Finding Your Anxiety Triggers

A few months ago, I wrote about living with anxiety and how crippling it can be. I’m proud to say that I’ve made some great strides since then, with therapy, to live a calmer life. Anxiety is something that I’ll live with for the rest of my life, but learning how to manage it and pinpointing my triggers has been monumental. I honestly can’t believe I didn’t start therapy sooner!

One interesting analogy that helped me understand better what I’m going through is that stress is to anxiety is what sadness is to depression. I think people can grasp that depression is very different from being sad, but not a lot of people get that stress and anxiety are very different too.

Let me explain…

Stress is, well, stress. I’m sure any living breathing human has felt that before and can relate. And hey, if you haven’t, please share your ways with us mere mortals!

Anxiety, however, is a more intense, physical manifestation of stress that can show up on varying scales because of a change in brain chemistry. It’s been important for me that I classify my anxiety as that, and when I’m just stressed out, I recognize the difference.

I think that this realization made me feel better about my bouts of anxiety because there was no more guilt involved. I feel anxious because of a chemical imbalance in my brain, not because of anything else. Once that settled in, the next step was to find my triggers.

Read on to find out what worked for me in finding those triggers.

Please note that I have no sort of mental health degrees and am by no means a doctor. I’m sharing my own personal experience only!

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Finding Your Anxiety Triggers

Step 1- Write them down: My therapist had me write down my triggers over the course of a few weeks. If something triggered me to feel anxious, I would write it in the notes app on my phone immediately. I’d go back later and assess if it was actually that person or action or situation, or if it was just bad timing. After about two weeks I had a solid list of about 12 things that really triggered my anxiety.

Of course there are times when I’m anxious and it feels like it just came out of nowhere, but now I’m realizing that there is usually a reason and if I look back at my list of triggers, one of those has usually occurred in the few days leading up to my anxiety. That has been another major breakthrough for me.

Step 2- Talk them through: Whether it’s with a therapist or a spouse or friend, talk through why your triggers bother you. For example, one of mine is when Amalia cries at bedtime. The “cry it out” method just about kills me (Thank God we’ve only had to do it once for a few nights) and when she has trouble going to sleep, it makes me super anxious. I hadn’t wanted to admit that because it felt so stupid. She’s a baby, of course she’s going to cry sometimes, and logically I know she’s ok. But it’s a visceral reaction that I can’t help.

I know every mom feels this from some degree, but with me, I get shaky, start to cry, and my heart races so fast that it feels like it might beat right out of my chest.

Step 3- Explain your triggers to the people you’re close to: Talking it out with my therapist definitely helped, but in the moment, I need Anel to understand what I feel moment and what to do to help. So I chose a time when we were both happy and calm to talk about what it feels like physically when I get anxious about the baby crying and how he can help. I learned that people without anxiety often can’t understand the feeling because they’ve never experienced it, but if you explain your physical symptoms, it makes more sense to them.

The talk with Anel about this particular trigger went really well. He better understood how intense it can be for me, and knows what helps. In our situation, I just need him to keep reminding me that she’s ok and to stay calm if he can. Now he will never say, “Just relax, she’s fine!” again when I’m getting worked up over the baby crying.

The next step in this process has been writing a list of things to do that help when I’m triggered. I’ll write about that and how that list is going in a few weeks.

If you experience anxiety in your life, do you know what triggers it? If not, I can report that this exercise helped me a lot!

Photo by Julia D’Agostino.

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  1. Allie said:

    I have an okay handle in some of my triggers, with what makes me feel stressed and anxious but also with life in general. In the past few months I’ve tried to identify them a lot better, and like you said it really makes a difference! I’m so happy you are feeling better, know we are sending positive thoughts and prayers your way! xAllie

    5.2.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Thanks Allie! And thank you for being such a loyal commenter, it’s amazing! xx

      5.3.18 · Reply
  2. Rachel said:

    Explaining anxiety to someone who doesn’t understand it is one of the hardest things. I would get so upset when my husband and I started dating because it just seemed like an overreaction to him. Seeing me have an anxiety attack put things into perspective for him I think and figuring out the right way to explain things as well. Now he knows how to talk to me if I say something gives me anxiety or if he slips and says something that I don’t think helps he apologizes. Bedtime has been giving me anxiety. My son has been regressing and wakes up so early I just want to skip the night and go straight to morning but I am working on it.

    5.2.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      It’s so hard because it’s such a unique feeling that most people just can’t understand. I’m so glad that your husband understands it better now, that is so key in your relationship I’ve learned.

      I know what you mean about bedtime with the kiddos. Good luck!!

      5.3.18 · Reply
  3. Kate said:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I’ve been struggling with anxiety for years now and trying to work through it with my boyfriend has really brought a lot of issues that I tried to ignore to light and given me incentive to work through it so that I can be a better person for both of us. Realizing that anxiety can pop up a couple of days before or after an event makes it hard to pinpoint the cause, but learning coping mechanisms and acknowledging that it is happening has helped. I know this is a deeply personal struggle, but I really appreciate you opening up here. It makes me feel like I’m not alone and that we can work through this “together”!

    5.2.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      That’s amazing! I’m so glad that you’re working on it and making so many realizations. We’re definitely in it together, thank you for sharing your story!

      5.3.18 · Reply
  4. Mackenzie said:

    This is such a good post. It’s one thing to talk about/recognize anxiety, but it’s another thing to take the steps to deal with it. I found the same with therapy- she encouraged me to think about the events leading up to anxiety/panic attacks and look for common threads. For me, it’s a feeling a being “trapped” either physically or, more often, emotionally (ie. stuck in a bad situation that I can’t get out of) or being rushed (again, whether physically ie. I have to get somewhere and don’t have enough time, or emotionally ie. I need to rush to make an important decision or get something that matters to me done and I can’t feel calm until I do it). I also learned that having a mantra that addresses each trigger is so important, because it helps us re-route our thoughts away from the trigger and towards a calm feeling. Once we recognize these triggers, I think it makes us feel more in control of our anxiety. Of course, there will still be times of general anxiety and won’t always be a reason for it, but by recognizing and acknowledging my triggers it helped me understand myself and my brain better. I think when it comes to the mind, knowledge is power!

    5.2.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      You stated things so eloquently thank you! I’m the same with feeling trapped but I had never though about it that way.

      5.3.18 · Reply
  5. Alexandra said:

    This post is extremely helpful, even for someone who doesn’t have anxiety. Being able to relate anxiety to physical feelings or symptoms gets everyone on the same page. Thank you for opening up about something so personal – I have a lot of respect for your candidness and willingness to share.

    5.3.18 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Thanks so much Alexandra! Good to know that it’s helpful for people who don’t have anxiety as well.

      5.4.18 · Reply