Anxiety doesn’t always have a trigger. Sometimes it’s clear to me why I feel anxious: I am waiting on test results or about to meet with a new client. Sometimes, I find that my anxiety is triggered by alcohol or caffeine. I can often pinpoint something that’s making me anxious. I can say to myself: if I resolve this issue or once I get this information or if I avoid caffeine, I’ll be fine and relaxed.
But sometimes, I just feel anxious for no reason at all. There’s no trigger. I don’t feel worried about anything specific or urgent. Sometimes, I even feel that I should feel relaxed in that moment because of the absence of triggers.
For example, on a relaxing Sunday at home when I am lying on the couch reading and drinking tea (caffeine-free!), I can feel horribly anxious. My jaw is clenched, my stomach is tight and nauseated, and my leg keeps twitching. I can’t focus on my book or remember to breathe. I feel overwhelmingly anxious, and I have no earthly idea why. Sometimes it’s so bad that I feel I need my panic medication to stop my anxiety building.
This is part of the difference between having anxiety and normal stress. Stress is a response to something and anxiety (the illness) is your brain triggering you to go into anxious or panic mode when there’s nothing there to trigger it.
Ironically, this can be more stressful because there’s no way to rationalize or explain it to yourself or others. When my husband asks why I’m so anxious on that lovely Sunday afternoon I described earlier, I can’t explain it beyond “I’m feeling anxious now.” Sometimes I wish I could explain it away. I think that would be comforting.
However, anxiety is an illness that can flare up for no reason at all. It doesn’t need an event or source or substance. Sometimes it does, of course, but not always. This can be some of the hardest anxiety for me to manage and accept. I want to be able to do something, to feel in control. Part of anxiety for me is feeling out of control. And I never feel more out of control than when I feel anxious “for no reason.”
But this is also when I feel most viscerally that anxiety is a disease. Complaining about an anxiety flare is just as useless as complaining about a migraine that came without warning or triggers. Sometimes, I get a migraine because I ate a lot of sugar or didn’t get much sleep, but again not always (and sometimes not even often).
It’s comforting to know that exercising, eating well, sleeping well, taking my medication, and other behaviors will keep me healthy and prevent my conditions from flaring. And sometimes they can, but I can’t prevent my illnesses from ever flaring. That’s not how illnesses work. There’s only so much we can do. If we could prevent all flares or cure our illnesses completely, we wouldn’t need doctors or treatment or medications or any of it. But most of us do.
Having anxiety and other conditions tests my need for control and my ability to accept my conditions whenever they arise. Sometimes they remind me that they are illnesses and that there’s a limit to how much I can do to manage them. I need to accept this, even as I work hard to take care of myself and avoid unhealthy triggers.