People assume anxiety triggers are for those worrisome types who have little self confidence and can’t make a decision for themselves. Or they think only weak-minded people have anxiety at all and strong, self-reliant people shouldn’t worry much.
They’re terribly wrong.
Anxiety affects everyone and in today’s fast-paced world it’s only increasing. Add to that a first responder lifestyle and you’ve got a recipe for multiple anxiety triggers.
What is Anxiety?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as, “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”
Do you have tension? Most people do in some way; some people do in many ways. That tension can bring a person to a delicate mental place where in one thing might trigger a major break. That worry or anxiety can lead to not only a racing heart, but sweaty palms, tunnel vision, rapid breathing, and rash reactions or decisions. This is a panic attack and it’s not a nice place to be.
A first responder is exposed to more than their own stress. Being present for someone else’s bad day or life-altering event on a daily basis can pile up in one’s mind. Going from call to call, pressing it all away to deal with the next call, can lead to compassion fatigue or even chronic stress, both of which are not healthy.
So, anxiety doesn’t sound fun, but what causes it? What are anxiety triggers and how can you handle them?
Mind.org lists some anxiety causes as:
- past or childhood experiences (abuse, bullying, loss)
- your current situation (work stress, housing problems
- financial burden, relationship stress)
- physical or mental health illnesses
- or drug-related issues ranging from prescription medications to drug or alcohol abuse
Imagine any of those, even just one of them, and add a first responder lifestyle. It’s no wonder first responders are more likely to experience anxiety or panic attacks and be at higher risk for mental health issues and suicide.
Once a person has reason to worry, that anxiety can settle right in. We try to push it away and move on, but things in life can trigger an emotional and even physical reaction.
Anxiety triggers are more common than we realize. Since most people, even non responders, have at least one of the causes listed above, it’s likely we experience triggers that will get us going, causing us worry in the moment and stalling our productivity or progress at hand.
An anxiety trigger can be anything that brings to mind the cause for worry. Some triggers, especially for those with PTSD, have a greater effect with triggers such as:
- Increase in the issue: more bills or a job loss when already financially hurting or a fight in a strained relationship
- Visuals: seeing a bad accident after being in a terrible accident, seeing an injury after sustaining or losing someone to a similar situation
- Audio: hearing sounds reminding you of a traumatic event
- Situational similarities: being in a crowd or feeling trapped in a place, experiencing loss of control in a situation
- Places or dates: when returning to a certain place or when an anniversary of a traumatic event comes around
- Scents, physical touch, words, or even objects can trigger anxiety too!
How to Handle Anxiety Triggers
Some anxiety triggers are easier to avoid, like a place you don’t live near or person with whom you no longer have contact. But for many, everyday life can prove challenging if reminders of your event or even your worry are around every corner.
Financial burden might get easier, but you’ll always need to pay for things and work for money to pay for things. You can’t easily avoid traveling by car and it’s not healthy to avoid all personal relationships.
If your anxiety trigger is unavoidable, there’s still hope. Many can be handled with knowledge and patience and small changes in your habits.
Maggie Holland, MA, MHP, LMHC, lists a few options:
- Increase Your Healthy Physical Habits
- Improve Your Emotional Regulation Skills
- Try Meditation & Yoga
- Make a Plan
- Limit Social Media Intake
- Practice for Social Settings Ahead of Time
- Set Boundaries
- Ask for Help
- Work on Positive Self-Talk
- Work With a Therapist
How Can First Responders Apply These Methods?
First responders are subject to many traumatic events over the course of a week let alone a whole career. As long as a responder is still on active duty, the ability to avoid possible anxiety triggers is unlikely. Instead, we recommend the following:
- Learn about causes – Knowing the root cause of your anxiety is the first step to knowing how to cope with triggers and heal from wounds you may or may not be aware of. Firefighters need to know the source of the fire to best fight it. Police need to know the root cause of the incident or the danger in order to keep themselves and others safe.
- Learn about triggers – If you know a particular location sets you off, avoid that area, but if you can’t, be sure your partner knows. Having someone that has your back is crucial, but it’s not just for physical safety. When they know your triggers, they’re more likely to be patient with you or help you limit exposure.
- Learn about coping strategies – Everyone has different strategies that work. For some, it’s exercise. For others, it’s meditating. Still others might explore journaling. Explore some strategies for yourself and see what sticks.
Rising Above Anxiety Triggers Through Coaching
First responders are more likely than any other profession to be subject to anxiety. And, because they’re the least likely to seek help, they are most likely to suffer silently and develop long-term anxiety or other mental health issues like PTSD or panic attacks.
Speaking to someone to get to the root cause of one’s stress is pivotal to finding solutions. A coach can ask the right questions to help you decide for yourself what you need and how to achieve it. We listen, we hear you, and we want what’s best for you. The difference in coaching is that you decide what that is.
You’re in control. You set the pace. Anxiety doesn’t have to keep you down and run your life.
If you’re ready to start rising about your anxiety triggers, we’re listening.