techniques like breathing exercises and meditation are just two ways to get stress and anxiety under control. It can also help to talk to professionals to solve stress-causing problems.

4. Health Issues

An upsetting diagnosis or worrisome physical symptoms can cause anxiety in anyone. To someone who has an anxiety disorder, health-related issues can make them feel worse. They might worry about a medical test or think the worst about a recent diagnosis. Sometimes, health concerns can put a person’s life on hold.

If you’re spending a lot of time worrying about your health, talk to your family doctor and share your concerns. They can teach you more about your health and answer your questions, which may relieve some of the anxiety you’re experiencing. They can also investigate your symptoms and recommend ways to manage your physical and mental health.

5. Social Interactions

Many people experience anxiety before speaking in front of a group or going on a date. If you have a social event coming up and are experiencing anxiety symptoms, you might find relief once you settle into the situation or when the event is over.

However, about 7% of people have social anxiety disorder and experience extreme anxiety with everyday interactions. This disorder can interfere with a person’s life and keep them from going to work or school. If you think you might have social anxiety disorder, know that there’s treatment available, including counseling, medication or a combination of both.

6. Medications

Certain medications can trigger or worsen anxiety. These include some asthma medications, prescription stimulants, thyroid medications and decongestants. If you suspect a prescription or over-the-counter medication causes you to feel anxious, speak to your doctor. They might recommend an alternative, decrease the dose or suggest coping strategies depending on your needs.

7. Substance Use

Both drugs and alcohol can lead to anxiety and panic attacks. For example, people who use methamphetamine commonly experience anxiety during intoxication and withdrawal. Often, people use substances to self-medicate and relieve symptoms of an anxiety disorder temporarily. Once the drug or alcohol wears off, anxiety symptoms come back, sometimes worse than before.

Using substances to relax can lead to addiction, which is known as a chronic disease. Like many other diseases, addiction is treatable with therapy, medication and support.

8. Sleep Problems

If worrisome thoughts keep running through your mind at night, you might not be getting your recommended eight hours of sleep. A lack of sleep can amplify daily stressors and worsen anxiety symptoms, making it even more challenging to get your rest. Soon, you face a cycle of worrying and sleeplessness. It’s important to speak to a doctor or therapist if you’re having trouble sleeping for any reason.

9. Conflict

Fighting with a spouse, arguing with coworkers or experiencing any type of conflict can lead to anxiety or exacerbate symptoms. If you often find yourself feeling overwhelmed by conflict, consider learning conflict resolution techniques. A counselor can also teach you healthy ways to cope with intense feelings resulting from conflict so you feel less anxious.

Tips for Managing Anxiety Attack Triggers

Tips for Managing Anxiety Attack Triggers

Here are tips to help you feel at ease whether you encounter an unexpected trigger or cope with anxiety every day:

  • Aim to get 30 minutes of exercise every day to feel less stressed.
  • Practice deep-breathing and mindfulness techniques, which can help you focus on the present.
  • Develop and stick to a daily routine to minimize uncertainty.
  • Reduce caffeine intake.
  • Prioritize getting enough sleep.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Practice positive self-talk and self-compassion.
  • Let yourself laugh.
  • Focus on things you can control and let go of anything you can’t.
  • Talk to a friend, family member or therapist when you feel overwhelmed.
  • Work with a counselor to learn effective coping strategies and treat underlying conditions.
Contact Gateway Foundation for Help

Contact Gateway Foundation for Help

At Gateway Foundation, our compassionate, skilled therapists can treat any type of anxiety disorder and help you gain control of your life. Even if you just need someone to help you through a difficult time, we can do that, too. A professional will consider your unique needs and goals and develop a tailored treatment plan incorporating evidence-based techniques.

Whether you need an outpatient treatment program to suit a busy schedule or are interested in residential treatment, we’re here to help. Contact us today to learn more about anxiety treatment and how you can get started.

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