Identifying Anxiety Triggers


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By Kat Harris. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Thank you Newsstand Studio at 1 Rockefeller Plaza for providing a place for me to record this episode for y’all! No more Brooklyn closet recording!!!

What triggers our anxiety?

How can we identify our triggers outside of the moment?

How can we change our relationship with anxiety?

As you know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month and we’re getting serious about mental health over here on The Refined Collective Podcast. Last week, I spoke with Trauma Therapist Kobe Campbell all about therapy (tune in here if you missed it). This week, I wanted to talk all about how to identify stress and anxiety triggers outside of the moment.

My Anxiety Story

  • I was experiencing heart palpitations at night but thought I was just sleeping on the wrong side.
  • I prided myself on working 16 hour days, going out and being able to party, skip meals, and get up before the others to get ahead. It was intoxicating— I had friends who lived this way and encouraged a lifestyle of ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’
  • The problem: I was being rewarded for my behavior—my business was growing, I was a jetsetter, business owner—I got a ton of opportunities in my career because I was a ‘yes’ person.
  • Then, like an alcoholic moving to a bar—I moved to NYC. I’ve said for a long time, NYC is like being in the right place at the right time all the time if you’re open to it.

Manifested in the Physical

  • I had an unknown rash all over my body— I joked that it was my body being allergic to NYC.
  • One day I was shooting a wedding and almost fainted during family portraits. I stumbled and laughed it off but it was really scary. Then, at the reception bathroom floor—as soon as I left it left + it left. Chalked it up to dehydration— it was just a fluke.
  • The next weekend, I went to the hamptons for another shoot and the same thing happened.
  • The next week, it happened again. This time at church: a place I feel so safe.
  • Within a month I was a wreck: Terrified of leaving my house. Going to church felt anxiety-inducing. Shooting weddings felt like life or death. Being on the subways was the worst. Was this my new normal? I must be really losing it. I couldn’t live this way.

Why Me?

  • Here are the patterns I noticed every time I had a huge panic attack:
    • Lack of sleep
      • I was fueled by fear in my career: if I’m not working, I’m not getting paid — if I don’t get paid, I can’t pay rent, buy food, take care of myself. One of the most anxiety inducing scenarios is when our core needs are in threat of not being met:
        • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: 5-tiered model pyramid approach to human needs. It goes from bottom to top. You can’t go to the next level without the previous level being supported. Basic needs are food, water, shelter, rest. Then above that is safety and security. Above that is belonging and love. Above that is esteem and accomplishment. At the very top is self-actualization.
    • Lack of food + water (big stretches of time without snack / meal
    • Alcohol the day before
    • Lots of caffeine
    • Overheated
  • It was like I had been driving with my gas tank on E for 50 miles at 100 miles an hour and then hit a pothole and my engine exploded.
  • So when I got into a stressful situation like public speaking, shooting a wedding, being on a crowded subway... I was at a resting state of level 9 anxiety. The tiniest thing was setting me off.

How could I set myself up for success outside of a stressful or triggering situation so that I could be at a resting rate of 1-3?

Back to the Basics

  • This is the bottom line. Life, work, relationships CANNOT happen if these aren’t happening first.
    • Sleep 7-8 hours
    • Eat 3x day
    • Have snacks with me at all times
    • Meditate daily + prayer— even if it’s brief
    • Workout— even if (maybe especially if) you don’t feel like it
  • Then I took it a step further
    • Cut out alcohol
      • I gave up alcohol for 6 months + 3/4 of the way through that my dad relapsed into drug abuse. This was one of the most traumatizing experiences of my life and yet I didn’t have one panic attack— it’s like God knew and wanted to help set my body up for success.
    • Cut out caffeine
      • I used to have one big cup in the morning. I tried to quit cold turkey, but it wasn’t working.
      • Research coffee withdrawal symptoms
      • Wanted it to be sustainable, so here’s what I did:
        • Week one // no caffeine past noon
        • Week 2 // half a cup of coffee
        • Week 3 // alternated caffeine/decaf every other day
        • Week 4 // all decaf
      • Recently I was recording a podcast and I was feeling a little light headed and I was like what is going on? I had caffeine! Now that I’ve removed it, I can tell when it’s impacting me.

