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Common Anxiety Triggers for Anxiety and Panic

Wendy M Yoder, Ph.D.
Common Anxiety Triggers for Anxiety and Panic

Anxiety may occur for a number of different reasons. For those whose anxiety is more unconscious, it may sometimes feel like it comes from nothing at all. It may strike during common moments, or it may come without warning. For some, it may be very hard to identify the exact cause.

But there are also things that can make your anxiety worse - anxiety triggers that make it more likely that you'll experience anxiety, panic, and a host of other anxiety-related conditions.

Below, we'll discuss the basics of anxiety triggers and provide common examples of anxiety triggering events.

Different Types of Anxiety Have Different "Triggers"

Every type of anxiety is different. For example, the triggers of obsessive-compulsive disorder may be unwanted thoughts or environmental challenges. The triggers of panic disorder may be physical sensations or a passing fear. The triggers of PTSD may be loud noises. Each type of anxiety may have different triggers, just as each individual may find that their triggers are unique.

Triggers vs. Causes

There is also a difference between a trigger of anxiety and a cause of anxiety. A cause of anxiety is something that resulted in the formation of your anxiety disorder. For example, your upbringing and genetics are causes of your anxiety. Triggers are issues that make the anxiety you already struggle with worse or more prevalent.

Not everyone that deals with anxiety disorders experiences them every day. Some people get breaks, and others deal with more manageable anxiety that can occasionally get worse. This type of anxiety may have "triggers" which essentially activate the anxiety disorder and cause it to have more impact in your life, often becoming harder to manage.

Natural Triggers of Anxiety

There are also several natural, understandable triggers of anxiety. A stressful job, for example, is a common natural anxiety trigger. Long-term, persistent stress can make it very hard to cope with life, and that can create long-term anxiety issues. Living with cancer or a disease can also create anxiety, as can trouble with your relationships or social life. These types of anxiety triggers are very common and may create anxiety in the short or long term.

Invisible Triggers of Anxiety

The best place to start is with the invisible triggers of anxiety. These unconscious triggers are possible triggers that you may not even know is happening. A great example is clutter. Some people (not all) start to experience more anxiety when their homes have more clutter because they associated cleanliness with control. That's an invisible anxiety trigger, because the person may not even be aware that their home is affecting them until it's cleaned. Other invisible triggers include:

The invisible triggers of anxiety can be very complex, because they may also be based on your previous life experience. If you grew up with strict parents, for example, you may develop anxiety when you do behaviors they would not have approved of simply because your mind and body are used to anxiety when these behaviors occurred. That's why upbringing and life experiences play such a complex role in anxiety.

Triggers of Panic Attacks

Anxiety is a condition that often develops gradually, and it's not that common for one item to simply trigger an increase in anxiety that's pronounced enough to matter. The same is not true for anxiety attacks, where various issues can trigger anxiety attacks with some regularity.

Panic attacks are so unpredictable that they can be caused by fear of panic attacks - or simply by thinking about your panic attacks. They can be caused by exercise, by dehydration, and by what feels like nothing at all. The first panic attack often comes at a time of considerable stress, but some people have been known to get their first panic attack for no apparent reason. 

Once that first panic attack occurs, some of the symptoms of panic attacks can create full-blown attacks due to health fears and fear of another panic attack.

Some people still get panic attacks when they're under extreme stress. But some people develop what's known as "hypersensitivity," where they notice every single feeling and change in their body (including those that other people don't notice or shrug off) and experience a flood of anxiety when these sensations occur, ultimately leading to a panic attack.

These types of triggers can also be exacerbated by health fear. Some of the individuals that struggle with panic disorder often find that they either develop health anxiety or that health anxiety (hypochondriasis) is a trigger. For someone with a health anxiety trigger, any fears related to their health could trigger an attack.

For example, someone without anxiety gets a bug bite and passes it off as a bug bite. Someone with panic attacks triggered by health anxiety gets a bug bite and wonders if they have an infection or serious disease, to the point where they may even need to see the doctor.

They also get more "in touch" with their muscles, heart, and body, so that automatic processes become less automatic, thus triggering anxiety as though a health problem is occurring. For example, sometimes those with panic attacks start to find walking more difficult, because their normal automatic movements (using their legs) are more conscious than normal, and that consciousness makes them harder to move since each muscle movement needs to be thought through.

Panic attack triggers are notoriously broad, often related to feelings, and very difficult to control.

How to Relieve Anxiety Triggers

Anxiety triggers can be tough to control. Each trigger will have its own potential treatment, and the only way to prevent all anxiety triggers is to re-learn coping strategies and cure your anxiety. Some example treatments include:

In the end, though, the key to reducing anxiety triggers is to stop the anxiety overall.

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