Ever feel like you are holding a grenade and the pin has been pulled?
Best practices for leaders managing stress and anxiety triggers.
Living with the secret struggle of anxiety can be a stressful, lonely, and exhausting way to live. It’s important to know that you are not alone. What triggers your anxiety can be different for others. Because each person is unique, some people may have multiple triggers.
For some people, anxiety attacks can be triggered for no reason at all. As a result, it’s important to discern anxiety triggers you may have in order to manage them. Once you understand what triggers your anxiety, there are steps you can take to reduce triggers, symptoms, and regain control of your life.
Erin, Laura, and Deb are three different people who have given their consent to be interviewed for this post; names have been changed to protect identities. These women will help us see how stress and anxiety triggers play out in their lives and what they do to manage them. When I asked if they would share their stories under a pseudonym to help others, they gladly agreed. Their stories are real and raw at times and dispersed throughout.
Anxiety is the feeling of fear, it is worry or unease, all of which most people experience sporadically throughout life. The stressful or unfamiliar situations and or events which are the source of these feelings are what is known by most as anxiety triggers. There are numerous triggers and they differ between people, what is a trigger for one may not be a trigger for someone else.
Anxiety Trigger Examples
- A Job Interview — Unpreparedness for a job interview can sabotage your big day. Most people have anxiety going into an interview, it’s because someone else is in control of the interview process. A bad case of nerves or nervous habits are shown through in your body language and can distract the interviewer from your strengths and qualifications.
- Conflict — Relationship problems, arguments, and disagreements are conflicts, which can all trigger or worsen anxiety. Even though avoiding conflict may be your first choice, it is a short-term fix for your anxiety. Conflict will arise again and potentially spread into other areas of your life. As a result, you feel fearful you are unable to handle conflict situations.
- Being Bullied — Those who experience bullying may become anxious about spending time where the bullying is taking place, at work, at home…in the community. People fear and become distracted by bullies because they never know when the attack will occur. The longer bullying persists, the greater chances it will lead to underperformance, triggering further anxiety.
- Clutter — Picture this, you walk in the door from a stressful day of work, the house looks like it was hit by a cyclone; toys all over the floor, sink and counter tops full of dirty dishes…clothes strewn everywhere. Your stress and anxiety meter rapidly rises; you looked forward to unwind however, all that has changed because you now will be spending your precious few hours of relaxation time working to clean the house instead of unwinding from the stressful day.
- Receiving a Severe Diagnosis —Getting a diagnosis of a severe illness or chronic medical condition can be deeply upsetting and worrying. People may experience anxiety over how they are going to manage their condition and what the expected outcome will be. They may also worry about their loved ones and how they will cope emotionally.
How To Recognize Anxiety Symptoms
It is first important to understand the difference between stress and anxiety, especially when you are experiencing symptoms. Stress and anxiety are used interchangeably by many however, some symptoms differ greatly. When you know the similarities and differences in symptoms you can know whether you might be experiencing stress or anxiety, and how to deal with it.
MUTUAL SIMILARITIES IN BOTH STRESS & ANXIETY
|Sleep Disturbances||Difficulty Sleeping|
|Rapid heartbeat||Rapid heartbeat|
|Poor concentration||Difficulty Concentrating|
|Muscle Tension||Muscle tension|
IMPORTANT DIFFERENCES TO STRESS AND ANXIETY
|Back & neck pain||Restlessness or edginess|
|Sweaty hands and feet||Difficulty controlling worry|
|Difficulty swallowing||Exaggerated startle response|
|Frequent illness||Shortness of breath|
|Gastrointestinal issues||Chest pain|
|Feeling overwhelmed||Shortness of breath|
Low sex drive
|Significant distress or impairment in social,|
occupational or other areas of functioning 1
Is Anxiety Hereditary?
People want to know, can anxiety be inherited? Researchers are not 100 percent sure anxiety is hereditary however, some research suggests that anxiety is at least in part, genetic. In a 2017 review of studies researchers concluded generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can be inherited, with associated conditions being linked to a number of different genes.
What Is General Anxiety Disorder?
GAD affects people with constant worry and fear, which distracts them from their daily doings. According to www.helpguide.org people with anxiety may suffer from unrelenting thoughts…worry, and fear that something is going to happen they cannot control. Physical symptoms like insomnia, stomach upset, restlessness, and fatigue are the result of anxiety related to GAD.
