Anxiety can feel utterly crippling — as if you have an invisible beast on your back. It’s a behemoth to conquer, especially with so many potential triggers that exist in our world. Seemingly menial everyday things can ignite an anxious firestorm that’s difficult to put out. Of course, a lack of awareness regarding your personal triggers may come into play. The Mayo Clinic defines anxiety as:
“Intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Fast heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, and feeling tired may occur.”
For those with anxiety, it can be hard to navigate the minefield of triggers and unpleasant catalyzers. Thankfully, I’ve got a comprehensive list identifying the major culprits and how to avoid them.
Lack of sleep
Sleep is connected to everything. Think of it as the Marvel Cinematic Universe of bodily functions. If you don’t get enough sleep, you can roam about the following day in an irritable mood or enveloped in a mental fog. Your body needs sleep to function properly, not just physically but mentally.
The Sleep Foundation notes that anxiety and lack of sleep are closely linked. “Anxiety is frequently connected to sleeping problems. Excess worry and fear make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. Sleep deprivation can worsen anxiety, spurring a negative cycle involving insomnia and anxiety disorders.”
Sleep is vital for your mental health. While depression may sometimes cause you to oversleep, anxiety can have the opposite effect. You might find yourself slumbering for less time. Staying up all hours of the night mentally pouring over every triviality or intricate detail. Large and small. Once it starts, it’s like a freight train speeding down the tracks. Almost nigh on impossible to stop. I like to compare it to an avalanche: one thought can lead to another, then another, then soon everything comes crashing down on top of you. Mental debris that’s hefty enough to suffocate you.
So, how do you sleep with anxiety? First of all, you need to calm your mind. Try various breathing exercises to slow down your heartrate. This will help you relax not only your body, but your racing headspace. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Close your eyes. Establish a rhythm that’ll gradually decrease your heartrate.
One thing I’ve learned in therapy is just how powerful a tool journaling can be. If you find yourself painstakingly chronicling what could transpire in the next 10 years of your life, get it all out on the page. Write down any lingering or particularly pervasive questions. Any thoughts that come to mind, especially negative ones. Through the act of writing it down, you may find it easier to sleep with those anxious thoughts out of your head.
Additionally, you can use lavender oil. I’m not a doctor, so don’t take this as a medical prescription, but I know it’s helped me whenever I’ve felt trapped by anxiety. You can use an oil diffuser or simply inhale the oil straight from the bottle. But make sure to dilute it with water if you plan on rubbing lavender oil on your skin.
Don’t look at your phone before bed. Social media can not only distract you and consume your time, but it can also exacerbate your anxiety. Especially Twitter, wherein you need only scroll down a tweet to find hateful rhetoric or depressing posts.
Trying to please everyone
Newsflash — you can’t please everyone. Yes, I’m talking to you, people pleasers. Incessantly putting others’ needs before your own is exhausting. Draining. You may find yourself intensely worrying about things that don’t pertain to you. It’s back-breaking stuff. This may be difficult to do, especially if you derive your own self-worth from others. If you’re doing that, you’ll always be disappointed.
Just remember that not everyone is going to like you. I know, it’s a difficult pill to swallow but swallow you must. Someone disliking you may not have anything to do with an act you committed or a transgression you precipitated against them. Maybe they don’t like you because of your hair color. The sound of your voice. There is a myriad of trivial or materialistic reasons that shouldn’t hold any water. It’s vain, but people are vain. Learning to accept that not everyone you meet will become a bestie will make your life exponentially easier.
So, with that in mind, you need to prioritize. Obviously, if you’re a parent or a guardian, you should definitely take care of those for which you are responsible. But that doesn’t mean sacrificing your needs at every turn. If you’re worried about your coworker who gives you the cold shoulder versus your own wellbeing, then that’s a problem. Keep this in mind: “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
Taking on too much in your life
Ah, the siren song of the perfectionist. Do more! Be more! But taking on too much in your life simultaneously can lead to serious bouts of anxiety. Especially if it feels like your personal and professional lives are converging into one big, convoluted mess. This is where compartmentalizing comes into play. Not just that, but learning to say “no” will help you tremendously in this arena.
Why are we so afraid of that word? Is it because we fear rejection as humans? Regardless, don’t think of it as a hard “no.” Think of it as drawing a line in the sand. Firmly setting your boundaries. Knowing, reasonably, how much you can do without breaking. Knowing your limits. It’s not selfish to decline more work because your plate is already full. It’s self-care. Besides, if you stretch yourself too thin, then all aspects of your life will suffer. Remember: it’s all connected like the MCU (movies and TV shows — I’m looking at you, DCEU).
Obviously, burning the candle at both ends (I’m full of clichés today) can culminate in a full-on breakdown. Your mind and body are in “freak out” mode. How do you counteract that? Again, it’s all about establishing boundaries, remain unwavering when it comes to said boundaries, and knowing your limits. That way you can thrive in all that you do.
