What can trigger anxiety?
Anxiety triggers are stressful or unfamiliar situations and events that cause anxious feelings. Some common triggers include bereavement, financial stress, experiencing bullying, and drinking too much caffeine.
Although it is not always possible to avoid these triggers, there are techniques that people can use to manage their anxiety in certain situations.
There are many different anxiety triggers. Below, we look at eight common examples of these triggers and how a person can manage them.
We also provide information on anxiety management techniques and describe the various treatment options for people with severe or debilitating anxiety.
1. Drinking too much caffeine
Caffeine increases the levels of epinephrine in the body. Epinephrine is one of the hormones that play a role in the fight-or-flight response.
Drinking excessive amounts of coffee and other caffeinated beverages can, therefore, leave people feeling anxious and on edge.
Drinking less caffeine may help improve feelings of anxiety.
Learn more about how caffeine can affect the body here.
2. Sitting a test
It is common for people to feel anxious before a test. The name for this is test anxiety, which is a type of performance anxiety.
Sometimes, test anxiety is due to a lack of study or preparation. Other times, it occurs because a person has a fear of failure. An intense pressure to perform commonly drives this concern.
Most schools have special programs in place or counselors to help students manage test anxiety.
Some people may experience anxiety before a social gathering or event or when meeting people for the first time. For example, they may feel particularly anxious in the following circumstances:
- giving a speech or performance
- attending an interview
- meeting a large group of strangers
A certain amount of anxiety in these situations is normal. Sometimes, however, the anxiety is so intense that it stops people engaging in activities that they would otherwise enjoy.
People may feel excessively self-conscious and become socially withdrawn. These may be signs of social anxiety disorder.
4. Being bullied
People who experience bullying in school or the workplace may become anxious about spending time there.
The fear of bullies can distract people from their studies or work. Some children may skip school altogether. These behavioral responses can lead to underperformance, which may trigger further anxiety.
Over time, people can become fearful of social situations in general.
People who are experiencing bullying should try to reach out to a trusted friend, colleague, or mentor. Most organizations have established procedures for managing bullying in the school or workplace.
5. Experiencing financial difficulty
Financial difficulty can significantly affect a person’s mental health.
Living with debt, losing a job, or having an unstable income can all trigger feelings of anxiety.
According to a 2017 survey by the American Psychological Association, about 72% of people in the United States reported feeling stressed about money during the previous month.
People with financial anxiety may benefit from talking to a mental health professional or a supportive family member or friend.
6. Experiencing a bereavement
Many people associate bereavement with intense feelings of grief and depression. In many cases, the loss may also trigger deep anxiety.
A person who has lost a loved one may worry about how they will cope. People may feel particularly anxious after the death of a person whom they confided in or relied on in some way.
Many people also worry about how they will cope with their grief. They may feel anxious about whether they will be able to function at work or in the home. They may even fear that they will never feel normal again.
People who feel anxious after a bereavement should talk to their doctor. The doctor may refer the person for bereavement counseling.
7. Becoming a parent
Becoming a parent is a significant life event. While it may be an exciting prospect, it can also trigger feelings of intense stress and anxiety.
Parents-to-be may have concerns about how they will cope in their new role. They may also worry about the birth itself, as well as the health of the baby.
Women experiencing high levels of pregnancy anxiety should talk to their doctor. Chronic stress can have a negative effect on both the woman and the unborn baby. The doctor may recommend a form of talking therapy to help alleviate anxiety.
8. Receiving a diagnosis of a severe illness
Getting a diagnosis of a severe illness or chronic medical condition can be deeply upsetting and worrying.
People may experience anxiety over how they are going to manage their condition and how it may progress. They may also worry about how they or their loved ones will cope emotionally or financially.
People who experience these anxieties should talk to their doctor. A doctor will be able to recommend appropriate therapies and other useful resources.
Many people feel anxious in certain situations, some of which tend to provoke greater anxiety than others.
However, people should see a doctor if anxiety begins to affect any of the following aspects of their life:
- personal relationships
- the ability to enjoy life
- the ability to function from day to day
A person who has severe, persistent, or debilitating anxiety may have an anxiety disorder. In such cases, a doctor may recommend treatment to help manage the anxiety.
