Everyone has different anxiety triggers, because the context of your personal experience determines what will conjure panicked feelings for you. But there are some common phrases that can trigger anxiety, and you've probably heard them (and said them) many times in your life.
So how can there be common triggers if everyone has anxiety based on their individual experiences? As Heather Senior Monroe, Director of Program Development at Newport Academy, tells Romper via email, "certain phrases have become stereotyped code for something else," so hearing specific phrases in negative settings over and over again leads you to believe the words can have only a negative meaning. This assumption comes because "we associate it with something negative that happened to us in the past." She points out that humans have a "negativity bias," which, Psychology Today explained, is the scientific explanation for why so many people focus on negative events more than positive ones. So even if someone doesn't intend for a phrase to cause stress, past experiences with certain phrases can lead to anxiety, as our brains are literally hardwired to assume the worst.
The good news is that being aware of what these common trigger phrases are can help you check yourself from panicking as soon as you hear them. Likewise, retiring them from your everyday vocabulary may keep you from accidentally stressing others out when you don't intend to.
"We Need To Talk"
This saying is arguably one of the most ominous phrases in the English language, thanks to its presence in many breakup scenes in popular movies and TV shows. Its wide use in media leads people to believe the words "indicate that something is coming that we don’t want to hear, such as criticism, a breakup, or other bad news," explains Monroe. If someone does say it to you, you don't necessarily have to expect the worst since your life isn't a movie. And maybe try to avoid saying it to someone unless you do have bad news.
"Let's Meet One On One"
This sentence is basically the professional equivalent of "we need to talk." A one-on-one meeting with your supervisor is anxiety inducing because of the possibility of layoffs, or any sort of potentially negative feedback, but your boss asking to meet individually isn't necessarily a bad thing. You can reduce the anxiety surrounding this phrase by setting up regular check-ins with your boss, so the idea of sitting down with them isn't so intimidating.
"I've Had It With This"
This phrase, and variations of it like "I'm done," which are often said in moments of anger, "can trigger anxiety about being left or abandoned," according to Monroe. Attachment disorders, in which an individual fears they will be abandoned by the people they love most, are common. Better Help reported that 50 percent of the American adult population suffers from an Adult Attachment Disorder. So hearing a statement that alludes to someone leaving would make most people nervous. Try not to lash out at the ones you love with this kind of statement when you're mad, as you might not realize the stress you're causing them.
"You're So Weird"
Those who struggle with anxiety are prone to worrying what others think of their behavior, so calling an anxious person weird can definitely trigger them. Katie Bennet, a certified coach and co-founder at Ama La Vida, told Bustle, "Even if [someone's] behaviors may be seem strange to you, it is important not to make them feel that they are weird or crazy."
"Let's Talk About It Later"
One of the most common patterns of anxiety is imagining the worst case scenario, and these negative fantasies grow more powerful when you're missing information. Someone telling you they want to talk about something at a later time can spark massive panic as you imagine the reason they want to talk, and "it’s easy to expand the significance of this type of comment rather than assuming that the other person simply doesn’t have the time to focus on the issue right then," explains Monroe. So when you hear this phrase, try to remind yourself the person who said it most likely just wants to chat when they have more time, not because the news is catastrophic.
"Are You Okay?"
It might seem strange that this question can be anxiety inducing, but experts have found that pointing out someone's distress won't help them relax. As Monroe explains, "Even if this is meant as an expression of concern, the message it gives is that the person is visibly not okay, which can ramp up their anxiety even more." UW Medicine recommended instead saying "let's go to a quieter place to walk or talk" if you notice someone is anxious, because it will help them feel more grounded in reality and less alone.
"Stop Overthinking This"
At the same time, Monroe points out that "giving directives or advice is not usually helpful for people with anxiety," as they cannot control their emotions and the assumption that they could just change their feelings in an instant will only make them more nervous. This kind of comment can make someone who is experiencing anxiety feel invalidated, compounding the problem.
"Is This Done Yet?"
Missing a deadline often leads to a feeling of panic, and being called out for it makes it even worse. A direct question like this from a boss can cause anxiety, but it's important to remember everyone gets behind on work sometimes. Keeping in contact with a supervisor about your progress on a regular basis can also alleviate this stress.
"Your Test Results Came Back"
This phrase can cause anxiety levels to peak because of people's conditioned responses to going to the doctor. As Dr. Marc Romano, a psychologist, nurse practitioner and assistant medical director at Delphi Behavioral Health, explained to NBC News, "Individuals typically only go to their doctor when they are sick. Therefore, the anxiety people have when they go to the doctor becomes a conditioned response" that increases every time you visit and find out you are in fact sick. (Which you already knew.) Here's what can help: making regular appointments with your primary caregiver when you're not sick so that you're familiar with getting good news from a doctor, and reminding yourself not to get worked up before they tell you the actual results of the test.
"I'll Just Do It Myself"
You've probably heard someone say this phrase at work, or a partner may have said it to you in a moment of frustration. "It gives the message that the person is impatient and/or unhappy with the quality of your work even if the truth is simply that they want to cross a task off their list and clock out for the day," says Monroe. Replacing the phrase with "let me help you," or simply adding, "I appreciate your help" before the phrase can help soften the impact.
"Hey" Or Anything Else From An Ex
Getting used to the loss of someone important in your life takes strength, and finding a new normal without them is imperative. So hearing from an ex in any capacity just as you're getting used to life without is bound to induce anxiety, especially if you haven't talked to them since things ended. Remember that you can set whatever boundaries are right for you with a former significant other, and that your mental and emotional health should come before their desire to "catch up."
Anxiety triggers will vary from person to person, but becoming aware of common ones can help you be more sensitive as the person saying them, and less sensitive if you're on the receiving end. And remember, context is key.