Who doesn’t love a cup of joe in the morning? Caffeine is one of the most abused drugs in the world. We feel that we need it to function — to take on the world and get stuff done. But those who suffer from anxiety may not gel well with caffeine. According to one study in 2010, “people with panic disorder and social anxiety disorder are especially sensitive to the anxiety-inducing effects of caffeine. Work to cut back your caffeine intake by substituting noncaffeinated options whenever possible.”
Do you find your heart racing after one cup of coffee? Your thoughts in a frenzy? A tightness in your chest? You may want to consider limiting your caffeine intake. You don’t really “need” caffeine to survive. The high it provides is quickly accompanied by a period of drowsiness and lethargy. Is it really worth it for a few hours of productivity all while enduring anxiety-inducing side effects of caffeine?
Like the above quote states, consider substituting noncaffeinated beverages. Tea is a terrific option. Some tea does contain caffeine, but mostly an insignificant amount that pales in comparison to coffee. There are plenty of herbal teas that are caffeine-free for your consumption.
Not to sound cheesy, but your body is a machine. If you don’t give it fuel, it’ll become stagnant and unresponsive. Like a car that’s out of gas. You need food to survive. It’s easy to skip meals, especially if you’re a harried college student trying to pass your classes and work a job. Or you’re a parent that works full-time. Or you’re simply a busy human. Regardless of your situation, we’ve all bypassed a meal here and there. It’s easy to do when you’re stressed out or preoccupied.
Without sustenance, you’ll not only become irritable, but you’ll feel “out of it.” Unfocused. Dazed. And a mind that’s in a frenzy is a playground ripe for anxiety. Negative thoughts. Depression. Your defenses are down and you’re vulnerable. It’s the perfect opportunity for the invisible beast to strike.
Eat all three meals of the day if you want to keep that beast at bay. Breakfast is particularly vital. If you’re so busy that you can’t sit down for a full-fledged meal three times a day, then always keep a well-equipped stash of snacks at the ready. Drink plenty of water. If you tend to become so focused on your work that you forget to eat (like I do), have your snacks within your line of sight. If you work from home, keep them on your desk.
Life happens. Genetics happen. Both often occur at the same time. Whenever you’re sick or stricken with a tough illness or injury, anxiety can creep in like a thief in the night. It’s so easy to succumb to anxious thoughts when you’re in a weakened state. If you’re at home for an extended period of time convalescing with nothing to do, your mind can run rampant with wild streams of thought.
It’s completely understandable to worry when health problems arise. Especially if life-altering surgery is involved or your illness makes for a rough road to recovery. We’re humans. We’re fragile biological creations that are essentially ticking time bombs. This is when enacting calming practices should come into play.
Breathing exercises are crucial in this case. Put your mind and your heartrate at ease. Confide in a trusted friend or family member. Talk to a therapist. Consider anti-anxiety medication. Try meditation. Surround yourself with all that is calm. Exemplify that calming state in the center of the storm.
Financial worries can trigger anxiety
We all worry about money at some point, unless you’re in the one percent. This healthline.com article revealed the following: “According to the American Psychological Association, about 80 percent of millennial Americans (and 75 percent of Americans, total) have some kind of stress or anxiety related to money.”
Seventy-five percent of Americans total. Let that sink in. As the cost of living skyrockets, we find ourselves scrambling, trying to make monetary ends meet. It’s easy to fall prey to anxiety when finances are involved. Healthline.com urges folks to think about their “inherited views” of money. What economic class did you grow up in? How did your parents manage their money? Pinpointing and hopefully mending your inherent relationship with money may help alleviate that anxiety.
If you feel like you’re drowning in financial anxiety, reach out for help. Seek advice from a financial advisor. Mimic the patterns of people who are successful with their money. Have a foolproof system in place for balancing your checkbooks. Be immensely mindful with how you spend your cash.
Negative thinking can contribute to not just depression, but anxiety as well. That voice in your head can be quite influential. The words you say to yourself can pack a punch, and not in a good way. If you’re agonizing over self-defeatist thoughts or constantly beating yourself up mentally, then anxiety is bound to be a byproduct. The trick is to retool the “language” you use with yourself.
Healthline.com sums it up the best: “Your mind controls much of your body, and that’s certainly true with anxiety. When you’re upset or frustrated, the words you say to yourself can trigger greater feelings of anxiety. If you tend to use a lot of negative words when thinking about yourself, learning to refocus your language and feelings when you start down this path is helpful. Working with a therapist can be incredibly helpful with this process.”
Nip it in the bud. Cut off the corrosive thoughts at their source before they can enact real damage. Of course, spending time with a therapist will benefit you in the long run. Finding the root of your negative thought patterns and working through those issues will help ease your anxiety as a whole.
Mind over matter
Anxiety is a tough road to navigate, but as long as you utilize the tools at your disposal, you can conquer it and then some. There may not be a bona fide cure for it, but you can certainly live a fulfilling life in spite of anxiety.