What Is an Anxiety Trigger?

October 15, 2014 Gabe Howard

The emotional aspects of anorexia recovery can be very painful, but learning to deal with emotions is part of the recovery process for all eating disorders.

As one of the resident anxiety bloggers here at HealthyPlace, I spend a fair bit of time thinking about anxiety disorders. Between living with anxiety, talking to others who live with anxiety, writing about anxiety, and reading about anxiety, I have amassed quite a bit of knowledge. This is good, because I get a lot of questions.

Among them: What is an anxiety trigger? What causes triggers? How can anxiety triggers be avoided? Unfortunately, there is no real, concrete “answer” to any of those questions, save for the first one. We can define what an anxiety trigger is.

But, not surprisingly, the definition isn't really very helpful:

An anxiety trigger is an object or situation that can cause your anxiety symptoms to appear.

Clear as mud, right?

A Simple Example of What an Anxiety Trigger Is

A woman I know is terrified of spiders. This is a common anxiety to have, but with her, it has risen to the level of a phobia (arachnophobia, to be exact).

If a spider were to crawl out in front of her in an otherwise normal day, her anxiety symptoms would be triggered. In other words, the simple act of a spider being introduced into the picture would result in anxiety symptoms.

There you go, a simple anxiety trigger example.

Why It Is So Hard for Others to Understand Anxiety Triggers

People living with anxiety, myself included, spend a lot of time wondering why it is so hard for others to understand anxiety triggers. The concept, as we saw above, isn’t all that complicated.

Deep down, I believe people do understand anxiety triggers. What they don’t understand is why certain things are anxiety triggers and they often don’t understand our reactions once we have been triggered.

Many people have heard the term anxiety trigger, but do people really understand what that means? What exactly is an anxiety trigger?To further explain, I point you to all those memes on Facebook of a house burning and the wording on the picture is, “I saw a spider, so I burnt the house down.” The trigger is the spider. We get that.

But the reaction to the trigger of burning your house down is something that most people would not understand.

Remember, as much as we want the people in our lives to be understanding of us, we need to be understanding of them. Their questioning, confusion, or even anger isn't necessarily mean spirited.

Extra credit: It helps me to keep this quote in mind:

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” ~ Robert J. Hanlon

You can find Gabe on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and his website.

APA Reference
Howard, G. (2014, October 15). What Is an Anxiety Trigger?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Gabe Howard

Laura K.
August, 9 2018 at 2:40 pm

Ah, Wal-Mart. So I had to start doing my shopping the evenings around
8:30, 9:00 pm. I know it triggers me and I hate the feelings so I adapt. Not every situation can be fixed that easily, though, of course. I just kinda prepare mrntally for street fairs, concerts, etc. I isolated my self ling enough to know i wanna live the kind of life I can be proud of and enjoy to its fullest. So I adapt. (And avoid small get togethers where there may be too many people I don't know! It's a trigger for me.)

August, 10 2018 at 11:05 am

That's a great way to live, Laura! I do the same thing - I find situations that trigger me, and adjust my life as best I can to avoid them. Like you, I also only go shopping during periods of low traffic, and I often have to mentally prepare myself before going to any event where a lot of people will be gathering. At times it may be inconvenient, but in the end it has such a positive impact on my mental health that it's worth it in the end.

July, 28 2018 at 9:10 pm

Thanks for putting yourself out there and sharing with all of us. That’s really tough to do. Stay strong.

July, 30 2018 at 8:57 am

Thanks for the nice comment! These issues are hard for all of us to talk about - hopefully, in the future, that stigma will disappear and it will be easier for everyone.

Carmen Kapcal
February, 4 2015 at 9:58 am

My anxiety is so through the roof that I was diagnosed with agoraphobia! I very rarely leave the house! In fact, it's so severe that my "safety zone" is limited to one room in the house! I don't have as much anxiety to go shopping as long as my husband is with me. But, when it comes to visiting friends or family members (even my own grown children), it's anxiety city! Nausea and/or vomiting is probably the worse! Even to have them at my home is just as bad...they invade my "safety zone"!! I don't answer the phone or the door either...afraid of surprise news! I don't even know how or when this agoraphobia came on but by the time I was diagnosed, I was already in the worse case scenario!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gabe Howard
February, 4 2015 at 10:09 am

Thank you so much!! :)

February, 2 2015 at 7:47 pm

Being hungry or too full makes me very anxious, what's correlation between anxiety and food? Is it just me or does it have something to do with metabolism, blood sugar, histamines etc. ?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gabe Howard
February, 3 2015 at 8:38 am

Hi Mary! I, too, eat during anxiety attacks and times I am really anxious. I am not sure of a link -- but it makes sense. Thank you for reading and commenting!!

