Anxiety Triggers - Explained

Anyone suffering from anxiety has both causes and triggers. It’s important to understand what your anxiety triggers are.

Causes of anxiety can be a number of things. There is a possibility you have a genetic tendency to develop anxiety. If you can think of several of your close relatives who also experience anxiety, this may be a reason you do, too. Anxiety can be learned. Growing up with someone who was continually anxious may have taught you to be anxious under certain circumstances. A traumatic event you went through may be a cause of your anxiety.

Triggers for anxiety are based in your present world. Something that happens in your life that reminds you of something else that brought on anxiety in the past can trigger it again. Sights, sounds, even smells can be triggers.

Common Anxiety Triggers

Although anxiety triggers are unique to individuals, there are some that seem to show up again and again. These include:

  • People and locations that remind you of past problems
  • Being confronted with a stranger can bring on fear of the unknown
  • Finding yourself in a strange location can bring on fear of the unknown
  • If you have specific fears, such as phobias, exposure to any of those things will bring anxiety
  • Certain signs and symptoms from your body can trigger anxiety due to being interpreted by you as something more serious than they are
  • When you’re faced with things that could turn out badly, anxiety may result
  • Negative thoughts that get out of control can lead to anxiety
  • Emotions you’re not comfortable with can bring on anxiety

Two general categories of anxiety triggers, thoughts and emotions, deserve closer examination.


Thoughts are internal actions not obvious to others. This confuses other people when you become anxious, because they can’t tell what caused the anxiety.

Thinking about what others do or have done can be an anxiety trigger. Wondering about the reasons people do what they do and say what they say can expand into wondering what they meant about you. Did they say those things because they don’t like you? Did they do those things because they don’t care about you? This kind of thinking may come from high standards you have for yourself as a friend. You also apply these standards to those who say they’re your friends. When they fall short, you begin thinking about why.

Thoughts like this can be triggered by anniversaries of some event that negatively affected you. When that date comes around, your thoughts automatically focus on that event and the difficulty it brought you.

Simple things like passing a church can lead to thoughts of guilt over not being as religious as you should be. Seeing or hearing about someone volunteering for some social program may bring on thoughts that you’re not doing enough for others or your community. Thoughts about your future and what could happen may bring on anxiety symptoms.


Sometimes anxiety is a secondary emotion. Primary emotions such as anger can serve as triggers for these secondary emotions. If you’re involved in a situation that brings on anger, it may remind you of past events when your anger or someone else’s anger led to others getting hurt. You find yourself thinking about those past events over and over, leading to more and more anxiety.

A concept known as emotional reasoning may come into play. This occurs when you begin accepting your emotions as facts. If it feels like someone doesn’t like you, it becomes a fact. If you feel afraid you’ll fail a test, you treat this as reality and likely won’t take the test.

This leads to more upset and increased anxiety.

What Can You Do About Anxiety Triggers?

Once you become aware of your anxiety triggers, what can you do?

Avoid the triggers

Probably the easiest and most effective way to deal with triggers for your anxiety is to stay away from them. Not having the people, situations, and places that trigger anxiety in your life will allow you keep anxiety at a manageable level.

Avoiding anxiety triggers brings some complications. For example, if someone or something at your job triggers anxiety, you would bring on financial problems if you avoided going to work. If your anxiety trigger is something very common, you may not be able to avoid it. And, if you avoid too many things, you severely limit your life. If any of these complications show up in your attempt to avoid your triggers, try something else.

Exposure to triggers

This is a good alternative to avoiding anxiety triggers. It means you face whatever triggers anxiety in a graduated way. The idea with this is to make yourself less sensitive to the triggers. By doing this, you should decrease the amount of anxiety the triggers develop.

Of course, you should take care with exposing yourself to some triggers. If the exposure would lead to danger, either physical or emotional, you either should not do it or seek a qualified professional to help you.

If you decide to try exposure, there are some steps to take.

  • Set goals for your efforts. Clarify what you’re trying to do and keep records of how you progress. This will help you know when you reach your goal.
  • Make plans for what you’re going to do. Exposure is a step-by-step procedure. Start with something that only brings on low anxiety and go further gradually. This allows you to get used to feeling anxiety gradually getting less to the trigger.
  • Learn to relax. There are many systematic ways to relax. Search out and practice one or two that will work for you. Practice them several times a day. Being relaxed will help you deal with the anxiety brought by the triggers as you progress through the procedure.
  • Get started. Begin slowly and expose yourself to your anxiety triggers. Don’t try to avoid the anxiety. The whole idea is to feel anxious and find it isn’t as bad as you feared.
  • Rest and relax.  You and your body need to recover periodically. This is a gradual way to deal with anxiety.