What Causes Anxiety – 16 Surprising Triggers
Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress, and it can happen for many different reasons. It can happen during ordinary moments, or strike without warning – and it may be tough to pinpoint the exact cause.
But some things can make anxiety worse. Certain triggers can make it more likely that you’ll experience anxiety, panic, and several other related conditions. Let’s find out what they are!
1. Food Additives
The things you eat can affect your mood. Mood swings and strong emotions, like anxiety, can occur after eating foods and beverages that contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, food dyes, and flavorings such as MSG.
Food additives have even been linked to ADHD and autism in children. Artificial additives in food – like sweeteners and dyes – are neurotoxins that can wreak havoc on the nervous system, leading to increased symptoms of anxiety.
2. Certain Medications And Supplements
You may find this hard to believe, but your prescription and over-the-counter medications may be triggering your symptoms of anxiety.
That’s because the active ingredients in some medicines can make you feel uneasy or unwell, and they can set off a series of events in your brain and body that can trigger anxious feelings.
Among the worst offenders are birth control pills, some headache, and migraine pain relievers, cough medicines and decongestants, asthma medications, and many weight loss supplements.
Various herbal supplements like St. John’s Wort, ginseng, and Kava Kava may also trigger or exacerbate anxiety.
3. Food Sensitivities
Food sensitivities, or allergies, can lead to digestive issues, stomach pain, or even breathing difficulties.
These symptoms can cause anxiety in and of themselves, but there’s also increasing evidence that food sensitivities can alter your mood directly.
Common foods like gluten, soy, or dairy can impact hormone levels and other vital chemicals in your brain.
4. Skipping Meals
We live busy lives, so it’s no surprise that we skip a meal here and there. But if you’re used to having three meals a day, skipping just one of them can cause a drop in your blood sugar.
And if this goes on, you can begin to have feelings of anxiety and irritability. You may also experience light-headedness, confusion, and weakness.
Dehydration affects not only your body’s physiological functions but your mood as well.
When you don’t get enough water, you start to feel tense, confused, and even angry.
If you have an anxiety disorder, bodily changes caused by dehydration can bring on a panic attack or feelings of generalized anxiety.
One of the easiest things you can do to keep your anxiety under control is to make sure you’re always well-hydrated.
6. Too Much Caffeine
Do you need a jump start every morning with a cup of coffee or tea? So do millions of others, and not just first thing in the day.
But ingesting caffeine every time your energy tanks is not good. In fact, too much of it can lead to what’s called “caffeine-induced anxiety disorder.”
While a bit of caffeine can undoubtedly improve focus, too much can cause a racing heartbeat and trigger a panic attack.
It can increase nervousness and other anxiety symptoms, including sweaty palms, ringing ears, and even feelings of impending doom.
7. Cigarettes, Drugs, And Alcohol
Relying on smoking, drinking, or other substances to calm yourself can backfire in a big way.
When it comes to smoking, the nicotine in cigarettes is a powerful central nervous system stimulant that can increase your heart rate and make your blood pressure spike.
Furthermore, the carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke causes breathing problems – that your body responds to as if it’s suffocating.
And this can significantly increase the probability of having a panic attack.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people with anxiety issues are two to three times more likely to become substance abusers than the general population.
Both alcohol and drugs can cause panic attacks. Their harmful effects on the central nervous system can alter your brain’s ability to keep you calm.
8. Nutritional Deficiencies
Vitamins and minerals are so important. Vitamins B, C, and E are all vital for your central nervous system to work, with B vitamins especially involved with your mood and metabolism.
Magnesium is a known stress reliever, and not having enough of it can make you feel irritated and tired.
Selenium is another essential mineral that affects the neurotransmitters in the brain, helping to control your mood.
And if you don’t have a balanced level of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, you can also be at an increased risk of anxiety.
9. Negative Thinking
Repeated negative thinking has a dangerous effect on the human psyche and our emotional well being.
When you’re stressed out, your mind is more likely to churn out automatic negative thoughts that are quick, off-the-cuff subconscious criticisms.
These can include statements such as “Why did I do that?” “Why am I so stupid?” and other persistent self-criticisms that can severely damage your self-confidence and emotional state.
If you tend to use a lot of negative words when thinking about yourself, you need to learn to correct your thoughts and refocus your language when you start down this path.
10. Becoming A Parent
Becoming a parent is a significant life-changing event. It is undoubtedly exciting, but it can also be very triggering in terms of anxiety and stress.
Parents-to-be often have a lot of fears about how they will do in their new role. They may also worry about the health of the baby, and the birth itself can be extremely nerve-wracking too.
But a stressful pregnancy is not good for the mother or the baby. Any condition that is negatively affecting a mother-to-be – including anxiety regarding pregnancy – should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.
11. Social Situations
Some people may experience anxiety before social gatherings, or when meeting someone for the first time.
For example, you may feel particularly anxious in situations such as public speaking, performing, a job interview, or mixing with a crowd of strangers.
Of course, it is perfectly natural to feel a healthy amount of fear during these situations.
But for some people, the anxiety is so overpowering that it stops them from engaging in activities they would otherwise enjoy.
They may feel excessively self-conscious and become socially withdrawn. This could be indicative of social anxiety disorder.
Having a friend tag along to these kinds of events can alleviate these feelings. However, that won’t always be possible.
So you need to find different ways to cope with these types of situations – to make them more manageable in the long-term.
As people age, they face multiple stresses that can bring on bouts of anxiety.
They tend to encounter challenges such as health changes, memory problems, or deaths in the family.
Even seemingly happy changes, such as retirement, can provoke stress.
As estimated by the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, 10 to 20% of older adults suffer from anxiety.
And this figure is probably higher in actuality, as many may not recognize the symptoms.
13. Heart Problems
Panic attacks can be very frightening. Your skin can get clammy, you can’t catch your breath, and your heart is pounding like crazy.
But sometimes problems with your heart itself can be the cause of anxiety. People with generalized anxiety disorders are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
During a heart attack, one-third of people will experience anxiety symptoms like heart palpitations and shortness of breath.
These symptoms can often afflict people for up to a year or even more, and women seem to experience them more commonly than men.
14. Overactive Thyroid Gland
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck. It produces thyroid hormones that are important for regulating your metabolism and energy levels.
But, if your thyroid is overactive, it produces too many hormones – which can make you feel anxious, nervous, irritable, and can cause heart palpitations as well as insomnia.
If you’ve been experiencing anxiety symptoms and your neck is swelling, you’re losing weight rapidly, you cannot tolerate heat, and you feel fatigued, be sure to get your thyroid checked.
15. Financial Concerns
Your mental health can be significantly affected by financial difficulties such as living with debt, losing a job, or having a fluctuating income.
These can all trigger feelings of anxiety. Learning to manage these types of triggers is essential for your mental wellbeing, and in some cases, may require seeking professional help.
A trusted financial advisor can help you navigate troubled waters when it comes to money, and it can go a long way toward alleviating stress.
16. Personal Triggers
Sometimes, anxiety triggers are very personal – like a bad emotion or a bad memory.
A place, a smell, or a string of music can remind you – consciously or subconsciously – of bad memory or traumatic time in your life.
This frequently happens in post-traumatic stress disorder, but it can occur in other types of anxiety as well.
Getting to the root cause of personal triggers often takes time, but with work and perhaps counseling, you can learn to overcome them.
Anxiety triggers can be different for each person, but some are commonplace among people with these conditions.
And since many people have more than one trigger, it can be helpful to identify any triggers that you may have, so that you can take steps to prevent or manage them. Do you suffer from anxiety? If so, what triggers have you identified? Let me know in the comments below!
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