When Anxiety Triggers You
When anxiety triggers you from time-to-time this means you have an emotional reaction due to something you hear, see, or experience. This happens to everyone and here’s the way it works:
A = The Activating event such as being insulted, getting cut off in traffic, or getting bad news.
B = Your Beliefs underlying your interpretation of what happened.
C = Your Consequential reaction to what happened.
What’s tricky about this is the fact that your feeling anxiety is not dependent as much on your conscious beliefs as your subconscious ones. In fact, you may have no idea you even have such unconscious beliefs. Since getting anxiety triggers results directly from your subconscious mind more than your conscious mind, your reaction seems automatic and often appears to come from “out of nowhere!”
How Do Anxiety Triggers Form?
Of course, some events are truly traumatic which triggers the reptilian brain’s fight or flight response. However, most of the time when you get anxiety triggers you are not being threatened. Rather, you get upset with the way you are being treated and how you react is something under your control. This is part “B” in the above outline of what causes anxiety. How you handle situations that either anger or scare you is important to your being empowered. If you are self-empowered you’ll address the causes of your being triggered and put an end to it or remove yourself from the situation.
It often seems to be logical and automatic to react with hostility when you are ill-treated, however, your anger reaction takes a toll on you and does little or nothing to solve the situation. Let’s say someone blames you and verbally attacks you for something you did or something they think you did. Your natural reaction from the reptilian brain would be to argue back, submit to the verbal abuse, or walk away. None of those three options resolves anything. Recognize no matter what a person says to you it is only their opinion and point of view. You do not need to degrade your self-esteem by accepting their view. In most cases, they are coming from their own insecurity and ignorance, so you can choose to view them as in pain themselves that causes them to lash out. This is a change in “B” or your underlying interpretation of the event. That in turn will have an effect on “C”, your reaction to the event, which can possibly lead to a peaceful settlement for everyone.
If you do not approach an anxiety trigger in this way, you will likely be left with a bad memory of what happened. That bad experience can cause lots of challenging negative emotions to form. The combination of challenging emotions and bad memories can lead to highly negative associations to form about that particular anxiety trigger within your mind. Once the anxiety trigger forms, you react when you encounter that object, place, person, or event again. When you encounter it, you may feel that flood of bad memories and challenging emotions rush back inside them. This overwhelming sensation can lead to a full-blown anxiety attack.
What Are the Dangers of Not Addressing Anxiety?
Anxiety triggers that aren’t properly addressed can become worse with time. The more frequently you are exposed to your particular anxiety trigger without sufficient coping skills or strategies to lessen the effects, the negative reactions could repeat with such reactions as your anxiety feelings skyrocketing. Each time there’s a new exposure, those challenging emotions and memories intensify and can cause you to avoid living your life to the fullest out of fear of encountering an anxiety trigger.
For example, if you are afraid of encountering your anxiety trigger during your daily life, you may avoid going outdoors, entering new social situations, or exploring new places because you can’t be totally certain you’ll avoid encountering your anxiety trigger. This can cause you to withdraw more and more until you isolate yourself.
What Can You Do to Lessen Anxiety?
Rather than getting a chance to heal from what hurt or scared you, when you allow your anxiety triggers to continue with no intervention, you give them the opportunity to remind you about your trauma every time you experience them. You unwittingly, yet effectively, reinforce and re-energize the very anxiety trigger you want to eliminate. Here are seven strategies for addressing anxiety triggers:
1. Describe what you are feeling while you are feeling it.
Rather than allowing your negative thoughts to stay inside your head where they’re more likely to amplify and multiply, actually describe them vocally to yourself. For example, you could say, “this thought I am having is triggering me negatively.” While it may seem silly to talk to yourself aloud, doing so pulls the thoughts out of your mind and into the open and identifies the nature of the anxiety trigger – this is a crucial step for addressing the cause of the anxiety trigger. The first thing you must do is identify the trigger. Rather than feeling ashamed or avoidant of the anxiety trigger, give yourself permission to acknowledge that you have it.
2. Choose to be empowered and detach rather than react.
People who suffer with anxiety triggers are accustomed to letting their negative thoughts disempower and overwhelm them. Often, anxiety triggers allow negative thoughts to loop through the mind without really giving you the opportunity to question or challenge their validity.
During your next anxiety begin gaining understanding and control by questioning whether or not that thought has any truth to it. Many anxious, negative thoughts are rooted in disproportionate, unlikely fears. Once you begin analyzing them closely, it’s easy to pick them apart for inconsistencies and unlikeliness of actually happening. What percentage of fears come true?
