Anxiety is different for everyone. The way we experience symptoms are usually similar, however, the reasons behind why we feel this way differ from person to person. Anxiety happens for particular reasons or no reason at all. However, there are certain triggers that can prompt an attack, and the first step is recognising them so that you can move forward to being a more prepared and calmer you.
The first thing to know is that different types of anxiety have different triggers. For instance, those with of obsessive-compulsive disorder are unwanted thoughts, whereas those with a panic disorder are often triggered by physical sensations. So, the first step is recognising which form of anxiety you’re being affected by.
Social Anxiety disorder is a really common form of anxiety, and therefore the triggers are well known and easily recognisable. Take a look below for some of the most familiar:
- Performances: any situation where you have to perform, such as a sporting event, or even a presentation at work can make you fear that you won’t do well, and set off an attack.
- Meeting New People: social events packed out with a room full of strangers is a daunting experience for someone with social anxiety disorder. Nothing triggers social anxiety like a confined space full of people you have to make good first impressions of.
- Talking to Authority Figures: Speaking to teachers, bosses, lawyers, or even anyone dressed in a suit can make people feel short of breath and nervous.
- Small Talk: The dreaded small talk comes easily for some, but those with SAD may find this type of conversation challenging. Not knowing what to say next can be really daunting. Especially if the conversation is awkward as it is. Lack of meaningful in-depth communication can be irritating and set off unwanted anxiety symptoms.
- Dating: All aspects of dating can trigger social anxiety, from making phone calls and going on first dates to having sex.
- Writing: If you have social anxiety disorder little things that are quite ‘every day’ to some, such as writing, maybe a fear of yours. The fear of others concentrating on you, and your shaking hands, can generally cause overthinking and anxiety.
- Stating Your Opinion: Do you avoid stating your opinion? Do you go along with what others say even if you don’t agree? People with SAD are often afraid to voice their opinions for fear that others will be critical.
- Reading Aloud: In addition to a fear of public speaking, some people with SAD fear reading aloud in front of others.
- Eating in Front of Others: Whether it’s being scared of missing your mouth, spilling a drink or them noticing your hands shake as you use your knife and fork. People with social anxiety can build up a fear of eating in front of others.
- Using Public Bathrooms: Paruresis, or the fear of using public bathrooms, can be debilitating for some people with social anxiety disorder.
How to Manage them:
The first step: Recognising your body’s response to the trigger.
Your body’s physical reaction to a trigger is actually an evolutionary survival mechanism, telling you to protect yourself. For some people, though, these responses can go into overdrive and may not shut off when they’re supposed to, and this is when people experience social anxiety. Recognising your response to certain situations will make your body more familiar with your reactions and increase your ability to control them. Symptoms of anxiety could include:
- Worry or confusion
- Difficulty concentrating
- Frustration, irritability or agitation
- Dizziness, Headaches or migraines
- Difficulty sleeping
- Excessive eating
- Sweating, trembling, or a racing heartbeat
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea
Two: Breathe through it
Rather than running away, take a minute to breathe deeply into your belly. Remember that the feelings will pass and even though they are uncomfortable you can handle it.
Three: Face your triggers one step at a time
Instead of throwing yourself into a situation, practice imagining you are there first. In the beginning, this may be enough to set off your anxiety. But the more you familiarise yourself with an uncomfortable situation, the easier you will find it to calm yourself down and control your triggers. You can even make a list of your fears and then identify some coping techniques that you can associate with them, such as deep breathing, meditating or progressive muscle relaxation. That way you will associate the two together, so when you face the situation in real life you will remember the techniques you can use. Secondly, take one step at a time. For example, if you have a fear of public speaking and want to get more comfortable, trying to make a speech in front of a few trusted friends and family first. Practice in front of them before going out to a larger audience.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
The NHS defines CBT as: ‘a type of therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. You’ll work with the therapist to agree on some goals – for example, one aim may be to stop obsessively checking your appearance.’
When it comes to body anxiety, CBT challenges the automatic harmful thoughts you have about your body image and learning a more flexible and realistic way of thinking, to prevent your anxieties from getting the better of you. Therapy can also provide you with practical ways to handle the reactions to your triggers so that you are keeping the symptoms of anxiety at bay and also maintaining a positive mindset.
And remember, these are only triggers, they don’t mean you can’t step into these situations ever again because you’re scared of having an attack. That would be letting the anxiety win, and that’s not what we’re here to do. It’s about getting control of your anxiety, so you don’t have to be defeated by your triggers. A calmer you is within reach.