As the second installment in the series Steps to Battling Your Anxiety Disorder, this post aims to dig a little deeper into understanding your personal struggle with anxiety. In The First Step, we explored possible causation of your anxiety problems. This post will discuss common anxiety and panic triggers in the hopes that this part of our journey will help you discover your own anxiety triggers, because once you become aware of them, you have the power to change their effect on you.
There is a huge misconception in society about anxiety disorders. We tend to be lumped into one large group despite how enormously different each anxiety condition is; and within that how vastly different any given disorder can present itself from person to person. That is a huge problem. This general assumption that we are “all alike” can hinder our own progress into becoming better at coping with our conditions.
In order to combat this, we all need to take The Second Step in our journeys in having a less anxious life, which is finding and understanding our unique personal triggers that worsen our anxiety.
The Second Step:
As previously stated, The Second Step is finding and understanding our anxiety triggers. However, this step can be taken multiple different ways, and may include smaller steps, but as long as at the end of this process we have a better understanding of ourselves, then we have succeeded.
Do not become fixated on the idea that there is one ideal path in accomplishing this Step, that defeats the idea that we are individuals, with individual thoughts and feelings. In fact, this Step may be one of the ones where there is more variation from person to person than the rest that will follow in this series. And that is perfectly okay!
Start taking daily “Anxiety Inventories”
What is an “Anxiety Inventory” and how do I use it to help me? This just means that you are actively monitoring your anxiety levels throughout the day and taking note of it. I mean I literally want you to PHYSICALLY take down notes on how you feel throughout the day. It can be as minimal as typing a quick blurb into the Notes app on your phone. As long as you are noting what you are doing and how you are feeling then your Anxiety Inventory is adequate. Look for patterns of actions you are doing when your anxiety levels are heightened; this is a really strong sign you have found one of your triggers.
Its also really important to know going into this that anxiety triggers are usually not obvious. That is why using an Anxiety Inventory in the beginning of your progress is so important. As I shared in my introductory post, I have a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder with intermittent panic episodes. With a diagnosis that is as general (*pun*), my triggers are likely not the triggers of someone else with the same diagnosis. As stated above, triggers vary hugely from person to person.
Through taking my own Anxiety Inventories I have come up with the following personal triggers so far:
- Drinking more than one caffeinated drink a day
- Plans or schedules that change multiple times
- Running errands for more than a few hours
- Heavy traffic/Stop-and-go traffic
If I hadn’t started closely monitoring my feelings throughout the day (and for about two weeks) I never would have noticed the patterns that trigger me to become more anxious. I usually am a three shots of espresso (one Starbucks latte) per day type person. And have been for years. I am really used to that level of caffeine but if I drink multiple cups of coffee it causes me to become really jittery and on edge. This is something that never happened to me pre-diagnosis, but does now that I have developed this condition. Which leads me to my next point, Your triggers may be things that never upset you or caused you stress before, and they can change at any time. As for the rest of my triggers, they tend to go along with the fact that I am a Type A person. I like to know exactly how my day is going to go, and unplanned for or unseen events make me anxious. It can even be as simple as my partner saying he wants to go to one store to buy an item, but then drags me to two stores afterward. The unplanned trips and unplanned use of time has (and still often does) caused me to have a panic episode.
If I wasn’t taking these inventories to look for these patterns, it may seem that I was just having a random panic episode, with no correlation to what I had done that day. But for me, that usually isn’t the case. I now know that my panic episodes are usually always caused by something, which gives me the power to do what I can to avoid them.
This isn’t to say that some anxiety attacks don’t happen randomly, but you can reduce the likelihood of having triggered ones significantly.
I now know that I should keep a planner with me so I can map out the schedule for my week to reduce the likelihood of unplanned events. I limit myself to one cup of coffee, or go half-caff on the second one if I desperately need another. I can’t always do much about traffic, but I can try to avoid roads and interstates during rush hour times, or take less populated routes to get to my destination.
This is where things may get a little different.
Each of us will need to play around and experiment with ways we can better handle our triggers once we find them. Some of us will have to plan better, some may have to use avoidance, and that is fine as long as it is done in a healthy manner. Your Anxiety Inventory may also take much longer than a few weeks, and that is fine as long as you stick to taking regular Inventories so you have plenty of notes to look back on.
All of this has helped me significantly. I encourage you to take down your own Anxiety Inventories every day for at least two weeks to look for patters for your own triggers.
Please, please always feel free to email me or comment to give me feedback on how your progress is going.
Remember, we are all on our own journeys together.
Hugs and Positive Vibes,