It would be amazing if we could put all of our emotions in a box and deal with them when it was convenient for us. Unfortunately, people and feelings do not operate that way. We can experience the entire emotional spectrum at any time, whether we are prepared to deal with it or not. We are not intended as humans to suppress our emotional reactions. Our emotions provide us with vital information about what is going on both within and externally. They function similarly to our own alarm system. When we can identify the source of our emotions, we feel more at ease with them — or at least more justified in feeling them. But every now and then you find yourself having an emotional reaction that doesn’t seem to be in line with what’s actually going on. This is referred to as a trigger by mental health specialists, and it can be unsettling, to say the least.
What are triggers
A “trigger” is a stimulus in psychology that causes a traumatic memory to emerge. A sensory memory of the traumatic experience, such as a sound, sight, smell, bodily sensation, or even the time of day or season, might serve as a trigger.
For example, the sound of fireworks might be a trigger for war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a specific breed of dog might be a trigger for someone who was bit as a youngster.
Aside from trauma, the term “trigger” is employed in a variety of other mental health contexts. Anything that activates or intensifies the symptoms of a mental health problem, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or drug use disorder is a trigger. For instance, a person having OCD could be triggered by dirty tables and react with fear.
Types of triggers
- External triggers – These include things like sounds, sights, scents, and textures that stimulate reactions depending on previous experiences.
- Internal triggers – Strong emotions triggered by past experiences.
- Trauma triggers – Strong emotions that occur as a result of past trauma.
- Symptom triggers – A physical alteration might set off a chain reaction of mental health problems.
How do triggers form?
Mental health professionals aren’t entirely sure how or why the brain forms triggers. Traumatic memories are encoded differently than non-traumatic memories by the brain. Traumatic events are frequently stored just outside of conscious memory. Our brain and body, however, have a record of the threatening event.
To avoid future harm, our brains associate the fight-or-flight response with trauma triggers such as a specific smell, sight, or sound. As a result, by exposing oneself to a trigger, we may react as if we are in danger. This produces symptoms akin to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Symptoms of triggers
- Fear, panic, anxiety, or apprehension
- Sweating, elevated heart rate, and trouble breathing
- Feeling helpless in the face of your feelings
- Urge to flee, escape, or engage in other avoidant behaviour
- Rumination, sometimes known as unpleasant, automatic thoughts
- Unpredictable or inexplicable mood swings
- Panic or anxiety attacks
- Physical tension, such as a fist or jaw clenching
- Reminiscences of unpleasant or tragic occurrences
- Prolonged waves of rage or sadness
Responses to triggers
Our reactions to triggers vary. You may feel physical feelings such as a racing heart, quick breathing, cold chills, tension, or pain. You may experience intense feelings such as rage, fear, worry, despair, numbness, or a sense of being out of control. Triggers may manifest largely in your behaviour; you may withdraw yourself from people, become argumentative, emotionally shut down, or become physically angry. You could possibly experience detachment or suicidal ideation. Triggers, as you can see, can have very real and terrible repercussions.
You may be able to figure out what prompted you to have this reaction at times, but most people who encounter a trigger do not recognise what set them off. It can feel as if it appears out of nowhere. This is quite normal. Many people are frustrated when they experience an overwhelming emotion or a physical condition that they cannot explain. They may be aware that their behaviour is neither healthy nor productive, but they feel obligated to continue acting in that manner. These are also typical emotions.
How to deal with triggers?
- Learn to recognise
- Make a plan to deal with
- Try problem-solving coping
- Attempt emotion-focused coping
- If someone is causing you distress, communicate with them
- Find the best therapy for you.
- Reframe thoughts
- Keep an eye out for trigger warnings
- Self-care is essential
- Take a break
- Practise self-acceptance and compassion
- Consider meditating