Do you know your triggers? In case you are not familiar with the word trigger in regard to mental health, triggers are reminders of past events that spark an intense emotional or physical response regardless of your current mood, are often unrecognized, and come in many shapes and sizes. Triggers can cause anxiety or panic attacks, overwhelming sadness or anger, flashbacks etc. Do you have triggers? I do. My husband, mother, sisters, children, cousins, and friends do, too! Do you know yours? Do you recognize them?
Recently, a worship song came on the radio called “Waymaker”. I was singing it loud and proud until it came to the verse, “miracle worker”... I instantly flashed back to the laundry room. The night before I went in to have my c-section with Jade, I was trying to keep my mind off of processing the worst imaginable news a pregnant lady can receive. We had just found out a few hours before, our daughter no longer had a heartbeat at a gestational age of 36 weeks. In the laundry room that horrible hard night while folding clothes, I was worshipping loudly. I was petitioning to God by singing “Waymaker” but I had forgotten about that moment until that day in the car. The song “Waymaker” had become a trigger for me. It took my breath away, and I started crying. I was overwhelmed with sadness and anger. I remembered to focus on my breathing and be honest with God. I sang the song through my weeping. I journaled about why it made me cry when I got home. When I saw my therapist later that week, I told her about it. She told me I could either sing it until I could sing it without crying, or I could avoid it whenever it came on. I decided to sing it, which may be the music teacher in me, but after many weeks I could sing it without crying.
Do the people you surround yourself with know your triggers, too? If they do not know yours, they may accidentally trigger you and have no idea. The other day we were getting ready to go home. Our dog wandered off, and would not come back. We called out to him, and then Lucas walked around giving his best effort to get our dog to come to him. The dog wandered down into a thicket of thorns and would not come out. Poor Lucas. He was trying so hard. He went into the thorns to pick up the dog. As you can imagine, it was painful. He had cuts all over his hands, was out of breath and was frustrated. He marched back to the car, and was clearly upset. Seeing that he was irritated, I tried to stay quiet. Did I wait long enough? Nope. I had a list of questions. I unintentionally triggered his anxiety. He was already frustrated and then I overwhelmed him with unnecessary questions. Oops!
Later on, I was talking to my sister-in-law, who was in the car, as well. She said something that really resonated with me. Are you ready for it? “You won’t change it. He was triggered, and then you didn’t let him calm down. So he took it out on you, which then triggered you.” Wow! Right? She was right! I poked the bear. I added fuel to the fire. I honestly did not even mean to. I then realized, I do not know some of his new triggers. We experienced a tragedy recently, and we are both navigating this new journey together.
There are many ways to cope with triggers.
Here are a few that work for me:
1.) Call a trusted friend and talk through this tough moment. Reach out for encouragement and support! Talking it out helps me hear it in the light. Sometimes, when things grow in your mind (the dark) saying them out loud in the (light) can bring them back to perspective.
2.) Journal about it... all of it! Express what triggered you, why it triggered you, and make a plan for how you plan to heal and work toward overcoming that trigger. This is a restorative practice!
3.) Practice 4-5-7 breathing! (In for 4, hold for 5, exhale for 7.)
4.) Focus on what you can change in the moment, which is usually how you choose to respond.
5.) Practice mindfulness and address the trigger with your plan mentioned in #2 before it grows out of control. Practicing helps your progress. Progress not perfection.
6.) Create a happy place in your mind where you can mentally escape that has specific sounds, smells, visualizations, etc. Journal about your happy place! Retreat there whenever you need to. For example, my happy place is near an abandoned old home lying under a massive tree with Spanish moss. There are a field of yellow flowers to my left that stretch back as far as the eye can see. The wind is blowing gently and to my right there is a body of water with a boat. It smells like summer. I can feel the soft grass against my skin and the sun shining on my face.
Discussing the day’s events with my sister-in-law helped me see it from a different perspective! Our conversation inspired me to self reflect, which helped me recognize how I could’ve helped the situation, instead of assisting in the chaos. You see? Knowing your triggers and your loved ones’ triggers can help you create healthier relationships. Isn’t that what we all long for? I know I do!