How to manage unavoidable anxiety triggers

Guest submission:

One of the most important things to understand about anxiety disorders is that no one's experience is the exactly the same. We can all experience similar feelings and symptoms, but anxiety itself is so individual and personal to each person that everyone has certain triggers that provoke unpleasant reactions inside of them.

Triggers are something that I have only come to learn and make a note of within the past couple of years. You can be triggered at any moment and usually without much notice. These triggers can bring up a whole range of symptoms that can affect your thoughts, feelings and actions.

Over centuries, our bodies have naturally built up a natural survival system in order to protect us and suss out danger.  After being diagnosed with anxiety, I began to learn more and more about this survival system. I was able to understand that my own survival system had been over sensitised by the anxiety I was experiencing. Sometimes our survival systems can be provoked by everyday situations like catching the bus or socialising that can cause a lot of unpleasant reactions within our minds and bodies. These can then affect our everyday and prevent us from carrying out day to day tasks.

But how can you manage to calm down the anxiety inside and remove the trigger?

Recognise a trigger

The more anxiety you experience regarding a particular situation, the more over time you begin to learn why and how you're being triggered by this so often. When you’re able to understand why you’re feeling the way you are about a certain situation, the easier it will be able to figure out what the best approach to handle each trigger is.

By doing this, it then gives you a clear indication of what particular situations trigger off those uncomfortable feelings of anxiety. When this happens, our survival instinct is to either fight (face it), flight (escape) or freeze (do nothing).  

The first step to overcoming your anxiety triggers is to accept that they are there. Whilst they can feel annoying and unpleasant to deal with, they're simply just your body's way of trying to protect you from a situation it has got confused and labelled as dangerous. But this can be changed and corrected.

The rational side of your brain is trying to remind you that the situation you’re in isn’t unsafe or harmless to you. In order to get through the survival brain, you have to just let the thoughts and feelings be. Don't fight it. This will just increase the anxiety. Acknowledge it's there. Sit with it. Let it pass naturally. Give yourself the time to work out that it's not a dangerous situation to be in. Overtime, you build up the evidence to prove to your survival system that the situation isn’t a dangerous one and it is ok. 

Redirect your negative thoughts

Any thoughts that come thick and fast when you've been triggered are usually just the anxiety talking. Anxiety tries to lie to you and make you believe what it is saying is true. But the other side of you will try to fight back and rationalise what the truth is regarding the situation.  

Again, it is best to accept the thoughts that are coming through, but also challenge them and balance out your thoughts. This can take a lot of hard work and motivation to keep up, but I have found it to be the most rewarding when I’ve stuck it out.

For example, if you suddenly feel anxious and trapped when you’re in the middle of a crowded train journey, you'll probably be thinking something like this 'Oh my god, I'm trapped, I need to get out now! Something bad is going to happen. I can't breathe.' 

These thoughts and feelings can feel quite distressing when you're in the thick of it, but you know that you cannot get off before your stop because you won't make it home if you do. Instead, you stay and struggle to manage the overwhelming symptoms and thoughts.

But don't get caught up in them. Replace your negative thoughts with new balanced ones. Ease yourself into the exposure. You don't have to do it all at once and face all of it the anxiety in one go.  

If you're in the midst of the busy train, accept your thoughts for what they are and giving yourself the time to let the anxiety pass. If you're with someone, tell them how you're feeling, so they can support you and just knowing someone else is there if you really need them can be a great relief. If you're alone, call or text someone you trust to gain support, the conversation can be a great way to distract your mind and keep you focused on something else during intense thoughts or feelings.

Take small baby steps to ease your anxiety. Perhaps get near the train window and get some fresh air. Maybe move seats or take small sips of water to keep you hydrated.

Then the next time you find yourself in this situation, remove each safety step until you find your anxiety has decreased on its own naturally. By the end, you won't even have the trigger anymore and it will be a success story you can take with you everytime you face a new anxiety triggered situation. 

Take care of yourself

Anxiety and exposing yourself to the things you feel triggered by can take a lot of hard work, determination and time out of you. It's so important that you take care of yourself when you're working so hard on facing your anxiety, but you should be taking care of yourself anyway to maintain your wellbeing.

Show yourself so much praise and support before, during and after you've faced an exposure, no matter what the outcome is. It takes a lot of courage and strength to even think about attempting to face a trigger, so you truly deserve to praise yourself and care for yourself as much as possible. 

The more you take care of you and give yourself the love you deserve, the easier it will be to turn self-care and self love into a habit. Remember to rest after exposure. Nourish your mind and body. Listen to what your body needs and wants. Treat yourself and give yourself all the joy you know you deserve.

Schedule in some activities you enjoy

To really up your self-care and balance out the hard work you've put in, it is a good idea to schedule in the kind of activities you know you love and enjoy.

Do something fun and that you know you'll get lots of joy out of. Perhaps you might fancy some quiet time to yourself to gather yourself. Go see some friends and family who will continue to support you through your journey. Take up a new hobby or learn a new skill.  

Embrace the good and fun because you truly deserve it.

Be patient

If there's one thing I've learnt during my mental health journey is that it is so crucial to be patient. Be patient with yourself, your journey, your anxiety, your feelings, all of it. Be patient and allow it to be the way it needs to be.

Don't push yourself too much too soon. Do it slowly. Give yourself that time and don't let anyone try to speed things along when you're just not ready to yet. It takes time and hard work to reduce your anxiety triggers.

Stay focused. Allow yourself to feel however you want to feel. Don't fight off any negative or unpleasant feelings. Let them be. Embrace the anxiety. Reward yourself regularly. Allow time to heal you. Keep going.

And most importantly remember to believe in yourself because you can do it!


Sam GlassComment