Triggers are words, situations, scenes, topics, circumstances, basically anything outside that create a response inside you. The response can be smallish and thus manageable or largish and thus may require some form of tools or professional help to deal with. An example of a tool would be Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help with certain mental health disorders.
An example of a trigger for me would be certain smells [like a bodywash or food smells] that I associate with a time when I was unwell. Right after my recovery, the smells triggered the memories of my convalescence and I found I couldn’t use the bodywash anymore. It’s been 5 years but I still cannot use it.
Mom gets triggered with anything related to violence or conflict. If she reads a scene in a book where the characters are arguing, she usually skips those pages.
A trigger for my sister is any disrespect that is meted out to a younger sibling in any kind of content she consumes, especially if it’s meted out by an older sibling. Since she’s the younger one, it really bothers her. I still remember how horrified she had been when she saw the scene where Georgie dies in It [the movie based on Stephen King’s book]. She, who adores horror movies, couldn’t get over it. She spent roughly 20 minutes asking me why writers are so cruel. After that she ordered me to never, ever kill off a younger sibling in anything that I write.
Sometimes, it’s easy to identify these triggers. If you have noticed, social posts related to any abuse are usually preceded by a trigger warning [TW] because reading about it can set off a chain reaction in your body if you’re not prepared for it. In fact, I was reading a book series that contained trigger warnings right after the dedication page. It was the first time I had noticed something like that and I quite appreciated it.
Sometimes though, triggers aren’t so black and white. I remember a friend telling me how a wardrobe cleaning exercise triggered an anxiety attack.
Another hellish trigger for me is talks around dieting or even a suggestion that I should moderate it in any way. I eat healthy – mostly – but if anyone says anything about tweaking it, my brain and body shut down. I have tried [not diligently of course] to understand why this happens. The only thing I can think of is that it reminds me of the time when I tried unsustainable diets [like replacing meals with health drinks]. And perhaps this is my body’s way of preventing me from going to a place where I was uncomfortable and unhappy.
If the above examples tell you anything, it is that beneath the triggers are feelings that you haven’t delt with or don’t find yourself capable of dealing with. Usually avoiding your known triggers can help but on the flip side, it can also lead to obsessions. Like a friend of mine gets obsessed with world disasters. She’s always the first one to share news regarding them and thanks to the almighty algorithms, once she clicks on enough posts and links, she gets only news related to disasters. And then she’ll obsess over them, lose sleep over them, and won’t know how to stop.
The thing with triggers is, even when you can recognize them, it is hard to manage your body’s reaction to them. What usually works for me is:
- To immediately remove myself from the situation that is triggering. If you find yourself unable to cope and have the means, do consider reaching out to a professional.
- Breathing through whatever I’m feeling.
- Not trying to “fix” what I’m feeling and just allowing myself to be.
- Once I’m calm enough, figure out what the heck happened.
Unlike a bad day which I can fix, while my body is in the throes of reacting to a trigger, all I can do is let my body come to stasis before I can do anything more – like figure out the what, why, how. Because when I’m reacting, I’m not in a position to do anything till that reaction passes. Only once it passes will I have enough bandwidth to ask myself questions and find solutions.
The thing to remember about triggers is you can learn to manage them. And that it’s okay that some things hit you differently. After all, the dementors were more challenging for Harry than they were for the others. Just like he found a way to manage them, you can too.
This post is part of Blogchatter’s CauseAChatter.
Disclaimer: I’m not an expert. I speak only from personal experience.