Some say that triggers aren’t a real thing. I tend to disagree. Most of us can recall a song from the past that was dedicated to a relationship and was “our song.” It could be twenty years down the road and when that song comes on and you’re singing along with it, the thoughts and memories that are attached to this song seem so vivid. You can remember what you were feeling at that moment, the smell of your surroundings and possibly even what you had on that very day. My father was a musician and I can still see and hear him singing and playing the last song he did for me. Despite my father and I not being close, anytime I hear Soon as I Get Home by Baby face, my eyes tend to sweat (as I like to say) and fill with tears.
When we typically think of triggers, the first thing that may pop into our head is trauma and things that have a negative vibe. But triggers can also be related to happiness and memories of past things that brought you joy. Triggers to childhood memories can bring about a sense of playfulness, times when you were more carefree, adventurous and free of bills LOL. We also undergo triggers that are attached to the not-so-great experiences or times in our lives. People who have experienced physical, sexual, emotional or other forms of abuse are oftentimes reminded of those things when it is reenacted on television, seeing someone who has the same body type, smell or look as their abuser or even certain times of the day, seasons or actual locations.
If a person has a substance use problem, triggers may occur by being around people who are drinking alcohol, engaging in drug use or seeing needles, pens, spoons or any other tools they’ve used to indulge in their substance use. Being triggered doesn’t mean that a person will go and use or relapse, but knowing how to maneuver the triggers is key. The craving or urge that can come from a trigger will generally only last about 30 seconds. It doesn’t seem like a long time, but it does turn into a longer time when we obsess over the very thing that has entered our mind. This could be the same for someone who is dealing with other addictions and disorder as well.
Knowing what triggers are, how they work and what to do when you encounter one will be beneficial. Here are some tips on how to do just that:
Identifying your triggers. It’s always nice to know how things have [alt1] affected you in the past and how they’re influencing you now. This knowledge will help you recognize what stimulates your responses before you’re triggered, while you’re being triggered and afterward. Sometimes we don’t realize that we’ve been triggered until after the fact. Being aware of the things that sets you off you will make it possible to come up with a plan of action for future occasions. Take note (mentally or physically) of those activities, thoughts, people, places or things.
Allow yourself to feel. Being triggered will yield certain feelings and emotions. Recognize the feeling, determine where it’s coming from and use healthy coping skills (deep breathing, journaling, exercising or seeing a mental health professional, etc.) to overcome any negative responses.. Having a variety of emotions is a natural response to life events. You don’t have to feel guilt or shame about having those feelings. How we react to these emotions and feelings will either yield a healthy or unhealthy situation.
Create New Norms: Now that you know what is triggering you, how it’s manifesting from an emotional or feelings standpoint, the next step is to create new norms and healthy distractions. New norms can be replacing the behaviors that you would normally engage in when triggered (i.e. getting angry and drunk versus getting angry and working out). Make sure that your behavior replacements are things that are realistic and that you will actually have the desire to do or follow through with them. This definitely makes for a new norm and an all-around healthier you. Healthy distractions are things that will take your mind off of past experiences or present stressors. One example of a healthy distraction may be going out with a good friend to enjoy a great meal and conversation after a breakup, a stressful week, etc. A few other examples of a healthy distraction may be soaking in a warm bath, going for a massage or indulging in a good book.
Grieving is okay. Grief is a process that has no time frame or expiration date. When you find yourself being triggered by or after the loss of a loved one, pet, relationship or job, it’s healthy to reframe that thought. Try to focus on the great memories, happy times or good characteristics and experiences with that person. How would they want to be remembered and what they would want for you is also a way some find comforting when it comes to being triggered by grief.
[alt1]Note: Impact is a noun (a meteor’s impact).
So, as you go through your day-to-day routine, be mindful of the things that are occurring and how they are showing up as feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Having the power to recognize this is half the struggle. As we say in my world: “Change your thoughts. Change your life,” and “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” We don’t have the power to change all the situations and events that have occurred in our lives but being able to change how we think about them and how they control us is the true testament of reclaiming our power.