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  • Writer's pictureAnneka Barrett

What are your triggers?

More and more we are using the term ‘triggered’ to describe when we have an intense emotional reaction to something we’ve seen in the news, or perhaps a smell that reminded us of a time when we felt unsafe. The clinical definition of ‘triggers’ is different, it’s a reaction to a stimulus that causes you to relive a past traumatic experience. You would often see a diagnosis of PTSD attached to this. I feel the term ‘triggers’ is now something we’ve adapted into our modern day language to have a more general meaning of experiencing discomfort or past pain. For the purposes of this blog I’m looking at triggers in that sense.

Triggers are unique to individuals and can often seem to hit you like a freight train, suddenly catapulting you into a spiral of feelings which are often strong, uncomfortable and confusing. Often these feelings can spiral taking us back to patterns of negative self talk, negative self thinking and low self worth. This is why understanding your triggers can be such an important tool in helping you support your mental well being.

Triggers remind you of a past event in your life that was upsetting, uncomfortable and potentially traumatic. It’s important to understand things that are traumatic don’t have to have been dramatic. Often we try to minimise our pain in order to cope. It also doesn’t have to be something that has directly affected you, it may be an event in the news that is equally triggering because the thought of it scares you, a plane crash or a terror attack. All of these events can trigger your fear or anxiety.

Triggers can come from all sorts of sources. Below are some common ones. This list is by no means exhaustive.

Anniversary of a loss

Frightening events in the news

Feelings of overwhelm

Family friction

The end of a relationship

Triggers also tend to be heavily linked to your sense and you can find triggers in:

A smell/taste, it may remind you of an abuser or a situation you self unsafe.

A sound, often loud noises or the sound of footsteps can be triggering.

Touch, if you have been in a position where you were touched in a way you didn’t want perhaps now when someone stands too close you felt unsafe this can be triggering.

Sight, if someone has the same build as your abuser or perhaps being in certain places bring these old memories flooding back.

If you have an awareness of what your triggers may be, the next step is to understand what you need to do to make yourself feel safe again.

Get active

Get outside, take a walk, run, cycle, even if it's only for a brief period. Getting away from where you are can help reframe feelings. Plus physical movement can be a way for your body to release anxious energy from your body.

Use the 54321 Grounding Technique

  • Look For 5 Things You Can See: Notice the wood grain on the desk in front of you. Or the precise shape of your fingernails. Become aware of the glossy green of the plant in the corner. Take your time to really look and acknowledge what you see.

  • Become Aware Of 4 Things You Can Touch: The satisfyingly rough texture of the car seat. Your cotton shirt against your neck. If you like, spend a moment literally touching these things. Maybe notice the sensation of gravity itself, or the floor beneath you.

  • Acknowledge 3 Things You Can Hear: Don’t judge, just hear. The distant traffic. The voices in the next room. As well as the space between sounds.

  • Notice 2 Things You Can Smell: If at first you don’t feel like you can smell anything, simply try to sense the subtle fragrance of the air around you, or of your own skin.

  • Become Aware Of 1 Thing You Can Taste: The lingering suggestion of coffee on your tongue, maybe?

Talk/ journal

I'm a firm believer in the power of emotions leaving our bodies through words, either written or spoken. Talk to someone you trust or write about how you are feeling.

As we’ve learnt, the thing about triggers is they take us back into feelings, or patterns of behaviours or memories we don’t want to relive. Whatever you chose to do it should be something that allows you to be present in the here and now.

Always remember emotions are temporary and will pass. You will not feel like this forever.

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