What are Triggers
Triggers are emotional, psychological or physical reactions to internal or external events. These reactions can be more intense than our typical daily reactions to life events and can include heart palpitations, sweating, chills, racing thoughts, anxiety, strong emotions and other unpleasant reactions. If these are not managed properly triggers can lead to chronic or worsening symptoms and reactions making life increasingly difficult.
Types of Triggers
There are many types of triggers that can vary from person to person depending on their own personal experiences, patterns and history. Internal triggers are those that come from within us such as a strong emotion, a physical sensation such as heart palpitations, muscle tension, sweating, chills or anxiety. These internal sensations may remind you of a disturbing or unpleasant event from the past where you had similar physical reactions. An example would be feeling chills or a racing heart and it reminding you of a time in your life where you had to escape a scary situation. An external trigger comes from outside ourselves such as an event like a pandemic, anniversaries such as birthdays or deaths, arguing with a partner, smells, loud noises, etc. These events can then trigger reactions within us that are unpleasant and sometimes confusing.
How to Manage Triggers
1) The first step in managing triggers is to recognize that you are being triggered. This involves becoming more aware of your physical and emotional state through out the day. Often times people will get triggered and not know what caused it. Slowing down and becoming more present and aware will help you to figure out what event (either internal or external) may have set off your reaction. Some tools that may help this process include:
- Recording any changes in your bodily sensations and emotions throughout the day
- Meditation or any other mindfulness activity such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation to help you feel more present so that you can notice these changes
- Exercising to help reduce anxiety and stress and help you become more present
2) The next step is learning to recognize the trigger itself and to explore why that trigger may be distressing. This involves thinking about the feelings, thoughts and physical sensations associated with that trigger and how you may be interpreting the trigger in a negative or unhealthy way. You can then start to challenge some of the thoughts or beliefs around that trigger. This can be done through journaling, talking to a supportive person, or through therapy with a mental health professional.
3) Finally, once you have figured out what is triggering you then you can use techniques to reduce the severity. These techniques include meditation, deep breathing, grounding such as focusing on what you can see, hear, touch, smell or taste to bring you back into the present, and challenging some of your negative thoughts. At one point you may be able to calm yourself down before you spiral downward.
Once you are able to recognize and work through your triggers then this may have a positive impact on your overall mental, physical, psychological, and spiritual health.
Heather Nolin, MC, is experienced in the areas of anxiety and self-esteem, plus many more. For more information on Heather and her work, click here to link to her full bio page.