Home is supposed to be a safe space. Sadly, that’s not true for everyone that suffers from anxiety—which is a sizable number of people. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect about 40 million people—that’s almost one in five people. Women suffer more than men, and children aren’t immune either. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 25 percent of kids age 13 to 18 suffer from an anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder is the most common form of anxiety, but there are other types such as panic disorders, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Treatments vary depending on the disorder and individual but therapy, medication, self-care and avoiding triggers help. You’re not alone—check out the 14 things only people with anxiety can understand.
13 sneaky things in your home that trigger anxiety
13 sneaky things in your home that trigger anxiety
Your ex's clothes
Your ex’s flannel shirt is still hanging on a hook in your closet, or her coffee mug sits in the cupboard. “It’s not uncommon for a person to come in depressed, stressed, and anxious and they aren’t sure what’s causing it,” says Schroeder. “Often our anxiety runs in the background and we aren’t conscious of it.” Items from past relationships can make you feel sad, depressed, or anxious. “Think about removing those items for a bit if they seem to be causing more negative associations than positive ones,” suggests Schroeder.
A wristwatch or a clock may be a sneaky anxiety trigger because on most occasions we only look at it when we’re preparing to go somewhere or already running late. “I have had some clients who are triggered by the clock; because they often run late the time causes them anxiety and shame. One suggestion I have for them is to use tools like LeaveNow. It’s an app that allows them to see a countdown timer on their phone instead of the clock. It’s more useful as it’s tremendously concrete,” says Schroeder. You may also want to try time management tips from highly productive people.
Showering is often the best part of our morning routine because we can relax and linger under the warm water. “Some clients don’t like showering as it can be associated with the scramble to get ready for work,” says Schroeder. “Anxious thoughts can flood their head as they think about their day instead of enjoying the activity of showering.” Schroeder invites his clients to be more mindful of the physical sensations—warm water, steam, cleansing—to take the stress out of getting ready. Try shampoos or soaps with a new scent or even a new showerhead with different settings to create a new experience.
Stacks of forms and bills
“There is nothing worse than a desk that instantly reminds you of how overwhelmed you feel,” says Schroeder. He suggests a reset: “It just means cleaning up and getting things organized in a way that makes you feel clean and prepared for the next day.” Separate your bills and emails by urgency—the ones you have to deal with today, the next few days, and next week. “It helps to think about what your environment is like and the one or two steps you can take to improve it,” adds Schroeder. Here are more tips for coping with anxiety.
Turn off notifications
Sure there are apps that can help you relax, like the Calm meditation app, or LeaveNow. But there are thousands of apps that come with a constant stream of notifications. All those pings are especially troublesome for people who have a heightened sensitivity to noise—you might not realize the notifications are making your existing symptoms worse. “I suggest people take the Marie Kondo approach to their apps and clean house and cut out those that don’t bring them joy. Then cut out notifications as much as is possible,” advises Schroeder.
We spend a lot of time on social media. Roughly a third of the people on social media spend more than 15 hours a week using the various sites, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Gazing at the highlight reels of other people’s lives is a great way to make yours look miserable by comparison—and that can be a gateway to stress and anxiety. Schroeder advises taking regular breaks from social media while reminding yourself that people only tend to post their best life. Try more natural remedies for anxiety relief.
The wrong wall color
“Colors often are activating for people in a variety of ways,” says Scott Allen, PhD, a psychologist at the Just Mind counseling center. “In our waiting room at Just Mind, we actually removed items that were red because they triggered several clients,” he says. “Pay attention to how different colors make you feel and read more about the science-backed secrets to creating a stress-free home.
The hum of fluorescent lights, a refrigerator motor winding up, a doorbell, or even a dog barking next door can prompt anxiety—though you might not be aware of it. “Notice those things that bother you and work to cut them down or out. Fluorescent lights can be turned off and replaced with softer—or brighter—lights, whichever reduces your anxiety. If the doorbell gives you goosebumps or uneasiness, says Schroeder, he recommends Ring Doorbell (a home security product). “You can use it without a chime—your phone alerts you when someone’s at the door.”
The scale in the bathroom
Few people look forward to getting on the scale but for some, it can be a tremendous source of shame, says Schroeder. The numbers on the scale may dictate your day in a negative way without you being cognizant of it. “I often suggest that clients get rid of their scales; the most important thing is how they feel and how their clothes feel when they wear them.” Repeat these calming phrases to yourself when you have anxiety.
Scent can rouse a strong emotional reaction. Sometimes they are calming or pleasant; other times, they’re jarring. According to a 2018 study, people with anxiety have a better sense of smell when it comes to detecting a hazardous threat. Allen recalls a client who could smell burnt popcorn three days after it was made. That correlates with research findings indicating that, during a state of anxiety, there is a stronger connection between the emotional and sensory parts of the brain in response to negative odors.
With everyone working from home these days, separating your home life from work is tremendously important, says Allen. “When we see items that remind of us work, it can be an instant trigger for work thoughts and anxiety,” he says. His solution—find a way to create a meaningful separation of the two. “Simple things like closing the door to your home office when the workday is done or having a different user account on your laptop for personal and work time. Or remove your work email app from your phone. This at least can help to create a boundary in your mind,” says Allen. Consider using ScreenTime and Sleep options on the Apple phone or the Zift app for Android to set scheduled downtimes. Here are 10 more ways to take the stress out of your workday.
