Anxiety triggers aren’t always easy to identify – if fact, they could be the ordinary things in your home that you would never suspect.
Sadly, that’s not true for everyone that suffers from anxiety – which is a sizeable number of people. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2014-15 anxiety disorders affected about 4 million Australians – that’s almost one in five people. Women suffer more than men, and children aren’t immune either. According to Youth Beyond Blue, an estimated 6.9% of kids aged 4 to 17 suffered from an anxiety disorder in 2015. Generalised anxiety disorder is the most common form of anxiety, but there are other types such as panic disorders, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Treatments vary depending on the disorder and individual but therapy, medication, self-care and avoiding triggers help. Concerned you may have some anxiety tendencies? Check out what’s normal and what’s not.
“The things that make us anxious are different for each person,” says therapist William Schroeder, who runs a counselling service. “Some people may not even notice since these things get woven into day-to-day life.” You might pick up on subtle things like the urge to eat or drink more or zone out. Or the trigger could produce a mild panic attack – a tightening of the stomach or back muscles, say, or your heart rate speeding up.
Your ex’s flannel shirt is still hanging on a hook in your wardrobe, or her coffee mug sits in the cupboard. “It’s not uncommon for a person to come in depressed, stressed, and anxious and they aren’t sure what’s causing it,” says Schroeder. “Often our anxiety runs in the background and we aren’t conscious of it.” Items from past relationships can make you feel sad, depressed, or anxious. “Think about removing those items for a bit if they seem to be causing more negative associations than positive ones,” suggests Schroeder. Like any trauma, it takes time to recover after a divorce. Try these survival tips.
A wristwatch or a clock may be a sneaky anxiety trigger because on most occasions we only look at it when we’re preparing to go somewhere or already running late. “I have had some clients who are triggered by the clock; because they often run late the time causes them anxiety and shame. One suggestion I have for them is to use tools like an app that allows them to see a countdown timer on their phone instead of the clock. It’s more useful as it’s tremendously concrete,” says Schroeder. Learning to relax doesn’t always come naturally – here are some ways to introduce a relaxed approach to your day-to-day.
Showering is often the best part of our morning routine because we can relax and linger under the warm water. “Some clients don’t like showering as it can be associated with the scramble to get ready for work,” says Schroeder. “Anxious thoughts can flood their head as they think about their day instead of enjoying the activity of showering.” Schroeder invites his clients to be more mindful of the physical sensations – warm water, steam, cleansing – to take the stress out of getting ready. Try shampoos or soaps with a new scent or even a new showerhead with different settings to create a new experience.
“There is nothing worse than a desk that instantly reminds you of how overwhelmed you feel,” says Schroeder. He suggests a reset: “It just means cleaning up and getting things organized in a way that makes you feel clean and prepared for the next day.” Separate your bills and emails by urgency – the ones you have to deal with today, the next few days, and next week. “It helps to think about what your environment is like and the one or two steps you can take to improve it,” adds Schroeder. Setting up a plan to tackle your debt could also be the best health decision you make all year.
Sure there are apps that can help you relax, like a meditation app. But there are thousands of apps that come with a constant stream of notifications. All those pings are especially troublesome for people who have a heightened sensitivity to noise – you might not realise the notifications are making your existing symptoms worse. “I suggest people take the Marie Kondo approach to their apps and clean house and cut out those that don’t bring them joy. Then cut out notifications as much as is possible,” advises Schroeder.
We spend a lot of time on social media. According to analysis conducted by social marketing agency, Disruptive Advertising, worldwide the average person spends about 20 minutes on Facebook, while 1.57 billion YouTube users watch about five billion videos every single day. Gazing at the highlight reels of other people’s lives is a great way to make yours look miserable by comparison – and that can be a gateway to stress and anxiety. Schroeder advises taking regular breaks from social media while reminding yourself that people only tend to post their best life.
“Colours often are activating for people in a variety of ways,” says Dr Scott Allen, a psychologist. “In our waiting room, we removed items that were red because they triggered several clients,” he says. “Pay attention to how different colours make you feel and read more about the science-backed secrets to creating a stress-free home.
The hum of fluorescent lights, a refrigerator motor winding up, a doorbell, or even a dog barking next door can prompt anxiety – though you might not be aware of it. “Notice those things that bother you and work to cut them down or out. Fluorescent lights can be turned off and replaced with softer – or brighter – lights, whichever reduces your anxiety. If the doorbell gives you goosebumps or uneasiness, says Schroeder, he recommends a door bell that alerts your phone, instead of chiming, when someone’s at the door.”
Few people look forward to getting on the scales but for some, it can be a tremendous source of shame, says Schroeder. The numbers on the scales may dictate your day in a negative way without you being conscious of it. “I often suggest that clients get rid of their scales; the most important thing is how they feel and how their clothes feel when they wear them.” If your waistline is causing you concern, here are some diets you should avoid.
Scent can rouse a strong emotional reaction. Sometimes they are calming or pleasant; other times, they’re jarring. According to a 2018 study, people with anxiety have a better sense of smell when it comes to detecting a hazardous threat. Allen recalls a client who could smell burnt popcorn three days after it was made. That correlates with research findings indicating that, during a state of anxiety, there is a stronger connection between the emotional and sensory parts of the brain in response to negative odours. Here are some household odours that signal danger – and should never be ignored.
With everyone working from home these days, separating your home life from work is tremendously important, says Allen. “When we see items that remind of us work, it can be an instant trigger for work thoughts and anxiety,” he says. His solution – find a way to create a meaningful separation of the two. “Simple things like closing the door to your home office when the workday is done or having a different user account on your laptop for personal and work time. Or remove your work email app from your phone. This at least can help to create a boundary in your mind,” says Allen.
“Decluttering can also be beneficial – clutter reminds us of how busy we are,” says Allen. This can be a double whammy because while the clutter makes you anxious, so can the thought of getting rid of things. “To make a room more calming, you might need the help of a friend. Friends can help with something that may be very challenging for you because the objects won’t hold the same sentimental value.” They can bring objectivity to the process, he says. Read how taking on a Less is More approach, left Helen O’Neill feeling more confident and happy.
It’s hard to believe, but pets can be a sneaky trigger for anxiety. “If you have a cat that decides it likes to walk on your face or a dog that snores when he sleeps, you might think about sleeping alone in your bedroom and giving your pet a designated spot to sleep in.” Future pet parents take note – choose an animal that fits your lifestyle. “If walks or runs help regulate anxiety, then consider getting a more active dog. If being introverted is the best way to handle anxiety then a less active dog or cat would be a better fit,” Allen says. If you’re anxious about the mess your cat or dog creates, these cleaning hacks will help.
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