Anxiety Management Help for Leaders: 3 Real Life Examples
I’ve had anxiety almost my entire life. I remember being a young child sitting in a psychiatrist’s office while he wrote a prescription for anxiety medication and handed it to my mother to get filled for me. I’ve had anxiety for over 25 years. It runs on both sides of my family, so the fact that I have an anxiety disorder was almost something I couldn’t avoid genetically, but I found, with time, that it is something I can live a successful life with by using coping mechanisms.
I find that the more stressed I am, the more easily I am triggered into an anxiety attack. There isn’t something specific that instigates my anxiety, but the more compounded I feel at work, the more easily any small thing can throw me off balance and put me in an anxious spiral. My anxiety is always related to second guessing myself; did I turn off the stove? Did I unplug my hot hair tools? Did I lock the door? Did I finish…for work?
About a year after I acquired my current job, my anxiety spiraled out of control for very specific reasons; workplace toxicity, lack of support from leadership, and increased demands of my role. My office has an overwhelming “bully culture”. Workers are called names I never want to repeat. Information about employees is shared with others in the company. Employees are left out of important decisions that directly affect them. No one is held accountable for their actions, which results in a free-for-all for attacks and outbursts. Others have tried reaching out to management for support, but their efforts resulted in retaliation. The employees are supposed to be a team and work together for a common goal, but others refrain from work because there is no accountability. It leaves the dedicated and conscientious workers with an overwhelming load because management knows they can rely on them to complete unfinished tasks. Burnout is a very real issue with the dedicated and conscientious employees.
I love the quote, “If it isn’t going to matter in 5 years, don’t waste more than 5 minutes thinking about it”. When my coworker calls me a derogatory name, why does this bother me? I know I’m not what he called me. His opinion of me doesn’t define my worth. Why is he angry all the time? I give myself 5 minutes to process what happened and how I would address this if it happened again. After that, I must let it go. If it pops into my head again, I tell myself that it’s done and over. I can’t be happy and less anxious if I keep reminding myself of an unpleasant, uncomfortable experience. Because nothing will change in this work setting, I know I must adjust how I adapt to the environment and focus only on the things I have direct control over.
Erin’s Best Practices for Beating Anxiety
First, I know that getting little sleep and eating anything I can get my hands on isn’t going to help the situation. Each night before bed, I read a book or watch a TV show. I drink something of my choice, whether it’s a hot tea or decaf coffee. When I get to bed, I turn off all electronics because scrolling through my phone late in the night is not going to result in a restful sleep. We all know that sleep deprivation reduces our ability to think rationally. How can I overcome a stressful day at work if I’m exhausted? When I wake up, I make my bed. What a great feeling it is at the end of the day to lay in a bed that is made and welcoming.
Staying organized. When I’m anxious, I need to focus on the things I can control. Losing or forgetting things, or missing deadlines adds to my anxiety, but they’re all things I CAN control. Writing down a list of all the things I need to get done in order of importance has been a great asset. Crossing off items as I complete them gives me a sense of accomplishment and decreases anxiety and the weight of “to-do’s” I carry around.
How can I expect to logically walk myself through a situation if I have not fueled my brain? I make sure my food is in check. Not a diet, just a healthy way of living. I’m not going to feel my best and think my best if I’m shoveling a Big Mac in my mouth. Packing my lunch with nutritious food for the next day makes me feel like I’m already starting tomorrow on a positive note.
Staying busy is crucial in my “road to recovery”. The more I allow myself to be sedentary, the easier it is for my mind to wander. Whether it’s taking a walk, taking a bath, reading a book, going to the gym, cooking a meal, meeting with a friend for coffee or lunch, or planning a weekend trip. Anything happy I can focus on helps reduce my anxiety.
Anxiety comes in waves!
What Are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders interfere with daily life, they include and are not limited to panic attacks and various phobia-related disorders. Panic attacks and phobia related disorders are intense fears that happen fast and furious, and are triggered by something a person fears. Phobias are intense feelings of fear brought on by something a person tries hard to avoid, yet these things can happen unexpectedly, which triggers symptoms of anxiety attacks or panic attacks.
Anxiety Management Help for Leaders:
What triggers my anxiety? Unfinished projects, wasting time, laziness, clutter, too much caffeine, being recognized in public in front of a large group of people and bridges/heights. I don’t like unfinished projects or issues kinda like windows open on a computer. At work I don’t leave open ended projects undone, I don’t leave emails unopened or unanswered without a specific plan for when to address them. I don’t leave notifications on my phone; I read and clear them.