A messy room
“Decluttering can also be beneficial—clutter reminds us of how busy we are,” says Allen. This can be a double whammy because while the clutter makes you anxious, so can the thought of getting rid of things. “To make a room more calming, you might need the help of a friend. Friends can help with something that may be very challenging for you because the objects won’t hold the same sentimental value.” They can bring objectivity to the process, he says.
It’s hard to believe, but pets can be a sneaky trigger for anxiety. “If you have a cat that decides it likes to walk on your face or a dog that snores when he sleeps, you might think about sleeping alone in your bedroom and giving your pet a designated spot to sleep in.” Future pet parents take note—choose an animal that fits your lifestyle. “If walks or runs help regulate anxiety, then consider getting a more active dog. If being introverted is the best way to handle anxiety then a less active dog or cat would be a better fit,” Allen says. Now, make sure you know the difference between anxiety and depression.
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Not everyone recognizes their triggers. “The things that make us anxious are different for each person,” says therapist William Schroeder, MFT, co-director of Just Mind, a counseling service. “Some people may not even notice since these things get woven into day-to-day life.” You might pick up on subtle things like the urge to eat or drink more or zone out. Or the trigger could produce a mild panic attack—a tightening of the stomach or back muscles, say, or your heart rate speeding up. For example, here are some silent signs of high functioning anxiety.
Lennox calls this scenario "stress dream 101." He said this dream is an "expression of generalized fear and anxiety" — though the specific object of fear will vary from person to person.
"I would say that the person who's having the dream probably has a greater generalized fear response to life than someone who doesn't have that dream," Lennox added. "Although it doesn't make the person pathologically challenged."
Bulkeley said he would ask the dreamer in this situation if anything in their life feels inescapable. Maybe the person is feeling weak or vulnerable in a conflict. Dreams often use "dramatic metaphors" for emotions that are hard to verbalize, he said.
Lennox said dreaming about being naked is a "perfect symbolic expression" of feeling like a fraud at work (also known as impostor syndrome).
Many people privately experience the fear that other people will find out that they don't really know what they're doing. Being naked at work could mean, Lennox says, that "I will be seen for who I really am. And that will be terrifying."
Being unprepared for an exam
People commonly dream of being unprepared for a test in high school or college – even if they graduated years ago. And Lennox said it’s often triggered by performance anxiety at work.
High school and college "are the first places where we learn about responsibility and accountability. [The dream] will often recur when we’re faced with the same sense of pressure in our current waking life."
Being unable to graduate college
Dreams about being unable to graduate translate to fears about not being ready to advance, particularly at work.
Lennox said, "The dream would be processing fears that someone else is ready and we're not, that we're going to be somehow passed over."
Watching your teeth fall out
"Losing teeth is akin to insecurity," Lennox said.
Teeth have a few functions — they allow us to eat, but they also let us smile or snarl at other people. To lose your teeth "would be to not be able to feed and take care of yourself, feel loved, and be protected," Lennox said.
Another potential meaning? Because teeth are in the mouth, Lennox said this dream might come up when "being authentic, speaking up, or having a voice" feel challenging.
This dream often occurs, Bulkeley said, around times of great uncertainty, when you "feel like you don't have adequate support or backing." Maybe something or someone in your life that was once your rock is now less stable.
In terms of work anxieties, Lennox said a dream of falling could reflect a lack of authority in the workplace.
"If you're dreaming of falling, look to the places in your work life where you feel like you're trying to exert some control that's unattainable."
Seeing your loved ones die
"Death is a great symbol of change," Lennox said.
When someone dies in your dream, it might indicate that something about your relationship with that person is changing or growing. That change isn't necessarily negative, but a recurring dream about death might suggest that something about the transformation is scary.
Forgetting to pack something
Lennox said this dream is fundamentally about feeling unprepared. "When we're unprepared, then we can't navigate a stressful situation effectively."
The dream might also represent a feeling of being out of control.
Interestingly, Lennox said dream scenarios are typically much higher-stakes than anything that happens in real life. For example, showing up to a business meeting and realizing you forgot to pack your laptop is arguably worse than feeling generally overwhelmed by the day-to-day demands in your life.
Missing a flight
When you miss a flight in your dream, you're probably playing out a fear of missing a deadline in real life.
"In the world of working, there's nothing like a deadline as a supreme stressor," Lennox said.
Again, Lennox said everything is a crisis in dream world. Turning in a project report an hour late probably doesn't have the same consequences as missing an international flight by an hour.
Forgetting to take care of a baby or pet
Babies in a dream are symbolic of new possibilities, Lennox said. If you dream about neglecting a baby, you might really be worried about that blog post you've been meaning to write or that hobby you've been hoping to start. Essentially, you're neglecting something in your life that needs your attention.
Pets, on the other hand, reflect joy and love. Lennox said someone who dreams about abandoning a pet might be "too stressed to do fun and lovely things for themselves" and might be feeling like "I'm missing out on cultivating and nurturing something that life has to offer."
Bulkeley said cars and driving in dreams can have many meanings, but they often reflect our connections to other people.
If you're dreaming of speeding, for example, you might feel out of control in a personal relationship. On the other hand, if you're dreaming of being stuck in traffic, you might be feeling "adrift" in relationships, or life in general.