Taking My Thoughts Captive

  • “There were many terrible things in my life and most of them never happened.” Michel de Montaigne / French Philosopher

  • Public speaking— I once froze on stage + it was scary
    • I was afraid of throwing up + having a seizure, fainting — which has never happened to me before on stage.
    • I’ve always felt comfortable on stage. But then after I froze; it was all I could think about.
    • Constantly strategizing about how I could make an exit: where were the physical exits, excuses I could make if I needed to leave—I’d just want to get out of there to the nearest restroom to lock myself in until I was better.
    • Underneath the strategizing was fear:
      • I can be safe for other people (duh im on stage).
      • But if I have need, no one is safe.
      • I can’t be seen as imperfect or I won’t be loved.
      • Humiliation, death.
  • THE RUNAWAY TRAIN of my thoughts + obsessing over potential worst case scenarios was taking over my life. What happened is I became more afraid of what could happen than anything that had actually happened.

Excerpt from Sexless in the City:

Paul, one of the great teachers of the New Testament, charged the church of Corinth to be ever so aware of their thought life. Paul doesn’t say they should take their thoughts captive; he says they are a people who take their thoughts captive1. The assumption is that they are already a people who understand the power of their thoughts, and regularly examine the source and root of them.

He encourages them to keep that up. In Romans, Paul says to allow ourselves to be transformed with renewed minds.2 Later, to the church in Philippi, he says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”3 In other words, Paul knew something powerful: our mindsets determine our reality.

We become what we think about. What are you spending your time thinking about?

I don’t think we all wake up in the morning as masochists. These limiting beliefs feel true because we’ve often had real experiences that act as proof. Our circumstances are real; it’s not like they don’t happen. Our past impacts our present and can prevent us from our future if we let it. That’s why the invitation of faith is so profound. Faith invites us to have the courage to walk into a reality outside the here and now of our emotions and circumstances. It’s a more ultimate reality. Faith beckons us to lean into the possibility of the unseen and whispers, “Just because you know a story by heart doesn’t mean it’s true.”5 Narratives are always on the hunt for new evidence. So if we’re going to look for it anyway, we might as well look for evidence of God’s goodness and what’s possible. To do that, we first have to identify the limiting beliefs we’re holding on to, release them, flip the script, and start looking for new evidence.

Put in the Work

  • You can’t really do this in the moment.
  2. Thank your body: it’s trying to save your life
  • What am I really afraid of happening here?
  • What’s the fear underneath the fear?
  • Even if the fear happens will I be ok?
    • What do I need to hear right now?
  • I am safe.
  • I have everything I need
  • Even if the worst case scenario happens, I am safe.
  • I can reach out and ask for support.
  • I am not alone.
  • I am accepted.
  • I am loved.

Renewing our minds is an actual thing in science + scripture. Brains are pattern makers — we have to interrupt the pattern + look for evidence of a new way to make new neural pathways. Knowing what triggers fear/anxiety/depression/etc. outside of the situation will help give you tools to move through the moment.

LIFE ISN’T ABOUT LIVING FEAR FREE; It’s about changing our relationship to fear. Fear ignites because our minds and bodies think our lives are in danger. Isn’t that incredible? Acknowledge the fear, ‘thank you for coming for a visit + now…you don’t get to be in the driver’s seat today.’

Reflection Questions

  • What triggers your anxiety?
  • What things in your life calm, bring peace, and stabilize you?
  • How can you get back to the basics? What is out of alignment and how can you prioritize it?
  • How can you love yourself well this week? (Fill your car up with gas before it’s on E + you’re stressed, meal prep, schedule rest.


Stay tuned for next week’s episode, where I’ll break down how to stabilize the moment once you’ve become activated in your anxiety.

It is finally HERE! My book, Sexless in the City: A Sometimes Sassy, Sometimes Painful, Always Honest Look at Dating, Desire, and Sex is officially available online and in bookstores! If your copy arrives, make sure you post on social media and tag me! It makes my day to see it in your hands and I can’t wait for you to dive in.

Are you in the TRC Patreon community? Last week, Patreon got access to another conversation I had with Kobe Campbell and this week is Part II! We chat about why mental health is having a moment, how to tell if you’re stuck in trauma, and her thoughts on text therapy. Sign up HERE!

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