"When you heal what triggers you, it no longer controls you."
There are plenty of situations that bring up overwhelming feelings or intrusive thoughts that cause discomfort. Whether it be having a conversation that strikes up a bad past memory or an Instagram post that causes you to feel down on yourself, these things happen. Being triggered is the feeling many of us have when encountering these situations. A trigger is basically an immediate emotional reaction. The world obviously won’t stop for our feelings and needs. In order to enjoy life in our society, we have to find a way to cope. Although difficult, it is possible with determination and support.
In order to overcome triggers we first have to learn to identify them. Getting triggered can feel so differently for different people, so its not as simple as identifying happiness or sadness. If you’re triggered, you might notice that you overreact to small things. You might be scrolling through your friend’s Snapchat story and you’ll come across a picture of them hanging out without you. That normally might not bother you, but since you’re triggered you might feel extra sensitive to it. The small things might make you feel strong emotions or be bothered by the little things. Another example of feeling like you’re overreacting or extra irritable is feeling sensory sensitivity. Feeling easily overstimulated or bothered by noises or body sensations is a SUPER common reaction to being triggered. Feeling overstimulated sadly causes anxiety to increase even more, which causes the cycle to be even harder to escape from. Anxiety triggers can be chronic, which means they reappear often. If you’re triggered, you might notice a sudden change in your mood after the certain thought or thoughts set in. People tend to become more obsessive on that certain bothersome event or topic and it’s hard to stop thinking about it. Certain things can trigger bad memories too. You might feel like you’re re-experiencing a past trauma. Almost all of us have bad memories, and seeing a certain place or hearing a certain phrase that brings us back to the memory can leave us feeling pretty shaken. Either way, feeling triggered is NOT a pleasant feeling to have, but it’s possible to move past the triggers quicker to feel better in the long run.
A lot of us tend to avoid uncomfortable thoughts or feelings, which is natural. Triggers are going to come up and can’t always be avoided. It’s possible to cope using avoidance, but as a result, our lives will become very small. Thought challenging is a more productive way of diminishing the thoughts though. Let’s say your family went to a park where you and a friend had a huge argument. Walking through the park may bring back some past memories. You may have been sitting at that bench when she told you that you can’t be friends anymore or by that tree when you cried afterwards. It might feel like you’re repeating this past experience as you walk through that same park now. The thoughts will tell you that you aren’t safe or it’s going to happen again, but instead of trying NOT to acknowledge the thoughts, try pinpointing and challenging them. I’ve learned from my personal experience that in order to grow and move past triggers and traumatic events, you need to face the fears and make new memories. Since I live in such a small town, I’ve had my most miserable experiences on every street corner. The town became such an awful memory for me that all I did for a whole winter was stay inside my home and hide. Facing the music is so hard to do, but you don’t deserve to live in fear of the past. With the help of my loved ones, I got back out into the world and made new and fun memories to replace the old and scary ones. I found a way to change up some things from my old life to a new and improved life that suited me better. It’s possible to replace the thoughts and feelings around places and things, just create new ones. Ask yourself if the evidence can support that the past memory can hurt you now. It probably can’t. The past is the past and it can’t hurt you. Sometimes in the face of a trigger, repeating mantras can quiet the mind from any unwanted thoughts. You simply can’t think two opposing thoughts at the same time.
Anger is another common coping mechanism for triggers. The problem with using anger is that it causes more issues in relationships. An anger trigger is a type of emotional trigger where the angry reaction occurs due to the trigger. People who experience getting anger triggers tend to lash out at others or themselves. Getting this type of emotional trigger under control is extremely crucial to avoid getting in trouble throughout your life. People say triggering things, but acting outrageously to these words is what leads to broken relationships. If someone were to remark about your body after you’ve struggled with disordered eating or any kind of body image issues, you sure as heck might be triggered. You have a choice; to respond with anger and immediately regret lashing out or to take a moment to choose your reaction, one that won’t fill you with regret or guilt. Guilt will only make you feel worse after getting triggered and dig you into a deeper hole of emotions. You may be annoyed with people, so try your hardest to put yourself in their shoes. They had these ideas put in their heads just like you and many people in our society probably had and they might not even know what you’re going through. They might not know any better, so you need to teach them better in a calm and assertive way. Try to decide if they could possibly know that you’d be triggered or if it was an honest accident. Either way, don’t be afraid to respectfully speak your mind. Avoid anger and just spit facts. The facts are that you’re triggered and it might not have been the best thing for them to say in general. They have to respect you for being open and honest with your feelings like that. If you allow yourself to get triggered over and over again, it’s very likely that you’ll eventually break and have some sort of meltdown, whether it be a breakdown or a relapse. Fear is obviously one of the first emotions to come up which leads to our anger and outbursts. We don’t get angry and lash out because we feel like being rude or hurtful, we do it because we’re so afraid or anxious ourselves that we just depend on an automatic response to stressors. Be gentle with yourself, even when you do handle a trigger inappropriately. When we’re afraid, our brains go into a survival response which is called fight or flight mode. Fight or flight mode is an automatic reaction to a triggering or stressful event. We either fight and lash out in an aggressive way or we take flight and hide from the situation. Trying to control how we handle these and when one is appropriate for a situation can help us cope with triggers too.
