Phone calls and grocery shopping: What are some of your weird anxiety attack triggers?

I recently decided to change my tragus ear piercing for the first time. I spent more than an hour standing in the bathroom, staring at my ear in the mirror, unsuccessfully trying to screw in the stud.

I know, riveting stuff. You're probably thinking, "Okay, why do I care? What does this have to do with mental health?" Well, because this story ends with a pretty intense panic attack.

I gave up after two of the diamonds fell down the bathroom sink (they weren't real diamonds; if they were, my panic attack would have been more justified). I should have given up an hour before. But no, I was stubborn. I got this idea in my head, "I want to change my piercing. I want to change it now," and all of the sudden, I was obsessed with accomplishing this insubstantial task.

Within the hour time frame, I turned into an anxious mess. I was sweating and shaking and screaming at my reflection and punching the counter and having this cycle of degrading thoughts — "You're such an idiot. You can't do anything right. You're wasting your life away, and you're a waste of space. You should just crawl in a hole and die."

Yup. I know. All of this over an earring.

But that's how most of my panic attacks start — over some seemingly simple, everyday things. Some of my most common and most strange triggers include: Having to make a phone call, chipping my nail polish and going shopping.

Phone Anxiety

I wait until the last minute to make doctor's appointments — not because I'm afraid of the doctor but because I hate calling the doctor's office. Sometimes I ignore phone calls, not because I'm busy, but because I'm feeling anxious (FYI Mom, I never do this to you!) Sometimes, after missing a call, it takes me a while to call back because the stupid missed call caused me to have a mini-panic attack. And, sometimes, instead of returning a call, I send a text message instead.

But phone anxiety is actually pretty common, especially among my generation. In a Bank My Cell survey of 1,200 millennials, many of the respondents said they hate talking on the phone, are likely to decline calls they receive and would rather communicate via text message, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat.

According to the survey report, "This particular phenomenon has a name (telephonophobia) and it’s essentially defined by a mental anxiety of interacting with others on the phone. ... When you break this down you can see why people opt to hide behind emails and messaging. 'Am I going to come across bad or say something wrong?'"

In fact, when asked, "Do you sometimes feel you have to summon up the courage to make a phone call," 81 percent of the survey participants answered, "Yes."

The report states, "Calls are presumptuous, time-consuming and often disruptive, however generation Y and Z should also take the time to appreciate the mental benefits of developing these core communication skills when necessary. ... (Avoiding phone calls) can lead to eroding the basic communication skills we need as humans, which can also lead to mental health issues later in life."


I know that shopping is one of those stereotypical things that people think all women enjoy. But oh
god, I hate shopping.

For people with anxiety, shopping can go one of two ways. For some, retail therapy helps them cope. For others, like me, it has the opposite effect. 

Amazon has been a godsend for me. But, still, I have to go to the grocery store. And for me, that's the worst of all. I hate trying to find things. I hate having to choose what to buy. I hate how crowded it is. And I hate the lines.

Many times, when I'm at the store, my anxiety manifests with my vision going blurry, my brain getting fuzzy and my hands sweating. It's a regular occurrence for me to walk down the same aisle three or four times, trying to find the f'ing ranch dressing, and miss it right in front of my face because my anxiety is so all consuming.

Dr. Paul Saks and Dr. Mitchell Saskin, clinical psychologists at Columbia University, shared some advice with the millennial media publication the Revelist. Some things they suggested for people battling shopping anxiety — make a list before you go shopping, shop with a friend, shop in a smaller environment and don't be afraid to ask for help.


When I start fixating on things, you can be almost positive a panic attack will follow. Like with the stupid earring. Or with chipped nail polish, where I obsessively pick at it. Ugh. Even just writing about it makes my anxiety flare up!

According to Women's Health Magazine, fixation is actually one of the main indicators that you have anxiety disorder instead of just experiencing normal day-to-day worries.

"(It) begins with a thought or feeling that you become fixated upon, leading you down a rabbit hole of anxiety, sometimes coupled with legit physical symptoms, like a racing heart and profuse sweating," writes mental health advocate Caroline Shannon-Karasik.

Whelp, I am definitely a textbook case of that.

So, when you start spiraling into this rumination, how can you stop it?

Seth Meyers Psy.D. told Psychology Today that, first, you need to recognize and identify, in that moment, that you are fixating. Then, start asking yourself tangible questions, like "What temperature is it right now?" "What does the sky look like outside?" "What sounds do you hear" and "Are you hungry? If you could eat anything, what would it be?"

"Very quickly, I’m sure, you got the idea. The value of this exercise is to distract your mind from any upsetting thoughts and feelings you are stuck in and to redirect your thinking to specific questions by using your senses," wrote Meyers.

What are some of your triggers?

Let me know — for those who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, what are some of your triggers? Sometimes, the most comforting thing to know is that, the things you may consider "strange" about yourself, the things that make you feel most alone, that it's not true. You're not alone, and others understand what you're going through.

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  1. Monica, have you written this somewhere else before? I swear I read this already but it popped up in my newsfeed as 19 minutes ago.