Triggers refer to events or circumstances that affect your emotional state, causing you to feel fear, anger, sadness, anxiety or other intense feelings.
Emotional triggers are often linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can develop after a traumatic event.
Triggers are extremely personal and reactions can be difficult to manage. Learning how to recognize your triggers can help you learn coping strategies.
How does your body react to triggers?
Reactions to triggers vary and can have real and terrible consequences.
Physical reactions may include:
Emotional reactions may include:
- Sense of being out of control
Being triggered may manifest largely in:
- Behavioral changes
- Withdrawal from other people
- Being argumentative
- Emotionally shutting down
- Become intensely angry
- Suicidal ideation
While you may be able to pinpoint what prompted you to have this reaction, most people do not realize what set them off. It can seem to appear out of nowhere. This is quite normal. Many people are frustrated when they experience an overwhelming reaction in their body that they cannot explain. They may be aware rationally that their behavior is neither healthy nor beneficial, but they may feel unable to stop it.
What are different types of triggers?
When you experience physical or emotional reactions without an obvious cause, it is most usually the result of a psychological trigger.
The most common psychological triggers include:
- Anxiety: Anxiety triggers can cause severe anxiousness that appears out of nowhere. Common anxiety triggers include going out in public, making phone calls, or attempting something new. Symptoms of anxiety triggers include nervousness, shaking, stomach problems, and elevated heart rate.
- Anger: Anger triggers cause severe, unexpected eruptions of rage that are often based on trauma, and they leave people feeling out of control. Bodily tightness and rapid, shallow breathing are signs of rage triggers. Individuals may attempt to control anger triggers with drugs and alcohol, which can lead to co-occurring disorders.
- Trauma: Trauma can make it difficult to process your feelings. Trauma triggers may appear alongside post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in some people, but they can also appear on their own. These emotional triggers frequently show up as avoidance behaviors, in which people avoid circumstances that remind them of past trauma (knowingly or unknowingly).
PTSD triggers are those that make you feel the fear you felt during a traumatic experience. Triggers for PTSD are related to an acute fear response.
The main types of PTSD triggers are as follows:
- Smell: Scents are thought to have a greater relationship to memory than other senses. A particular smell can elicit terrible memories.
- Touch: Physical touch, someone standing too close to you, or the way someone approaches you may remind you of abuse or something that occurred before or after the abuse.
- Sounds: Sounds that are the same or similar to those heard during a traumatic experience may be particularly triggering. Sound-based triggers are especially prominent among victims of violent crime and ex-military personnel.
- Places: People suffering from PTSD may relive their trauma when visiting areas associated with a traumatic event.
- Objects: Certain objects that were present or involved in a traumatic incident can cause an emotional reaction similar to PTSD. This could be a piece of clothing, a vehicle model, or anything else that was significant before or during the trauma.
- People: People who were present at a catastrophic incident or were offenders of trauma may experience distress.
- Significant dates: Knowing the crucial dates around a traumatic experience may cause anxiety in those suffering from PTSD. The recognition of an important date can trigger trauma-related thoughts, feelings, and memories.
- Particular feelings: Panic or worry can remind a person of how they felt throughout the traumatic experience, forcing them to relive their trauma.
How to cope with triggers
Learning to manage triggers that you cannot predict or avoid requires emotional processing, which is frequently facilitated by therapy. Coping strategies that can help reduce the effects of triggers include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Exposure therapy
- Talk therapy
- Family therapy
- Group therapy
- Social support
- Deep breathing techniques
- Keeping a journal
- Hobbies such as gardening and baking
While you may not always be able to avoid triggers, learning how to cope with them can help you navigate difficult situations and improve your overall well-being.
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Ponte K. Understanding Mental Illness Triggers. NAMI. https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/January-2022/Understanding-Mental-Illness-Triggers
MentalHelp.net. Triggers. https://www.mentalhelp.net/recovery-and-wellness/triggers/
Psych Central. What is a Trigger? https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-a-trigger#1
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