Hidden Anxiety Triggers That Sabotage Your Life
Most of us are no strangers to stress and anxiety; in our hurried, continually connected culture, there always seems to be something new to worry about. If you struggle with anxiety, you probably already know about relieving your workload or avoiding people who stress you out. However, there are lesser known anxiety triggers that can be as damaging to your peace of mind as a looming deadline.
It's tempting to turn to a glass of wine or a warm cocktail to relax, but that may actually make your problems worse. Alcohol is a sedative and a depressant. At first, it really does help you to relax and relieve your anxiety.
However, as the alcohol wears off, your brain chemistry can over-compensate by releasing a swarm of anxiety-inducing chemicals and neurotransmitters. This can make you even more anxious for as much as a full day after your alcohol consumption. What's more, the more alcohol you drink, the more you need in order to feel its effects, so habitually using alcohol to ease your anxiety is a recipe for addiction.
An Unbalanced Diet
Certain foods and nutritional deficiencies are known anxiety triggers. Simple carbohydrates, like sugar and white bread, are metabolized quickly and can create a roller-coaster effect in your blood sugar, making you more anxious; complex carbohydrates like the ones found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are a much safer bet.
Scientists have also found a link between anxiety and low levels of magnesium and zinc. Foods rich in those vitamins, such as leafy greens, nuts, and eggs, are a better bet for relieving anxiety than reaching for a chocolate bar or another traditional comfort food.
Too Much Time Alone
If you're an introvert or you suffer from social anxiety, you may assume that being around other people is the worst thing for your mental health.
However, studies show that solitude can actually make you more anxious than being around a good friend, even for introverts. A 2011 study of school-age children suggested that the kids who were around a best friend produced lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol than those who were around a stranger or family member or those who were alone.
Studies have also shown that women who gather with other women produce a feel-good chemical called oxytocin. Men and women alike live longer if they have more friends.
Although you're certain to get stressed if you're uncomfortably thirsty, even mild thirst can lead to major anxiety.
A 2009 study by Tufts University compared athletes who stayed properly hydrated with athletes who allowed themselves to get thirsty. They found that even the mildly thirsty athletes were more likely to report that they felt fatigued, confused, depressed, or angry than the athletes who drank enough water.
Drinking plenty of water may be good for your mood as well as your overall health.
Positive Life Changes
Yes, you read that correctly. There's a whole category of “good stressors” or “eustress”. Positive life changes can still throw us into a tailspin because any life change can cause stress and anxiety.
Going on a vacation is wonderful. However, you're in a new place, away from people you love and your routine is disrupted. All of this could give you a level of low-grade stress.
Starting a new relationship, welcoming a child, or even adopting a pet are incredibly exciting, but they all mean reordering your life around another being who wasn't there before, and that will cause you to feel stressed no matter how much you love this new individual.
The key here may simply be recognizing that these happy occasions are stressful. Allow yourself to feel anxiety without any guilt trips (“How can I possibly feel stressed when everything is going right?!”). Or it may mean building in extra relaxation time even in the midst of positive change. There's a reason that “taking a vacation from your vacation” has become a cliché.
Lack of Sleep
Being anxious can disrupt your sleep. But, getting too little sleep can make you more anxious, creating a vicious cycle of insomnia and irritability. According to the American Psychological Association, missing out on even 60 minutes of sleep a night can make you more irritable and stressed and can inhibit key functions like memory and muscle repair.
To make matters worse, people who are already stressed feel the stressful effects of sleep deprivation even more strongly than those who are less anxious. If you're not generally anxious, you're about 13% more likely to feel more stressed after a poor night's sleep. However, if you are anxious, you're about 45% more likely.
Fluorescent Lights and Other Sensory Inputs
If you've replaced your incandescent bulbs with CFLs in order to reduce your energy bills, you may be upping your stress levels in exchange.
Fluorescent bulbs have higher levels of blue light than incandescents. This can suppress the sleep-inducing neurotransmitter, melatonin and lead to reduced quality of sleep.
Similarly, fluorescents also flicker more than incandescents. This has the potential to lead to a sense of anxiety in people who are sensitive even to barely perceptible changes in light.
Fluorescent lights aren't the only sensory triggers that can set off your anxiety. Certain smells and sounds, varying from person to person, may set off a wave of unpleasant memories; for instance, if you pass someone who uses the same lotion or aftershave as your hated ex, you may feel jittery for hours afterward. A lingering unpleasant smell or irritating background sound, like a whining lawnmower or gas stove, may have a stronger effect on your mood than you expect as well.
Sometimes, the very way that you think can make you more anxious.
- You may find yourself generalizing every bad thing that happens to you. E.g: “Ugh, I should have expected this because things never go right”.
- Suspecting people of judging you even if you have no evidence of it. E.g: “I'll bet she thinks I look stupid”.
- You turn every situation into an all-or-nothing scenario that you're sure to lose. E.g: “I made one mistake and that means I'm a terrible girlfriend”.
- You are focusing only on the negative aspects of your life. E.g: “I got ten pieces of positive feedback and one piece of negative feedback; I'm going to focus on the bad one”.
Luckily, there's an entire branch of psychology called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, that revolves around changing your negative and unhealthy thought patterns into thoughts that will make you less stressed. Austin Peay State University has a handy list of these negative thought patterns as well as ways to work around them.
If you find yourself reading the list of negative thoughts and nodding in recognition, changing the way you think might very well change your anxiety levels.