According to researchers at Penn State University, only about 8% of the things people worry about come true. In other words, less than 1 in 10 things you stress about is actually worth it. Five hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne said, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.
3. Replace negative thoughts with the positive opposite.
Substitution is an excellent tool for trading one bad thought for something better. For example, when you find yourself thinking a negative though, you can practice swapping out a bad thought for one that is positive. For instance, if you have the following negative thought:
“I am feeling very stressed because my friend keeps complaining and blaming me that I am not helping her enough!”
This thought is negative and, if you begin using the strategy of questioning its validity, you may notice some projections, judgments, and untruths within that thought pattern. Once you’ve identified what isn’t valid about your negative thought, try reframing it from a more positive perspective. For example, you could instead say…
“My friend is complaining but I do not have to be pulled into her negative opinions and judgments. No matter what happened I choose not to accept her blame and guilt projection. I will remain calm and systematically address her concerns to find an amicable solution. If she chooses not to accept my accommodations I will let myself feel free from her accusations.”
This more positive spin on the original thought addresses some validity issues in the negative thoughts – it removes the assumptions of why the friend blames you and replaced it with something more reasonable.
Another example would be when you find yourself reacting with an anxiety trigger by saying to yourself, “I could have done better. I should be able to handle this.” You can replace this with the positive opposite, “I have done all I can do and I choose to feel peaceful and happy regardless of what others think.”
Both of these are examples of you reclaiming your power rather than relinquishing your power to someone else.
4. Bring yourself out of anxious thinking and back into the present moment by using the five senses grounding technique.
Anxious thoughts often take you away from the present moment and spin you into a spiral of negative and worrisome thoughts. A great way to exit this spiral and reenter the present moment is to ground yourself using your five senses. The way you do this is to force yourself to notice five things your senses are detecting in the present moment. For example, you may say…
● Right now, I can SMELL dinner cooking in the kitchen.
● Right now, I can HEAR someone talking in the next room.
● Right now, I can TASTE the candy I was eating earlier.
● Right now, I can FEEL the soft chair under me.
● Right now, I can SEE the pictures hanging on the wall.
You can run through this basic exercise multiple times, challenging yourself to find five new things you can use to fill in these sensory blanks. By the end of the exercise, you’ll find yourself returned to the present and distracted from the anxious spiral.
5. Practice the 4x4x4 breathing method to get your body back under control.
Many who struggle with anxiety triggers are all too familiar with the having shallow breathing or shortness of breath both of which are characteristic of an anxiety or panic attack. You may feel your chest tightening, as if you can’t take a deep breath.
If you experience this sensation, take a deep breath in through your nose while slowly counting to four. Once you have the deep breath held inside your lungs, hold it there for another count of four. At the end, release the breath through your mouth for another count of four.
Repeat this pattern as many times as necessary to loosen your chest and regain control of your breathing again. Usually two or three minutes is sufficient. Forcing yourself to focus on your breathing pattern is a great way to get your attention directed toward something else other than your anxiety while also regulating your breath which automatically calms you down.
6. Use something cold to give yourself another sensory shock.
The purpose of this technique is to give your nervous system a bit of a shock, causing your brain to focus on a new and surprising sensation rather than your anxiety. To practice this you’ll need something cold, such as an ice cube, a cold cloth, or an ice pack. As you feel anxiety mounting, hold an ice cube firmly in your fist and focus on the cold sensation and how it feels on your palm. You can take the ice pack or cold cloth and hold it on your face or the back of your neck for a similar effect. Focus on the sensation of feeling cold and where that sensation is happening on your body. As you focus on the cold feeling, your anxiety will begin to weaken.
7. Engage in some meditative practices each day.
Spending some time meditating and focusing on your internal space is an excellent way to defuse anxiety triggers. When you meditate, you give yourself a chance to explore within your mind, body, and spirit. Use the silence, stillness, and breathing patterns to regain control of yourself in the present moment.
How Meditation is Useful for Managing Anxiety?
Meditation practices used to treat anxiety look a little different for everyone, but their purpose is the same: They help practitioners regain their sense of calm and self by reconnecting them with their bodies and quieting their minds. This makes meditation a fantastic strategy for combating anxious feelings.
Meditation can be used in the moment to calm yourself when your anxiety is rising or as an everyday practice that’s built into your usual routine. Many people reserve different meditation practices for both purposes – they have a routine they use for everyday practice and an “emergency” routine they use to calm themselves if they experience anxious feelings throughout the day.