The type of treatment that a person receives depends on the type and severity of their anxiety, as well as its cause.
Some treatment options include:
Different types of talking therapy are available.
Counseling: Counseling is usually a short term therapy that lasts for several weeks. The goal of counseling is to help people develop strategies for managing stressful situations.
Psychotherapy: This therapy is more long term than counseling, and it covers a broader range of issues.
There are many different types of psychotherapy, but they all aim to help people become better able to:
- regulate their emotions
- manage stress
- understand the behavioral patterns that affect their relationships with others
The type of psychotherapy that a person receives will depend on their personal preferences and the type of anxiety that they have.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a specific form of psychotherapy that helps people recognize how their negative thought patterns can influence their anxiety and behaviors. Becoming more aware of this can help people develop more effective coping strategies.
A doctor may sometimes prescribe anti-anxiety medications alongside talking therapy. A person’s overall health and the type of anxiety that they have will determine the most suitable medication for them.
Some anti-anxiety medications include:
- Buspirone: While its exact mechanism of action is unknown, scientists believe that buspirone works by binding to specific serotonin receptors, thus enhancing the activity of this neurotransmitter.
- Benzodiazepines: These are a type of sedative that a doctor may prescribe for a short time to help treat sudden and severe anxiety symptoms. However, doctors have recently prescribed fewer benzodiazepines due to the risk of addiction. This risk is higher in those who have a history of drug or alcohol use disorders.
- Beta-blockers: These drugs work by blocking the action of epinephrine, preventing its effects, which include the rapid heart rate that people typically experience when they are anxious.
It is not always possible to avoid the situations and events that trigger anxiety. Trying to avoid these triggers can sometimes make anxiety worse.
Stress management techniques can help people achieve a more relaxed state of mind and manage anxiety better in these situations.
Exercise decreases the levels of stress hormones within the body. It can also distract people from worry by making them focus on the task of exercising instead.
A 2014 review investigated the anti-anxiety effects of exercise compared with those of standard anxiety treatments, such as medication and CBT. The review included eight randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of exercise interventions for anxiety.
On its own, exercise was less effective than the standard anxiety treatments. However, combining the treatment with exercise generally led to greater reductions in anxiety than the treatment alone.
Both aerobic and anaerobic exercises appear to reduce anxiety symptoms. However, further RCTs are necessary to confirm the benefits of exercise for anxiety.
Meditation is the practice of focusing the mind.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation that involves focusing on the feelings, thoughts, or bodily sensations that are happening in the present moment. By doing this, a person can often slow their thoughts and stop their mind from racing.
Guided imagery is a type of meditation in which a person visualizes scenes to promote relaxation.
For example, a person may choose to imagine a beautiful sunset or a peaceful garden. These visualizations can distract people from their anxious state and promote positive thoughts and sensations.
Diaphragmatic breathing is a breathing technique that slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure.
A 2017 study found that diaphragmatic breathing also reduces cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that the body releases in response to stress. Having too much in the bloodstream can cause or exacerbate anxiety.
To try this type of breathing, people can follow the steps below:
- Lie on the back and bend the knees, keeping the feet flat on the floor.
- Place one hand on the upper chest and the other on the stomach, just below the rib cage.
- Take a slow, deep breath in through the nose. Draw the breath down toward the stomach. The hand on the chest should remain still, and the hand on the stomach should rise.
- Tighten the abdominal muscles and draw them inward while exhaling slowly. Keep the lips pursed while exhaling. The hand on the stomach should move down to its original position.
Try practicing diaphragmatic breathing for 10 minutes several times a day.
Most people experience occasional bouts of anxiety, which a particular situation or event commonly triggers. Various stress management techniques exist to help people prevent or reduce anxiety in these situations.
Sometimes, anxiety can get in the way of normal life, which can indicate that a person has an anxiety disorder.
People who experience persistent or severe anxiety should see a doctor. The doctor will be able to recommend appropriate treatments.