Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition affecting 1 in 8 Canadians. Although it is possible to experience anxiety for no apparent reason, it can be triggered by lifestyle factors, or the presence of an underlying mental health issue, such as depression or trauma.
You may have experienced anxiety throughout your life for various reasons. No matter the cause— it’s normal for feelings of fear, uneasiness, and worry to creep up. For some people, these emotions can hang on for long periods of time, causing feelings of dread when there’s no ‘real’ danger present. These symptoms can manifest into an anxiety disorder and in severe cases can interfere with daily life and get in the way of once-loved activities.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety can significantly affect quality of life by causing a range of physical and emotional symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, muscle tension, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and restlessness. It can interfere with daily activities, relationships, and work life. In severe cases, anxiety can prevent a person from participating in everyday activities as it can make it difficult to even leave the house. Additionally, it can lead to other physical and mental health conditions such as depression, substance abuse, and chronic illness. So, what usually triggers anxiety?
7 common examples of anxiety triggers
1. Stressful life events
Stress triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response (a natural response to danger). Stressful events like losing a loved one, starting a new job, moving to a new location, or going through a divorce can all trigger anxiety. The body’s response to these stressful events can cause physical symptoms including:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
2. Substance abuse
The abuse of alcohol and drugs can cause anxiety in several ways. The direct effects of substances like alcohol, and certain medications such as amphetamines, can cause an increase in dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain — leading to anxious feelings. Those who develop a dependency often experience withdrawal symptoms, increasing the likelihood of tremors, sweating, and anxiety like symptoms.
Biology and genetics can have a significant impact on whether or not someone develops anxiety. Studies show that anxiety can run in families, and specific genes may make a person more susceptible to anxiety disorders. However, the likelihood of genetics developing into an anxiety disorder highly depends on a persons current and past environmental circumstances.
4. Poor nutrition
What goes into the body greatly impacts the brain by directly affecting brain chemistry. Poor nutrition can contribute to anxiety in many ways. Certain nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B6, B12, and magnesium play an essential role in the maintenance of healthy brain function. A diet that lacks these nutrients can lead to imbalances in a persons brain chemistry and potentially trigger anxiety. Poor nutrition can also impact our gut-brain axis, which is the connection between gut health and the brain. The connection between the brain and gut allows emotional experiences to register as gastrointestinal distress, resulting in stomach pain or nausea when we experience fear, anxiety, or a ‘gut feeling’ that something is wrong.
5. Poor sleeping habits
A lack of sleep hygiene and can trigger anxiety in several ways, but one of the most important is how it alters brain chemistry. Lack of sleep can disrupt the balance of the neurotransmitters — chemicals that help regulate mood and emotions. Sleep plays a vital role in regulating the body’s response to stress and stressful events. And conversely, a lack of sleep can lead to an overactive stress response, putting the body into constant fight-or-flight mode.
6. Traumatic experiences
Traumatic events such as natural disasters, accidents, or physical and emotional violence can bring on recurring feelings of anxiety — even long after the event has passed. For example, a person who’s been in a car accident may feel anxious about driving again or about getting into a car.
7. Hormonal Changes
Bodily changes can disrupt the balance of the neurotransmitters, leading to symptoms of anxiety. Hormonal changes can happen for different reasons, including:
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Thyroid disorders
These are just a few examples of potential anxiety triggers. Every person is different, and what triggers anxiety for one person may not be the same for another.
How to stop anxiety triggers and manage symptoms
One of the best ways to manage anxiety is to identify symptoms, stay mindful of the triggers, and the underlying factors that can make you predisposed.
Some common symptoms of anxiety
- Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
- Feeling weak or tired
- Sweating, trembling, or rapid heart rate
- A feeling of impending doom and panic
- Having trouble sleeping
- Difficulty controlling worry
Effective ways to manage anxiety
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet.
- Get enough sleep: Sleep is essential for recovery. Without it, we can experience heightened emotions, leading to more anxiety.
- Connect with others
- Practice relaxation techniques: Deep breathing and yoga are excellent ways to manage symptoms and calm the nervous system.
- Seek professional help: This is especially important if you feel your symptoms worsening.
There are many different types of anxiety disorders
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Panic Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Acute Stress Disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Depending on the kind of anxiety disorder, a doctor or mental health professional will recommend different treatment methods, such as:
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are all connected. CBT focuses on identifying and changing negative thinking and behavioural patterns to reduce anxiety and improve overall well-being. It’s often used to treat anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental health issues.
- Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioural therapy that is used to treat anxiety and other related disorders. Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing a person to their fear or anxiety in a safe and controlled way to overcome it. This type of therapy can be done in a variety of ways, such as imaginal exposure, in vivo exposure, and virtual reality exposure.
- Mindfulness-based therapy uses mindfulness techniques to help a person become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours in the present moment. It can help reduce stress, manage anxiety, and develop healthier coping strategies. It’s often used in combination with other therapies, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, to help a person manage anxiety and other mental health issues.
It’s essential to identify your anxiety triggers and work with a healthcare professional to develop a treatment plan. Treatment may include a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes to manage anxiety symptoms and improve overall well-being. The best way to build a treatment plan is by speaking with a mental health professional.
Start treating your anxiety
How do you stop your anxiety from triggering? It’s important for people who are experiencing anxiety to seek help from a mental health professional. Wellin5’s counsellors are equipped with the proper tools and knowledge to help you recognize triggers and manage your symptoms.
Experiencing anxiety? You’re not alone. Online anxiety counselling can help. Speak to an experienced counsellor.