In today’s world, there are all sorts of things that can trigger our fears. Fear is anxiety’s fuel, so for those of us who are prone to anxiety – these triggers are important to recognize because when you know exactly what triggers your anxiety, you can take steps to start feeling better.
Maybe you know exactly what makes you anxious, but maybe you’re not sure. Here are 30 common things that make people anxious. See which one(s) feature most prominently in your life.
Trauma of any kind can make you feel unsafe in the world. But it's important to realize that it doesn't have to be a catastrophic event that causes trauma. It can be something relatively minor that has a huge and personal impact on you. Trauma can also be caused by witnessing trauma, or even hearing about it. If something happens that frightens you and causes symptoms – that's trauma and it should be addressed.
2. Shame and guilt over past events
We all have things in our past we’d like to forget. The times we lost, or failed, were bullied, embarrassed, or shamed. Some of us are still carrying the pain and shame of those events and continue to judge ourselves harshly for our failures.
3. Fear of change
Most of us like to have things stay the same. We settle for doing the same thing the same way, because change can be risky. It might make things better, but it might not. And when things change, we're no longer in control and that can be terrifying. So, many of us will put up with things that are not "okay" rather than try to change them.
4. Fear of the future
Many of us walk around worrying that something terrible is about to happen, even when things are going well. And the more we focus on doom and gloom, the worse we feel.
5. Fear of separation
Children fear being apart from their parents, and parents often feel the same way about their kids. Many of us fear being separated from those we love. It's a dangerous world and being unable to protect or be protected by people you love can be terrifying.
6. Fear of illness
The fear of getting sick can make even the smallest symptom something to worry about. What does pain in your knee mean? Why is your stomach upset? When you’re worried about getting sick, every little ache or pain can feel like a serious health issue and that can be frightening.
7. Fear of aging
We live in a society that values youth and ignores the wisdom and grace that come with growing older. So, not only do we fear the physical changes that happen to our bodies as we age, we also fear the loss of dignity, respect, and meaning that can happen as we're "put out to pasture."
8. Fear of death
Death is truly the great unknown and that uncertainty is what makes so many of us afraid. For some of us, it’s not the fear of being dead that worries us – it’s the way we’re going to die that makes us so afraid. Will there be pain, or lingering suffering? Will I be alone? It’s the fear of the unknown that makes the thought of death so scary.
9. The need to be perfect
The need to do everything perfectly can keep you from trying new things, going new places, meeting new people, finishing what you start, or not showing up at all.
10. Medical conditions
Some disorders, including thyroid disease, heart issues, diabetes, respiratory disorders, and gut issues can cause anxiety.
There are a number of medications that can make us anxious. It's important to look at all the medications you're taking to see if there’s a known side effect that might trigger your anxiety. If you’re concerned about this, consult your doctor and/or therapist directly.
Caffeine impacts us all differently, but for some people caffeine can cause a significant increase in anxiety. Try cutting back – or even cutting out – caffeine for a week or two to try to see whether or not it’s an issue for you.
13. Morning anxiety
Some people wake up anxious. And now we know there's a reason why. The chemistry behind the waking process can actually make us anxious. As part of waking up, our body releases cortisol in what is called “Cortisol Awakening Response.” And that cortisol (a.k.a. the “stress hormone”) can play a role in making you anxious in the morning.
As anyone who has trouble sleeping knows, lack of sleep can make your anxiety symptoms worse. In turn, your anxiety can cause insomnia in what can become a negative cycle of worry and sleepless nights.
15. The “Sunday Night Blues”
The fear of having to go back to work or to face a difficult week can make Sunday nights miserable. And for some of us, the fear can start as early as Sunday morning, which can ruin an otherwise wonderful weekend.
16. Fear of relationships
Maybe you feel like you don’t deserve to be in a relationship. Maybe you’re afraid there’s something wrong with you and if someone else gets close enough, they’ll see the how broken you are. They’ll leave and that will break your heart. It’s that fear of being hurt that can keep you from starting new relationships, developing long term relationships, and can even drive away the people closest to you.
17. Fear of not pleasing the people in your life
Most of us want everyone to like us. We want to be respected and heard. And for some of us that means we put our own needs aside in order to please and take care of everyone else. We say "yes," when we really want to say "no." And when we don't acknowledge our own needs, that can make us feel vulnerable and anxious.
