9 Surprising Facts About Anxiety Triggers That Psychiatrists Want You To Know

by Eva Taylor Grant
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Although some may not understand what constitutes a "trigger," it's a thing more people experience than you might expect. And while common anxiety triggers can include anything from public speaking to work stress, they all share a set of principles that psychiatrists want you to understand.

"A trigger is anything that can lead to an anxiety reaction," clinical social worker Sharon Yaecker Roesser, LMSW, MS, tells Bustle. "It can be external, like seeing a particular person or having to visit a specific place. Or, it can be completely internal and feel like it has nothing to do what is going on around someone." Nevertheless, whether the thing that makes you feel anxious is inside your head or related to your surroundings, it's entirely possible to overcome.

"I want people to know that once you know a specific anxiety trigger, although you may never make peace with that particular thing or learn to like it, you can learn to be better prepared to deal with the trigger so it has less of an impact on you.” Prakash Masand M.D., a psychiatrist and the founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence, tells Bustle. This means that you may never actually enjoy public speaking, but you will — perhaps — be able to deal with it some day.

"Trigger" is a broad term, and anxiety is an umbrella of a variety of feelings and diagnoses, but there are some common factors. Here are nine surprising facts about anxiety triggers that psychiatrists want you to know.


Triggers Are Your Body's Way Of Trying To Protect You From Danger

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Anxiety is a normal instinct. Unfortunately, sometimes your instincts get the better of you. "Triggers are your body's attempt to protect you from danger," Dr. Kevin Hyde, Licensed Psychologist, tells Bustle. "... This is the fight or flight response in action." So, while you might not actually be in physical danger while running errands, triggers are telling your body that you are.

"I like to think of anxiety as a faulty alarm system, in which our body perceives environmental triggers as a threat to our safety, thus eliciting an anxious response," Lindsay E Gerber, PsyD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, tells Bustle. Taking control of your triggers is like rewiring this alarm system.


It Can Actually Take A Long Time To Figure Out What Your Triggers Are

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Triggers may sound like they'd be obvious to the person affected by them, but often they aren't. "It can take some work to figure out what your personal triggers are," therapist Jana Scrivani, Psy.D., tells Bustle. "If you are experiencing anxiety symptoms and it's unclear what is triggering them, try writing down information about what's going on when you experience them." Once you narrow things down, you can feel a bit more in control.

It's also fine if you never figure it out. "Sometimes you can’t figure out the trigger and that is perfectly acceptable," Dr. Masand says, "... Please know that no trigger at all is as acceptable as knowing the specific trigger." You're a person, and sometimes you might just be feeling anxious.


Our Bodies Can Respond To Triggers Before Our Minds Catch On

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When something has triggered your anxiety, mental health experts want you to know that sometimes, your body will notice way before your mind does.

"Sometimes our bodies respond to triggers before we are aware of what's happening," Dr. Scrivani says. "For example, someone might not realize that they're anxious until they notice that their heart is pounding, and their face is flushed." So if you feel weirdly jittery, or nauseous, you might not have a bug after all — it's possible that something is making you anxious.


Triggers Aren't "One Size Fits All"

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What triggers you might look absolutely different than what triggers someone else. There isn't a specific recipe for what might make someone anxious.

“The other interesting thing when it comes to anxiety triggers is that it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ equation because everyone has different triggers," Dr. Masand says. "Just because one person is triggered by something it might not set another person off." So while your triggers might be rooted in the way your boss speaks to you, another person's might be brought on by a smell, taste, or thought. It's all individual.


Triggers Don't Need To Be Avoided All The Time

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Perhaps the biggest misconception about triggers is that they need to be avoided at all costs. Experts emphasize that this is not necessary. "You don't need to avoid your anxiety triggers," Yaecker Roesser says. "You can figure out how to manage them. It is best not to avoid them, but to face them head on." Of course, this requires a bit of strategy, but it's important.

"The key with managing anxiety and triggers is to learn to be in the presence of a trigger and keep your physiological response in check," Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist and Host of The Kurre and Klapow Show tells Bustle, "... Over time you can learn to be in the presence of a trigger without it creating a significant anxiety response. The more avoidance of the trigger the more likelihood that the trigger’s impact will increase." So ask a psychologist or psychiatrist for help, and you'll likely find some comfort relatively soon.


Triggers Can Feel Really Out Of Whack With Your Surroundings

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Like breaking into panic while sitting in bed, or starting to have your heart race in a grocery store, anxiety and its triggers can come up at some uncomfortable, and seemingly incongruous times. "Anxiety triggers can feel internal and seemingly unrelated to what is going on around you," Yaecker Roesser says. "You might feel intrusive thoughts come into your head out of nowhere." It may feel scary and overwhelming, but is treatable as well. The more you pay attention to what causes these reactions, the more likely you are to one day overcome them.


Having Untreated Triggers Can Make You At Risk For More Triggers

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The unfortunate reality of anxiety disorders, and the triggers within them, is that they may get worse without treatment.

“Anxiety turns neutral situations into triggers," Dr. Hyde says. "Over time, untreated anxiety makes you more sensitive to situations that wouldn't have bothered you in the past. Neutral situations suddenly become triggers that can send you into an anxiety or panic attack." To avoid this, it's important to keep track of your triggers and talk to a professional if you need it.


You Don't Need A Trigger To Feel Anxious

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Another thing to know about triggers is that everything isn't a trigger. "People with anxiety don't need to experience a trigger in order to feel anxious," Julie Williamson, Licensed Professional Counselor, tells Bustle. "Part of having anxiety is feeling anxious or a sense of dread for no apparent reason. Certain things may trigger the anxiety or increase it, yes, but you may find yourself feeling worried, and unable to identify what is causing you worry." So, if you're worried that you absolutely cannot pinpoint where your anxiety is coming from, that may be just it.


You Can Learn A Lot About Yourself Through Your Triggers

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Triggers may feel like they do absolutely nothing good for your life, but experts want you to understand that sometimes they're there for a reason.

"Figuring out your anxiety triggers can help you understand yourself better," Yaecker Roesser says. "If you start to notice patterns for your anxiety, you may be able to begin to understand engrained beliefs you hold about yourself and the world that are keeping you from living your best life and being your best self." Figuring these things out, then, will not only help mitigate your anxiety, but help you get to know yourself better as well.

Having anxiety doesn't have to feel so lonely and confusing. "Knowing your triggers can be empowering!" Dr. Scrivani says. "Once you're aware of specific things that are triggering your anxiety, you are better able to take steps to manage it more effectively." Plus, Dr. Scrivani suggest Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as an especially effective treatment method. Whatever treatment you choose, it's most important to know that anxiety triggers are totally possible to live with, and even overcome.