Consider the following basic meditation routine you can use when you feel anxiety rising during the day:
1. Separate yourself from the noise of the world. Find a quiet, private space where you can be alone for a few minutes.
2. Sit down in a chair or on the floor.
3. Begin by relaxing one set of muscles at a time. Unclench your neck, then your shoulders, and then your arms, etc. until you work your way down the length of your entire body.
4. Take some deep breaths. Keep them as even as possible.
5. Begin using a mantra to bring your thoughts back to yourself in the present moment.
6. Repeat these steps as many times as needed to calm your anxious nerves.
How Can Deep Breathing Manage Anxiety?
Deep breathing exercises are excellent ways to calm your anxiety, especially if you experience physical symptoms such as struggling to take deep breaths. Many struggling with anxiety trigger are all too familiar with the “can’t catch your breath” sensation of an anxiety attack. If you’ve ever experienced this sensation, you may recall feeling your chest tighten to the point where you feel like you can’t take in a deep breath. If you experience this sensation, take a deep breath in through your nose and exhale out through your mouth. This gets fresh air into your lungs and release the anxious grip your mind is holding over your body.
Repeat this sequence as many times as needed to regain control of your chest and feel like you’re breathing normally again. Forcing yourself to focus on your breathing is a great way to get your attention directed toward something else other than your anxiety.
Using Mantras, Meditation, and Deep Breathing to Manage Anxiety
The idea of reconnecting with your breath, meditating, and using mantras to soothe a noisy, chaotic mind are practices that have existed thousands of years across countless cultures and for good reason. They’ve all proven to be excellent tools for calming your mind, body, and spirit.
If you struggle with anxiety triggers, using mantras, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can be helpful strategies to soothe yourself when you’re feeling anxious. When many people think of people meditating, they likely envision people inside an ashram or at a meditation retreat. The truth is that meditation, mantras, and deep breathing do not require any special accommodations to use as tools for quelling anxiety. You can incorporate all three practices into your daily routine easily (even when you need a quick tool to calm anxiety in the moment).
It’s important to remember that using mantras, meditation, and deep breathing are simply tools you can use to calm an anxious mind. Find a coping statement that works well for you and use it as a mantra when you feel anxiety rising. Coping statements are short, succinct phrases that serve as truthful reminders when it’s difficult to focus on anything else, such as when you’re experiencing an anxiety attack.
Mantras, or short phrases used to realign your thinking with a specific value or idea, are excellent, simple tools for redirecting an anxious mind. Traditionally, mantras are repeated out loud to help a person focus their entire concentration on the idea they’re trying to embody in that moment. Because mantras are great for reinforcing ideas and redirecting thoughts simultaneously, they are ideal for getting yourself out of a negative, anxious thought spiral when you feel one beginning.
Your coping statement can be whatever works best for you and makes you feel better. Once you’ve chosen or created a mantra or two that feel right and comfortable for you, write them down somewhere where you will visit them often, such as in a journal or on your refrigerator. Get used to seeing them and repeat them to yourself frequently throughout the day. Consider using some of the following examples or come up with a few of your own. Make sure they are in present tense. To begin using this tool, you must develop a mantra or two that address beliefs you have about your anxiety and emotions. Mantras can be highly specific so they suit your situation; because of this, many people prefer to develop their own.
● I can feel peaceful and calm.
● Anxiety is temporary and dissolving.
● I am OK.
● My body relaxes.
● I am strong, empowered, and in control.
● I feel soothing waves relaxing me.
● This feeling will pass.
● I regain my calm feelings deeper and deeper.
● Anxiety is temporary.
My Freedom from Anxiety program will give you many more suggestions.
Keep your coping statements written down somewhere you can visit it often. Repeat them to yourself (either out loud or in your head) when you feel your anxiety building. If you are not in a place where you are comfortable saying them audibly, do them in a very soft whisper while moving your lips.
The next time you feel your anxiety spiraling into uncontrolled thoughts or panic, stop what you’re doing and find a quiet, private space. Sit down and repeat your mantra to yourself as many times as needed to get yourself feeling calm and in control again. By repeating your mantra over and over, you’re forcing your thought cycle to focus on something other than your anxiety. You’re also reinforcing a truth to yourself that anxiety is not in control. As you repeat your mantras in a repetitive way they will eventually help you believe and understand that the sentiment is true even at a subconscious level.
If you need help with relaxing I suggest my Deep Relaxation program.