When I was little, throwing up was a traumatic experience. It was impossible for me to vomit once and be done with it – it was an all day/all night experience, and it always left me shaking, exhausted and in tears. (I remember how proud I was the first time I threw up in college, and was able to calm myself down and get myself settled into bed. Seriously – this was a huge accomplishment for me!)
My anxiety and fear of throwing up has never left me, but over the years, I’ve come to understand it more and have become familiar with what triggers my anxiety and how to breathe and relax through it.
Knowing your triggers is a big part of the battle, not so that you can avoid them, but so that you can prepare and empower yourself.
What is a Trigger?
A trigger is something that your body strongly reacts to, based on something it associates it with.
Panic attacks often have triggers, and these triggers are almost entirely physical. Panic attacks occur when your body starts to translate physical experiences into something much worse, telling your brain and your body that something is horribly wrong.
via Calm Clinic
Feeling sick to my stomach, especially in public, is a trigger for me. Even though I have only a mild phobia of it (the technical term is emetophobia), I can’t say that it hasn’t impacted my life. It has, in that it has caused me to avoid certain situations, or, even if I don’t avoid them, it’s costs me hundreds of lost hours of enjoyment spent worrying.
It’s this very fear that sometimes causes a panic attack which, of course, causes nausea…
See the vicious cycle that can start?
Common Triggers for Panic Attacks
You may have your own specific triggers that cause anxiety and lead to panic attacks – it might be a scent, a sound, a place – but there are several common triggers that can lead to a panic attack. None of these things cause panic attacks, but what these things have in common is that they can cause symptoms that feel like a panic attack is coming on, eg. dizziness/feeling faint/weakness, thus, setting your mind and body up to react as though something big is happening.
Being dehydrated puts a huge stress on your body and all of its organs and can cause you to feel dizzy, light-headed and experience a rapid heart rate.
My diagnosis for what happened on the plane was dehydration and vertigo, but what actually happened was that I had a panic attack because I was tired, dehydrated and the added dizziness from the vertigo, in addition to being in a small space while feeling ill, was the perfect storm.
Have no doubt, I became a most excellent water drinker after that experience!
Lack of Sleep/Overly-Tired/Exhaustion
It’s harder to fight irrational thoughts when you are tired. Your body also has to work even harder to fight off any potential illnesses/germs attacking it.
I stayed up all night before my flight, and was lugging two car seats, luggage, diaper bag and two small children through airports that day. I was exhausted.
Too much (varies from person to person) caffeine makes you jittery and can cause dehydration and irregular heartbeats. Point made.
I didn’t have time to get a coffee before my flight that day. THANK GOODNESS!
This could be from actual food allergies (eg: gluten), or just a sensitivity that makes you feel icky (eg: fried/greasy foods). Either way, these foods stress the body and this added strain can make it more difficult to fight off anxiety. They can also cause symptoms that make your mind and body feel anxious, resulting in a trigger to a panic attack.
It’s possible that a food sensitivity contributed to my panic attack on the flight as well, since I had eaten (read: quickly shoved in my mouth) some greasy airport food during my layover, while rushing to my connection gate. But I’m not sure on that one…
Do you see how much I set myself up on that flight, without knowing it!? All that was missing was a double espresso and chocolate covered coffee beans! If only I could have known these things then :)
Consider the Possibility that You Have Your Own Unique Trigger
These are all the common triggers, but it’s possible that you have your own, unique to you, trigger. One of my very unique ones was the neon orange stickers on some books I purchased one summer. I was pregnant and constantly nauseous when I was reading them.
Eventually, I came to associate those with my nausea, and they kept triggering panic attacks, and so I had to scrape them all off the books, just so I could have them in the house!
I had the same reaction to knitting and quilting for awhile too, as I spent a lot of time doing them while pregnant and nauseous. Fortunately those triggers eventually went away, but it was several years before I could do either again.
Given my fear of being sick, it all makes sense, but it’s not something you’d find on a list of common triggers.
Do you know what triggers or has triggered your panic attacks? If so, please share — it might help someone feel less alone in their anxiety and it’s possible that it might help someone see themselves in your story and connect it with their own, yet unknown to them, trigger.
This is the 8th post in a 31 Day Series: 31 Days to Peace: Finding inner peace for anxiety and panic attacks. Start from the beginning here.