I don’t like anything hanging over my head like deadlines or things I want to tackle. I will research tirelessly until I find a resolve, such as car shopping. Time wasting puts me over the edge. I do not want to go look at a million houses without knowing ahead of time what I am looking at. I will not spend all day wandering around a car lot looking at multiple vehicles, I go specifically to look at something I have found online. I also can’t sit around all day not accomplishing anything. I will always have a clean house because organization brings me peace. Everything has a place, just put it there.
I will always be part of the solution and try hard to not be a part of the problem. I love solving everything, not just for myself but for everyone else too! LOL It’s a blessing and a curse because there is never too much work. I WILL FIX ALL THE THINGS but also let myself get overwhelmed.
Laziness and clutter make me want to lose my mind. I think very low of people who are lazy and sloppy, there is always something to do, read, learn, explore, see, or make better. When people don’t take interest in life I will cut them out of my life; my energy is too precious to waste.
There are 3 things that trigger my wild anxiety: Too much caffeine, being recognized in public in front of a large group of people and bridges/heights. I limit my coffee intake to 2 cups in the morning and that’s it. The rest of the day its water, never pop, and if I do get a coffee in the afternoon it is always a must to get decaf. The other two triggers I just try to avoid at all costs because I come completely unraveled in these scenarios. I do not like being publicly recognized, especially in front of a large group of people. And, when I have to drive over a bridge I try to make sure it’s dark outside so I can’t see where I am in the air or to call someone and talk about something other than what I am doing.
Laura’s Best Practices for Beating Anxiety
I need distracted.– LAURA
That’s the BIGGEST help for me, when I am frazzled, the main thing anyone can do for me is distract me from the things I am feeling and help me focus on something else. Ask me a question, give me a problem to solve, ask my opinion on something like a type of car or French Bulldogs and their health issues or something that you know I know a lot about. If you distract me I actually snap out of it pretty quick and might only have a headache or feel tired afterwards.
Because I am always “on” when I am awake I meter my energy with CrossFit, running, or long walks. It’s an expenditure outlet. This is another thing that a lot of people do not successfully navigate. Live wire people need an expenditure outlet, not just a relaxation outlet. I love to read and research but if I don’t expend energy I can’t sit still long enough to do the other things I enjoy, then I get frustrated and start overthinking things and this can get out of hand. That’s why daily movement is essential. When the weather does not permit activity outside then I will find something to do inside, probably why I have turned into a house renovator! That need to make things better coupled with the need to expend energy in a valuable way has created many beautiful house projects!
When you meet someone that has anxiety attacks it usually completely exhausts them and gives them a headache, they will reach for caffeine for an energy boost but don’t let them because it’s a vicious cycle when you reach for your trigger to come out of your attack. This is a huge mistake so many people make. Instead ask them to go for a walk with you. They might not have the energy to do a full workout but they will always be able to go for a walk. Fresh air, slow deep breathing will center them and it feels great.
What Is the Difference Between Stress and Anxiety
Good stress bad stress: Good stress is a positive motivator in our lives. Good stress gives us a boost of energy and motivates us to perform well on our job, do well on a test, and reach personal goals. Bad Stress is prolonged stress unmanaged. Unmanaged stress opens the door for burnout to enter your life. Everyone experiences stress and anxiety at some point in their life. It is your response or reaction that is the difference between stress and anxiety; stress is a response to a threat and anxiety is a reaction to the stress.
Anxiety Management Help for Leaders : Deb’s Story
I have experienced stress most of my life, in both my personal and professional life. The things that triggered my stress; second-guessing myself and overthinking. Many times, second-guessing and overthinking came into play because I lacked self-confidence early in life. This developed as a result of my biological parents constantly telling me I was not smart enough; not smart enough to do a lot of things but most specifically not smart enough to go to college, something I dreamed of doing. The sad thing was I believed them for a lot of years because I believed they were right.
As I moved forward, my self-determination, resourcefulness, love of learning, and pursuit for something greater always opened new doors for me. Of course, the doors that opened also came with their own set of challenges to overcome. As I excelled through life I experienced many different career paths before I landed in leadership.
