Thanks to Natasha from NewLifeOutlook.com for being my latest guest blogger. New Life Outlook is a fantastic community based mental health website that offers lots of information and support on a wide variety of topics to those who need it. Be sure to check it out if you are looking for help or guidance.
How to Identify Your Triggers
As someone with anxiety, being told “it’s all in your head” is probably one of the last things you want to hear.
It’s annoying, degrading, and typically just feeds the stigmas around anxiety and mental illness.
But we are potentially missing how empowering that statement is as well! If it’s all in our head, then we have the power to change our thoughts and regain control over our anxiety. Knowing and acknowledging that a lot of our anxiety is likely self-produced means we can learn to make conscious choices about our thought patterns and work to overcome negative thinking.
Identifying triggers is one of the biggest steps to successfully managing anxiety. Knowing our triggers takes some of the mystery and spontaneity out of anxiety and instead breaks it down into manageable tasks to work on.
What is a Trigger?
By definition, a trigger is an object, person, or situation that inspires a response. In this case the response is typically feelings of anxiety and could potentially result in a panic or anxiety attack.
When we encounter a trigger, there is a process of association that happens when our brain pairs this trigger with a negative event from the past, which inspires a similar response, as if the negative event was reoccurring or about to reoccur.
For example, let’s say when you were younger you had pneumonia and were quite sick — this would be the negative past event. But now, when you get a cold or develop a cough, it causes feelings of anxiety because your brain associates it with being sick when you were younger; the cough becomes the trigger.
So how do you figure out what your anxiety triggers are?
Identifying Your Triggers
It’s not going to happen overnight and it likely won’t be easy. It’s going to take time as you analyze the details and sensations each time you feel anxious to help you discover your various triggers. Some triggers may be worse than others.
The first step is recognizing physical clues that indicate you are feeling anxious prior to or during experiencing an anxiety attack. Some of the most common symptoms of an attack include:
Trembling or shaking
Hyperventilating or breathing difficulties
Pounding or racing heart
Overwhelming sense of fear and/or dread; fear of dying or going crazy
You do not need to experience all of the symptoms mentioned for it to be considered an anxiety attack.
Be aware of these symptoms and sensations so you can be mindful of your surroundings and work toward discovering what triggered the attack.
When you notice an anxious or panicked physical response, move to a safe place if possible and take a moment to ask yourself these questions:
-What were you thinking about before the attack?
-What were you doing before the attack?
-Where were you before the attack?
-Were there other people present when the attack happened? Did they affect your behavior?
-How did you feel before the attack?
-Rate your level of anxiety from one to 10, with 10 being an extremely high level of anxiety.
-Record your physical symptoms along with the answers to the above questions for future reference.
Keeping a journal to record physical sensations as well as notes about your thoughts, anxiety, and the answers to the above questions would be highly beneficial. This way you have documented proof of the attacks to analyze your triggers and bring to your doctor or therapist when discussing your anxiety and treatment options.
There are also worksheets and questionnaires available online to assist you in identifying your specific triggers and their severity. Just be sure to do your research and make sure that it’s from a reputable source.
Analyzing Your Notes
When you are in a safe place and aren’t experiencing any feelings of anxiety, take some time to go through your notes to try and identify the trigger. Make any additional notes if you feel the need once you are in a steady headspace.
Try not to stress if you can’t see the trigger right away; it may be something that you’re not aware of or it may be a deeper trigger that will need professional help to identify.
Now that you’ve identified your triggers, or some of them, what do you do with them? There are a few options depending on what feels right for you:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Reframing; develop new, positive associations
Delve further into what caused this trigger to address the root of the issue
All of the above are possible next steps that will help eventually lead to recovery and a better management of your anxiety. Discovering your triggers can be scary and it will take some time, but it can be so empowering. It is the first step to getting to know your anxiety so you can develop effective, long-term coping techniques.
Diagnosed with depression and anxiety, Natasha is grateful that she can use her experience to empower others. She has a passion for writing, photography, hiking, studying yoga, and mental health awareness. You can find more of Natasha’s writing on NewLifeOutlook.