Step 1

The first step in creating your relapse prevention plan is identifying the triggers and early warning signs that may precede relapse so you can take action early on and be proactive in managing your anxiety effectively and prevent escalation.

Through self-reflection and observation you can learn to recognise the specific factors that contribute to anxiety and develop strategies to navigate these situations with resilience and self-awareness.

Triggers are external or internal stimuli that set in motion or exacerbate anxiety symptoms. These can be influences in your environment or within yourself, that trigger o worsen anxiety symptoms. They vary widely between people and may include specific situations, events, thoughts, emotions or sensory stimuli.

 

Triggers

There are different types of triggers that fall into the following categories:

  • Situational triggers: public speaking, crowded places, social gatherings, job interviews.
    • Examples: a crowded party, meeting people for the first time, driving on a busy road, encountering something you fear.
  • Cognitive triggers: thoughts or beliefs that provoke anxiety (such as the negative core beliefs you identified earlier in the course), such as rumination and overthinking, catastrophising and thinking the worst, perfectionism or self-criticism.
    • Examples: thoughts about failure and rejection, imagining being shamed or embarrassed, worry about the future or dwelling on past mistakes.
  • Emotional Triggers: intense emotions such as fear, anger, sadness or shame can trigger anxiety reactions.
    • Examples: feeling overwhelmed by stress, experiencing intense sadness or loneliness, feelings ashamed of yourself.
  • Physiological Triggers: bodily sensations or changes, such as racing heart, shortness of breath, muscle tension, or sweating, that signal arousal and distress.
    • Examples: Experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety such as rapid heartbeat, trembling, or dizziness; feeling tense or on edge without a clear cause.
  • Environmental Triggers: External factors such as noise, lighting, temperature, or smells that can evoke anxiety reactions.
    • Examples: Being in a noisy or chaotic environment, exposure to bright lights or strong smells, or feeling claustrophobic in confined spaces.

 

Triggers can activate the body’s stress response, the sympathetic nervous system, triggering the fight or flight response and trigger a cascade of physiological and psychological responses. Being aware of your triggers will give you the opportunity to take good care of yourself by engaging in self-care actions, to ease the anxiousness and help you return to a place of regulation, feeling calm and in balance.

While there are many generic and common triggers such as the ones above, it’s also important that you are aware of your personal triggers. You past experiences and particular vulnerabilities will mean that your triggers are unique to you. Now it’s time to identify your triggers.

 

Action Step

Take some time to reflect and journal on the following, being as specific as you can, to illuminate your triggers.

  1. Recall past experiences: Think of specific situations where you felt overwhelmed by anxiety. What were the circumstances surrounding those moments?
  2. Identify patterns: Are there common themes or recurring patterns among situations that trigger your anxiety?
  3. Explore thoughts and emotions: What thoughts or beliefs typically accompany your anxiety? What emotions do you experience during triggering situations?
  4. Consider physical responses: How does your body react when faced with anxiety triggers? Are there specific physical sensations or symptoms?
  5. Reflect on environmental factors: Do external factors like noise, lighting, crowds, or specific locations contribute to your anxiety?
  6. Review recent experiences: Think about recent moments of anxiety. What led to these situations, and can you identify any common triggers?
  7. Reflect on coping mechanisms: How do you typically respond when faced with anxiety triggers? Are there coping strategies or behaviours that help alleviate your anxiety, or do you tend to avoid or suppress your feelings?

 

These journaling questions offer insights into your anxiety triggers and patterns, aiding in effective anxiety management and coping strategy development. Reviewing past journal entries from the previous modules may provide valuable insights to answer these questions. While some questions may seem repetitive, this repetition is intentional, providing an opportunity to review and clarify key learnings as you approach the end of the course.