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Understanding Your Triggers
Venus Cow Admin / Monday, January 11, 2021 / Categories: My Life, Mental Health, Coping Strategies

Understanding Your Triggers

Emotional triggers are personal & unique to us, sensory stimuli, could be anything, that cause us to react based on past experience or trauma. 

Once you have figured out what triggers reactions, outbursts, misery, anger, aggression, being nasty in the moment and then feeling bad afterwards, different for everyone you are well on your way to catching the behaviour before it happens unconsciously.

Triggers are a reminder of something in our past. Remembering or reliving something painful that has happened to you in your past can trigger feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, anger or push you into comfort eating, addictions, and other unhealthy habits like cutting, self-harm, OCD or bulimia. When we find ourselves in a threatening situation, we might engage in a flight or fight response and our body mechanism moves to high alert prioritizing and engaing all available resources ready to react to any situation.

One of the functions that is neglected when we are in flight or fight mode is short-term memory and a person might misfile a traumatic event in their brain’s memory storage and instead of it being stored in past events, it gets labelled as a present threat. When someone is reminded of a past trauma their body will act as if the event is happening in the present and trigger all the same feelings and anxieties.

Sometimes people experience a sensory trigger which causes an emotional reaction before they even realise, they are upset. Sensory information which is stored in the brain like smell sound etc can be immensely powerful putting the body on high alert, triggering memories and feelings. Think about when you walk into the pub, the strong smell of alcohol and cigarettes can trigger the desire to drink and smoke but it can also trigger the memory of an event in the past where this smell caused you pain.

Often our personal habits can trigger unconscious auto-pilot behaviour without us even participating. If you are a driver who smokes, getting into your car and lighting up may have become your routine, your habit, so just getting in the car will trigger your desire to smoke. Therefore, when we are trying to break bad habits, it is critical we understand what triggers our behaviours and what we need to change to prevent auto-pilot actions and reactions. If every time we feel upset, frustrated, stressed, or depressed we turn to comfort, food, drugs, alcohol we can never break the cycle of unhealthy triggers. Emotional eating is one of the most powerful triggers to comfort our feelings of pain from past trauma because eating allows us to indulge and forget about everything else.

Avoiding triggers alone will not heal any underline mental health issues or pain, we must learn to process our emotions by facing and then letting go of the past, in the present to be free in the future. Whatever is triggering you to feel fear, anxiety, anger unless you are genuinely in danger i.e. a tiger is about to eat you or someone has just punched you in the face, the fear or anger is not real but buried in your unconscious mind and connected to something that has happened in the past. Personal freedom from your lying mind will be so empowering and you will have so much more clarity on things when you begin to understand the triggers that are keeping you stuck.

A trigger is something that can set off a memory or flashback, taking the person back in time to the event of the original trauma. Triggers are very personal and different situations will trigger different things activated through one or more of our five senses, sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Think back to a time when your reaction in a given situation was completely disproportionate like blowing a gasket over something small and insignificant.

Facing the past is painful. If you cannot do it alone in self therapy get some help to face your fears. My advice rip the plaster off, take it on the chin in the knowledge, done with an open heart you only have to do it once. Teaching your brain something new is a great way to break your emotional triggers. Just like you must exercise your body to be physically healthy, you must exercise your mind to be mentally healthy. Awareness is the birth of all possibilities. Addictions or any other self-destructive behaviours or habits are learned responses to emotional triggers and the good news is you can unlearn these responses and create new ones, creating a healthier way of living your life.

Photo by: Jared Erondu Unsplash

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