What is a trigger?
Triggers are emotional stimuli that can set off intense reactions, affecting your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. These can range from past traumas to everyday stressors and may lead to feelings of anxiety, anger, or sadness. Identifying and managing these triggers is essential for maintaining a healthy mind. According to Very Well Mind: “Feeling triggered isn't just about something rubbing you the wrong way. For someone with a history of trauma, being around anything that reminds them of a traumatic experience can make them feel like they're experiencing the trauma all over again.”
According to The University of North Carolina, there are 4 main types of triggers:
- External triggers - being affected by something in your environment, like a loud sound or strong smell.
- Internal triggers - a strong feeling based on a past experience, for example, going to class if you once had a teacher who belittled you
- Trauma triggers - something relating to a traumatic event, like hearing fireworks going off if you’ve been exposed to warfare
- Symptom triggers - something physical that can trigger a larger issue, such as not eating enough or getting too little sleep
How to know when you are being triggered?
Triggers can elicit intense emotional reactions, such as anger, sadness, or fear. Understanding your emotional triggers can help you manage your responses more effectively. Triggers can also lead to particular behaviors, which may be impulsive or habitual. For example, someone may reach for comfort food when feeling stressed, triggered by the stressor. Triggers often bring back memories associated with a particular event or experience. These can be helpful or detrimental, depending on the nature of the memory.
Being triggered may look or feel like:
- Big reactions to seemingly “small” occurrences
- Heavy (or shallow) breathing
- Muscle tension
- A pit in your stomach
- Sudden feelings of panic or sadness
- Feeling abandoned or helpless
How to cope with triggers?
Triggers are a natural part of the human experience, but with the right tools, you can learn to tame them and maintain your emotional well-being. While in the moment, feeling triggered can feel like a shock to your system. It isn’t uncommon for our fight, flight, fawn, or freeze instincts to kick in. Try to keep in mind that these moments will pass, and there are many tools available to you may you need them.
Recognizing that you are being affected by a day-to-day activity or there is a common thread between the things that trigger you, can help you make an action plan. Here are some coping mechanisms you can try out the next time you are triggered. Keep in mind different mechanisms work for different situations/triggers and it is important to find the one that works best for you.
1.Communicate when someone is triggering you.
If it feels safe to do so, share your feelings with the person who is triggering you. He or she may not be aware that their words or actions are negatively affecting you.
2. Breathwork/deep breathing exercises.
Breathwork consists of different types of breathing techniques and has been linked to a reduction in stress, bringing awareness back into the present moment, and calming the nervous system.
3.Going for a quiet walk.
Studies have shown that even ten minutes of brisk walking can increase your mood. Moving our bodies helps with lowering stress and anxiety levels, boosts self-esteem, and can help improve the quality of life for those struggling with mental illness.
Pouring out your thoughts onto paper can help release feelings of anxiety and process difficult thoughts. If you don’t know what to write about, find a guided journal that resonates with you. Inside Then Out has a variety of options that cater to different preferences and goals.
5. Practicing self-acceptance.
Be gentle with yourself as you experience triggers. The best way to move through a difficult emotion is to practice patience and kindness towards yourself.
6. Seek out the right kind of therapy for you.
We hope this overview of triggers reminds you that you are not alone and relief is possible. By understanding our triggers and learning to manage them effectively, we can improve our emotional well-being, personal relationships, and overall quality of life. In doing so, you can regain control over your responses and lead a more balanced and fulfilling life.
Keep an eye out for our next post where we will cover glimmers, a cue that brings a sense of joy or safety.