November, 15 2014 at 1:17 pm

I am claustrophobic so crowds often cause anxiety attacks for me. We will have family over and sometimes everyone talking overwhelms me. I have figured out that I can refocus that energy by cleaning or organizing (that's how my house got unpacked lol). I tried medications but I didn't think the side effects worthwhile so I was happy to discover something that works for me and my friends and family understand not to take it personally if I wander to clean while they are visiting.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gabe Howard
November, 18 2014 at 10:12 am

Thank you for reading and commenting! :) ~Gabe

November, 8 2014 at 2:39 pm

Any thing to do with or meeting with my family or in-laws can make me want to curl up in a ball in the fetal position and weep - too much history, negative energy and useless banter . Takes weeks to prepare and every minute is murder

October, 30 2014 at 7:20 pm

The trigger for my is when my husband picks his fingernails. He does it constantly, while driving, watching tv, eating out, clearing his throat , etc. I get very anxious and have to take an anxiety pill, or leave to deal with it.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gabe Howard
November, 3 2014 at 11:29 am

It is amazing, to me, how many little things trigger me. for reading and commenting. ~Gabe

Peggy Sue
October, 26 2014 at 3:49 pm

I am going through hell, I try to get help but only get medicated. The side effects are so bad that I have been a prisoner of my bad. I can't go out and refuse to answer the door and sometimes I can't make myself answer my phone. I wish I could be hospitalized long enough to get off my meds safely and try to find something that works. I'm over medicated and scared that I can't hold on till I find the right kind of help. Any suggestions that are doable? All I get is eat right. Excersize and think positive! If I could do any of those things I wouldn't be mentality ill!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gabe Howard
October, 27 2014 at 10:33 am

While eating right, exercise, and positive thinking have a role in recovery -- they generally won't work alone. Like you said, if it were that easy it wouldn't be mental illness. Medication has been very helpful for me -- but it did take time. I had to try a lot of different medications before I found the "right fit." Keep working with your doctors and therapists and explain what problems you are having. Be honest with them and tell them what you need. Something else I would suggest is looking into a WRAP plan. WRAP stands for Wellness Recovery Action Plan. Again, this isn't a stand alone treatment -- but the more tools we have, the better the outcomes.
I am rooting for you and I understand. Please know you are not alone. ~Gabe

October, 26 2014 at 12:25 am

This was very helpful at the right time. My husband does seem angry and annoyed whenever anxiety is mentioned. My anxiety. There are a lot of triggers, at times it feels like Im surrounded by them. But I push on. So this gives me insight to seeing things from someone else's point of view.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gabe Howard
October, 27 2014 at 10:29 am

Thank you, Missy, for reading and commenting. it means a lot. I know that our anxiety issues can be difficult on our loved ones. I am glad you are pushing on and there are many of us who understand your struggle. ((hugs)) ~Gabe

October, 25 2014 at 7:57 pm

Walmart, grocery stores, busy places in general. People are noisy, in my space, sneaking up behind me. I dread going to these places. Add hot flashes on top of it and I'm a basket case. Thank God my husband understands!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gabe Howard
October, 27 2014 at 10:26 am

Thank you, Susan, for sharing! I appreciate you reading. ~Gabe

October, 22 2014 at 7:40 pm

Going to Walmart is a trigger for my anxiety. Too many people, too many instances of people standing too close to me in line. I have been pushed and I have been cut in line. I have also had people through their things in with mine. Now I don't go alone;only with my husband. I don't wait in line with him. Instead I go to the swing in the garden center. It is close to our house so the grocery shopping and pharmacy there is what we use.
I guess I didn't really handle the problem;I just adapted to the environment a little so I could deal with it.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 23 2014 at 4:23 pm

I have the very same issue! I believe people are a lot more RUDE in this day and age. My husband checks out and I sit on the seat going out the door. I sure love him!!!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gabe Howard
October, 24 2014 at 1:22 pm

Thank you, Carol, for reading. I appreciate the commenting as well. :) ~Gabe

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