18. Fear of being alone or not being "connected"
We're so used to being connected to the world, either in person or through our devices, that we're not used to being alone. That fear of being alone can cause us to stay plugged in 24/7, to have the TV on day and night, or for some people to talk constantly in order to feel they're "connected" with the people around them.
19. Fear of speaking up for yourself
So many people with good ideas, or something important to share, stay silent for fear that they're wrong, their idea isn’t “good enough," or that people will laugh and shame them.
There are three general types of phobias:
The fear of living things – including spiders, snakes, dogs, cats, horses, birds, ticks, mosquitos, etc.
The fear of traveling – cars, trains, planes, and dealing with elevators and escalators.
The fear of nature’s fury – including darkness, thunder, lightning, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanos, and snow.
Fear of being in a confined space is one of our most common fears, and it can have a real impact on your life. It can cause us to avoid tunnels, elevators, trains, small cars, MRI tubes, and even thinking about being confined.
This fear of being trapped in an open space or a crowded area without any means of escape can make it hard to feel safe when you’re out in public. This fear can be so intense it can lead to panic and panic attacks. And the fear of that panic can keep people from leaving home.
The fear of heights is another common phobia. This fear can keep you from climbing some stairs (especially backless stairs), climbing ladders, crossing bridges, riding roller coasters, and enjoying the view from towers, tall buildings, and mountains.
24. Fear of public speaking
For many of us, getting up in front of people is our worst nightmare. The fear of making a fool of yourself in front of an audience – or the worry that people will laugh at you – keeps many of us from standing up for ourselves.
25. Financial worries
Worrying about money can keep you trapped in a job you hate. Worrying about finances and budgets can keep you up at night. Arguments over money can threaten relationships. And struggling with finances can interrupt your sleep, cause physical symptoms, and keep you frozen with fear.
26. Fear of doctors and medical procedures
For some people, the fear of pain, embarrassment, or fear of getting bad news can keep them from going to their health care professional for needed health care. And putting off getting that care can potentially turn a simple health concern into something much more serious.
27. Your diet
What you eat makes a difference in how you feel. Eating a diet high in sugar and processed foods can make you anxious. Not only that, but overeating and not eating enough can both be a symptom of anxiety.
28. Lack of exercise
Anxiety can make you too overwhelmed or worried to be active. Being sedentary can lead to spending more time focusing on fearful thoughts, which can lead to feeling paralyzed and even more anxious. Over time, inactivity can lead to a downward spiral of negativity.
Your surroundings have a real effect on your thoughts and emotions. Being surrounded by too much stuff and clutter can make you feel stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious.
30. The media
Today’s media focuses on the stories that make us feel afraid, angry, or anxious. Whether watching/listening to the news or scrolling social media, media can make you feel like life is dangerous and there's nothing we can do about it.
Assessing Your Own Anxiety
So, what about you? How many of these feel most familiar to you? Which ones show up most frequently?
List them all on a piece of paper. And no worries if there’s more than one trigger. That’s common for anxious people like us.
Once you have your list of specific triggers, you can start to do something about it. Taking action gives us back a sense of control and can ease anxiety. It doesn’t have to be a big action; even little steps are a sign of progress.
There are many places to get help with tips and strategies, including talking to friends and family who also suffer from anxiety. But if it makes it any easier, here are some resources I’ve compiled to help chart your path towards feeling better.
First of all, I have a quiz called Find Out the Cost of Your Anxiety that helps you assess how anxiety shows up in your life. When you take the quiz, your results generate a specific list of resources for your “anxiety type.”
My book, Calm & Sense: A Woman's Guide to Living Anxiety-Free is an “anxiety handbook,” with over half of it devoted to strategies for combating anxiety. The goal is for you to try each of them until you find the one(s) that work for you in particular.
You can follow along with my monthly podcast, Anxiety Connection to make progress together month after month. It’s become a really nice community.
On the podcast, I’m in the process of laying out a mini-series called Why You're Anxious & What to Do About It, which was based on a mini-course of the same name. You can find them all on YouTube here: https://wendyleeds.com/mini-course.
Speaking of community, there are two ways to get connected with me and fellow anxious women who are doing our best:
My email newsletter, where I notify you of new blog posts like this one and new episodes of the podcast: https://wendyleeds.com/subscribe
And my Facebook page, where we come together to chat about all things anxiety: https://facebook.com/wendyleedskeepingcalm
I hope that you find these resources to be helpful to you. Please reach out any time and know that I understand the challenges of anxiety first-hand. It’s never easy, but it’s much better when we make this journey together as a community.