Emotions. One of the most difficult things to express and cope with. Emotions are directly linked to how we react to certain situations, therefore linked to triggers. Your reaction to getting triggered can really make or break your own emotional health and relationships. If you react outrageously every time you get triggered, it’ll just start taking a heavier and heavier toll on your own self esteem and how you handle things. Emotions are like building muscle. They develop in healthy ways if used appropriately. If you choose to hide emotions and not speak to anyone about them, the emotion builds and builds until a huge eruption occurs. If we hide our feelings and choose not to feel them, our ability to cope with feelings may become stunted. After not having the practice to cope, we’ll likely use unhealthy ways of feeling better like lashing out, relapsing into old behaviors, or going into extreme depressive episodes. It’s hard enough to identify being triggered and the feelings that go along with it for many of us, but to talk about them too? It sounds impossible, I know. You can’t even expect yourself to do it every time, I know I don’t. It’s easy to identify your triggers and the emotions linked to them if you really start paying attention. It might be a painful process, but it’s worth it in the long run. Start to notice the types of things that really bother you that leave you with a painful feeling and identify that feeling. When I hear the song “Lovely” by Billie Eilish, I feel triggered. The feeling makes me feel extremely sad and anxious because of my experience while listening to that song. I might ask people to turn it off or express that it makes me feel sad. If I let the people around me know how I feel, maybe they’ll even help me through it. Sometimes the song can’t be turned off. If I were to hear it in a store, I’d need to let a loved one know how I feel and ask for support to ensure that I don’t have some sort of outburst. If I’m alone, I might just walk out. I might talk to someone around me to distract myself. You really have to learn to put yourself and your own well-being before anything else and cope unapologetic ally. Learning to be patient with yourself and understand when you need to walk away from certain situations can really make it easier on yourself when feelings come up. I like to have back up plans for my most severe emotional triggers. It could be a safe nearby place or calling a family member when getting overly anxious. It’s helpful to have mindfulness tools that you can do in your head when in public too. I actually just took a road trip to New York City with my family which was a huge trigger. There were different kinds of triggers throughout the whole trip, but I was successfully able to overcome each and every one of them. Our last trips have been extremely painful and anxiety provoking, so we weren’t so sure about going. When we got there, all I wanted to do was run back to unhealthy behaviors to cope with my anxiety because that’s what I had done for the past trips. I was feeling a sense of trauma and so was my family. It’s common for close families to have very similar experiences and triggers when going through a tough time together like we did. This time I handled everything very differently though. I got on the road with a mindset of only having fun, and that changed the outcome of the trip drastically. When we arrived, my parents and I discussed a plan for when we get triggered and how we can support each other through the triggers. For a lot of us it’s hard to talk about emotional triggers with family. We might not be the closest with them, but like I said up above, it’ll only help you release those emotions in the long run. It’s definitely tough to share the same triggers with loved ones, so often you really have to use your own coping skills and ignore everything else that’s going on around you. Even though the trauma of past trips triggered anxiety, I caught myself and took it moment by moment. Instead of isolating because we were going to be out in a huge city with a lot of people all day, I chose to use other ways to cope with my anxiety of being around so many people. I took things for me to do, like music or a book. When I got really nervous, I talked to my parents. I brought the foods that I needed to eat while my parents went out to eat, because I knew that’s what would work for me and cause me the least anxiety. Ordering and eating in front of people are two major triggers that I haven’t quite worked up to facing, so I took it safe for my own well-being. And my parents? Supportive. You aren’t disappointing anyone by doing what you need to do for yourself. I was successfully able to cope with anxiety using my own tools and staying in my comfort zone, so I had a lot of fun at the end of the day and you can too!
Yes, triggers will come up. But yes, you are able to overcome them. It’s hard in the moment, but it’s also very possible to do so. I hope this post gives you some helpful skills for overcoming triggers, or at the very least made you feel related to. If you did find it helpful, leave a like and subscribe to the site for reminders when new posts are up and other benefits! Feel free to reach out to me via the site's email because I’m happy to help and support or answer any questions you may have.
I hope you had a WONDERFUL and self discovery filled summer and be sure to be on the lookout for my next post!
By: Arden Nickerson