It’s mental health awareness month and nothing says mental health like TRIGGERS! All 4,489 triggers that get right on your last nerve each and every day!
Here’s a fun Free Association exercise:
When I say. “Masks”, what comes to mind?
I bet you have an opinion backed by a trigger!
Masks were one of the biggest triggers of the 2020-2021 year. A simple 3-ply material gave everyone a very strong opinion…and a headache.
What is a Trigger?
First, you need to know that triggers are normal. It’s instinctual cause-and-effect memory that has served our species well.
A mental health trigger refers to something that affects your emotional state, causing distress. It affects your ability to stay present in the moment because it reminds you of another time you felt similarly (a triggering event). It influences your thoughts, beliefs, and behavior too, meaning that you may act out of character, say things you don’t mean, and feel out of control.
Sometimes, it’s an old wound/past pain that gets triggered. Or something an ex said to you or something your parents did, and it’s suddenly reignited.
The mask debate hit us deep in our politics and values with health, safety, and freedom being the underlying triggers. These are important values and it’s why masks are still a trigger for many.
A trigger can feel like a threat and a threat can send us into fight or flight mode.
Perhaps your parents never let you be right and criticized you or called you dumb (I really hope they didn’t), but now that you’re an adult, when someone challenges you or insinuates that you’re wrong, you become triggered as if you’re transported back to the criticized 8yr old. self. You may also become a perfectionist with a very large-and-in-charge self-critic that is easily offended. If you made a mistake or you were wrong, your whole image (ego self) is threatened.
Triggers can also be much more serious in people with PTSD for instance. Suppose someone in the military overseas was always under threat, especially when an alarmed sounded off. Then after deployment, they come back home and even the beep of the microwave triggers that stress response.
Other triggers can be words, movie scenes, songs, calendar dates of significant events associated with the trigger, family friction, politics, places, people… and so much more.
What do you do when triggered?
A surprising amount of people generally try to ignore their triggers- meaning, they suffer in silence.
They really aren’t ignoring the triggers because when you dig deeper, they’re using other tactics like avoidance, numbing, disassociation, denial, and substance abuse.
So what can you do?
There’s a few practices that are phenomenal for becoming aware and healing your triggers: Inner Child work , journaling, and mindfulness. These are practices, which means they’ll take some work, effort, consistency and time to give you the most benefit.
If you want more immediate results in a shorter time, I have a few fast trigger-hacks for you.
Blowing bubbles: The particular type of deep breathing required to blow bubbles is great for instant stress relief and relaxation. Plus, it gives you a mindful moment.
It also requires the exhale to be longer than the inhale and your lips are pursed, which opens up the airways even more and automatically relieves stress and tension in the body. Also, it’s nearly impossible to be in a fight or flight stress response if you are deep breathing, This signals to your body, everything is ok. I know a hypnotherapist that uses bubbles even with her adult clients!
Besides, becoming aware of your breathing when you blow the bubbles, take it a step further and imagine your stress blowing away on the bubbles. Up, up and away…and POP! Stress gone!
The easy and great thing is, bubbles are cheap and come in small bottles to carry with you for a work break or midday de-stressor almost anywhere. I like to think that bubbles calm the inner child in all of us 🙂
Wise self: This is a proven cognitive behavioral therapy technique that helps with even the most stubborn thoughts and feelings of your regularly occurring triggers.
You’ll need pen and paper. On the paper, make 6 columns. Column 1: The trigger. Column 2: The emotion. Column 3: The thoughts when trigger occurs. Column 4: What percentage does this trigger get to you? (Or use a scale of 1-10.) Column 5: The wisest person you can think of (you don’t have to know them personally). Column 6: What would the wise person say about your trigger, emotions, thoughts, etc. ?
When you’ve written down what your “wise one” would say, (my wise one is the Dalai Lama), close your eyes and repeat several times what your wise one would say to you about your trigger. Now, open your eyes and what percentage (or scale of 1-10) are you at now? You can repeat this in meditation or any time, anywhere as often as you like until the trigger lessens.
Tell a story: We all have our stories. What happens when sh*t happens? We have a story about it. We may even complain about it. We may tell anyone who will listen. Sometimes we don’t tell anyone, but the story in our head is full of self-criticism and self-defeat.
If we tell our story in a way that portrays us as the victim, we are open season to triggers.
Triggers tell us where we need healing and also where we need to set a boundary, but that’s another conversation.
Write down your story about what triggered you or speak it out loud to yourself.
Now, do it again BUT this time re-tell it in a better, different and victorious way where you are “brave”. You are someone learning new skills to overcome. Question your own thinking errors such as, “I’ll never love again” or “I can’t trust anyone.” Re-word and reframe these. “I’m learning to trust myself and discern between the people I can trust and those I can’t.” “I am focusing on loving myself.” “Nobody listens to me, becomes, “I listen to myself”.
As far as the story re-write, you can make-believe it too. Make yourself a hero, add some fantastic fantasy details.
I’ve seen great success with a client (thank you Debbie for letting me share this) when she gets triggered at work, she scribbles out a quick paragraph length story about how she’s victorious in whatever situation has her feeling defeated at the moment. Sometimes it’s sending out her faithful pet T-Rex to attack the offender 🙂
The subconscious doesn’t know the difference between fact and fiction so even imagining yourself the victor, puts you in that mindset. And that’s a much better way to manage your triggers.
Now that you have a few fast ways to halt, tame and calm your triggers, you’ll be feeling more confident and in control soon enough.
These hacks are quick and easy yet produce lasting effects to really get you out of the triggered frame of mind.
As always, let me know if you have any questions. On my contact page, you can write in a question, subscribe for updates, or schedule a free consultation.
Peace and Be Well,