In the beginning, some leadership challenges triggered my stress response, especially when I felt threatened by coworkers challenging my position or experience. I would second-guess my ability to manage and lead, especially when I had no previous leadership experience. Not once did coworkers take into consideration my character, they were more interested in experience. The stress I felt during these times caused me to work longer hours to prove to others that I was the right person for the position. Why did I let myself get caught up in that mess, I can’t say for sure. The consequences of working longer hours resulted in increased workloads, exhaustion, and anxiety because I worried if my work was good enough. I eventually suffered burnout.
Burnout is a cluster of emotions. It is the result of constant and frequent emotional upheaval associated with people at home and in the workplace. An environment with too many pressures and not enough support creates burnout. People who experience burnout develop negative self-concepts while becoming detached, uninterested, unreceptive, and unapproachable (Bouncing Back! Overcoming Obstacles, 2018).
After suffering burnout, I poured myself into understanding and overcoming personal and professional stress and burnout. I earned a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership, which helped me conduct consent interviews and research. I continue to read, researched, talk to hundreds of people, conduct workshops and lunch & learns, and speak at several events about stress and burnout. What happens when you ignore stress and put your personal needs on the back burner? You give burnout permission to take over your life.
To bounce back from burnout and overcome obstacles, I wrote a workbook, Bouncing Back! Overcoming Obstacles, published in 2018, to help people work through and overcome stress and burnout. In the chapters, there are aspects of taking care of yourself with a holistic approach; mind, body, and spirit… Last but not least by any means are building your resilient bounce back muscles, and gaining your edge with built-in routines.
In April of 2018, the unthinkable happened, I was diagnosed with cancer, it felt like I was about to walk through rough terrain filled with landmines. The diagnosis rocked my world! The fear and worry of cancer was an unknown experience and I had no frame of reference therefore; I didn’t know what to expect, and if I would survive such a devastating disease.
I remember that first chemotherapy treatment, it triggered anxiety; it was four hours long. I received four anti-nausea medications before the first dose of what they called “the red devil”, a nick name for the intense potency of the drugs they were about to put in my body. The “red devil” are you kidding me! I was so scared. Walking out of the treatment room I felt drunk, my family took me home and I sat in the chair waiting for the feeling to wear off. I ended up with a four-day headache that consumed me after the first four treatments. I rarely if ever get headaches, I wasn’t able to function because it felt like my head was going to explode. I worried a lot but I tried not to show it, I had to be strong for my family because I’m sure they were worrying and wondering the same things I was thinking. When the anxiety and rollercoaster of emotions and depression hit, I went into the bedroom, I didn’t want my family to see me struggle.
Deb’s Best Practices for Beating Anxiety
Moving forward as a cancer thriver living in my new normal, the biggest lesson I learned is cancer does not discriminate. When anxiety strikes I know where I need to focus; my first attention is always spiritual meditation – through prayer I experience a holistic empowerment anchored in rituals. My second focus is long walks and modified CrossFit which helps release endorphins, the feel good hormones. Third and fourth go hand in hand, I belong to a cancer support group, and a local church where the camaraderie of friends and fellowship helps keep me grounded in support. Fifth, I enjoy reading, researching, writing, scrapbooking and making greeting cards; time stands still and my problems no longer exist when I do these things.
Living with the secret struggle of anxiety can be a stressful, lonely, and exhausting way to live. Sometimes it feels like you are holding a grenade and the pin has been pulled. It’s important to know that you are not alone. What triggers your anxiety can be different for others.
Stressful and unfamiliar situations or events are the source of fear, worry and unease and are what is known by most as anxiety triggers. Some people have multiple triggers. What triggers one person may not trigger another.
Stress and anxiety are used interchangeably by many however, some symptoms differ greatly. When you know symptom similarities and differences you can know whether you are experiencing stress or anxiety. In some cases, anxiety can be hereditary, especially general anxiety disorder better known as GAD. GAD affects people with constant worry and fear, which distracts them from their daily doings.
The difference between stress and anxiety is your response or reaction to a threat. Stress is a response to a threat and anxiety is a reaction to the stress. Panic attacks and phobia related disorders are intense fears that happen fast and furious, they are brought on by something a person fears or tries to avoid.
How do you manage your stress and anxiety triggers? Re-read the best practices of Erin, Laura and Deb again to discover how each of these women manages stress and anxiety triggers. What can you adopt from their experiences into your own best practices. If you need more information or would like to talk to a coach, you can schedule a time to talk.