It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, much less about anything other than music, but today I feel compelled to write about my anxiety triggers. It’s a subject I’ve considered writing about many times before, but I wasn’t sure at first how useful it would be to anyone else. I knew it would be therapeutic for me but I always like to write things that have the potential to benefit others as well. However, the more I thought about it the more I realized that there are many other people out there who struggle with anxiety & some of them may not yet have the insight to realize what their own anxiety triggers are. It’s possible that if such a person came across this post they might be inspired to try to figure out some of their own anxiety triggers which of course is one of the first steps in learning how to better manage the “anxiety monster.”
Identifying my own anxiety triggers is certainly one of the most useful things I’ve obtained from working with my therapist about once a month. And just to be clear it’s not like we ever sat down & tried to make a list or anything like that. We just slowly gleaned things over time from the natural course of my conversations with her. So there’s my plug for finding a good therapist! Trust me, it really can make a huge positive difference in your life. My personal opinion is that everyone should see a therapist at least a few times a year, regardless of whether you have a diagnosable mental illness or not. I just think it’s something we can all benefit from so immensely.
Anyway, without further ado, here are some of my biggest anxiety triggers along with some ways I’ve learned to avoid or work around them:
- Crowds: Ahh, crowds. Some people love them, some people hate them. I am definitely without a doubt in the latter group. I’m not sure exactly what it is about crowds that makes me so anxious but I imagine it’s a combination of the noise & the general sense of disorganization that naturally follows any crowd. The only time I can really stomach crowds is when I’m at concerts because the music is such an antidote for my anxiety that it allows me to (more or less) forget the fact that I’m in a crowded place. That being said, I still strongly prefer to stand at or near the back of the audience or at least on the side of it so that I feel like I can “escape” if I need to do so. One way I’ve learned to avoid crowds is to go to restaurants at “off” times. Instead of going to lunch at noon or 1:00 pm or to dinner at 6:00 pm, I’ll go to lunch at 10:30 or 11:00 am or do an early dinner at 4:00 pm. I also NEVER go to the mall (Can you tell I grew up in the country? I still say “the” mall, as if there’s only one) on weekends. Instead I’ll go at 10:00 am on a Tuesday or something like that. It’s MUCH more tolerable that way.
- Parties/clubs: This follows right along from the above point. It doesn’t matter if it’s a gathering of my own family; if there are more than about 10-12 people at a party/meal, I begin to feel overwhelmed, especially if it’s a party at which I don’t really know very many people (or don’t know them very well). As far as clubs go, forget about it; I’m not interested. I think part of the reason I dislike large groups at parties or get-togethers is because these types of situations do not lend themselves well to having actual meaningful conversations. If you think about it, when was the last time you had a true heart to heart conversation about anything when you were in a large group? Probably never. I know I haven’t. Because I am a solid introvert, interacting with others is exhausting for me (which is not to say I hate talking to be people, not at all) & thus I wish to use my limited energy on meaningful conversations & interactions, not just mindless chit-chat.
- Small talk: We already touched on this in the previous point, but small talk can definitely make me anxious. It’s all about context though. I have no problem making small talk with my patients & their families because I know that helps me build a rapport with them & hopefully provide them with better care. On the other hand, I really don’t want to make small talk with my server at a restaurant or the cashier at the grocery store. I know this makes me sound like a grouch but anything more than “Hi, how are you? Find everything you need?” or whatever else is necessary to accomplish the task at hand just seems excessive to me. Again, this comes back to being an introvert & not wanting to waste my energy on mindless conversations that are of no import to anyone.
- Sales-people: This one is a two-way street. I HATE selling anything which is why it’s a damn good thing that sales isn’t part of my job. On the other hand I also hate when people try to sell me stuff. The fastest way to make me walk out of a store is to hover over me & ask a million questions or offer a million different sales pitches. I’ll just leave to escape the situation. I always strongly prefer when I enter a store & the sales-person just smiles & says hello, maybe “Can I help you find anything?”, & then proceeds to leave me alone unless I approach them with a question. This is probably not how they’re taught to treat customers but it is certainly more effective with me.
- Feeling out of control: I’ve never understood why so many people love the feeling of being drunk. To me anything that makes me feel like I’m not in control of myself is much more of a stressor than a stress reliever, & that’s exactly what being drunk is: not being in control of yourself. Trust me, I’m not a teetotaler: a glass of wine or a beer every once in a while is great. But I always need to know that I’m still in control of myself. Besides one of the best things about having a low tolerance is that you can have only one or two drinks, feel a little giggly & tipsy but not anywhere near drunk, & never have a hangover the next morning because it’s basically impossible to be hungover from only one or two drinks . . . On another note, one of the greatest ways I’ve learned to feel more in control & manage my anxiety at work (as a nurse) is to make a list of tasks I need to perform for each patient (medications, dressing changes, IV starts, etc) at the beginning of the shift so that I can plan out my shift as much as possible. This has made a HUGE difference in lessening my anxiety as a nurse, & being able to cross out a task always gives me a great sense of accomplishment too. Regardless of your career field, I think you can apply this tactic to help yourself feel more in control of the situation at hand.
- Being late: Being late or thinking I might be late gives me a great deal of anxiety. This is why I always leave early for everything. Plus I was just raised that being on time is important & shows respect to others, & I certainly intend to raise my own kids that way someday.
- Traffic: Having grown up in a county with four stop-lights (yes, four in the whole county!) basically I had no idea what traffic was for the first 18 years of my life. In any case, as an adult I quickly learned that it is something I do not enjoy. Thankfully even now that we live in an area where traffic can be pretty problematic I’ve learned ways to avoid it such as just not going out during rush hour if at all possible. Thankfully my work schedule allows me to avoid the worst parts of rush hour. And I’ve also learned that sometimes it’s better to take a route that is longer in mileage but involves less stand-still traffic. I’d always rather drive a longer distance than be stuck in traffic.
I’m sure I could think of a few more anxiety triggers but these are the biggest ones I face on a daily basis. As I’ve explained, over the years I’ve found ways to avoid or work around them as much as possible. If you’re reading this & you too struggle with anxiety, I hope this list has helped you to identify some of your own anxiety triggers because that is a HUGE first step in learning to tame the anxiety monster. It may never go away forever, but it CAN get better, I promise.