When I’m triggered, it’s usually because I’m already exhausted and my boundaries are overstretched. And then BOOM — there’s a trigger! It can be almost anything like someone raised their voice at me, or I watched a movie with a disturbing scene, and then I spin out, over and under, and into a messy crash landing, wondering what just happened to me.
Triggers provoke former traumatic or hurtful memories. Triggers can also be a warning sign to alert you when your boundaries feel crossed.
According to PsychCentral, an online mental health publication:
“Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people. A person’s triggers are activated through one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. A combination of the senses is identified especially in situations that strongly resemble the original trauma.”
Triggers are like a taproot into the center of traumatic memories. We store memories not only in our minds but also somatically. Therefore, our bodies will react. We might feel sweaty, can’t breathe, get a wicked headache, stomachache, or any number of physical symptoms.
How can we cope?
When triggers happen, give yourself time to reorient, regroup, and reconnect. Calming yourself may take time because a trigger can send a person into a dissociative state.
A dissociative state is where you may feel disoriented. Nothing feels real. You might also feel overly distraught, teary, angry, withdrawn, overwhelmed, paranoid, or panicked. Allow yourself space to regroup and to feel safe.
Lately, I’ve been swamped and feeling the stress. First thing, each morning, I usually write in my journal. For weeks now, I start with, I’m tired. And then stare out my kitchen window. I manage to get a few more words out.
The rest of my thoughts feel paralyzed and static. I’m baked, fried, roasted. Just roll me down a hill and let me stay there — preferably a hill that leads to a quiet beach and a cove insulated from any demands.
For months now, there’s been a steady inner voice telling me to do more. For transparency’s sake, I am the CEO of my private counseling practice, as well as a single mom, poet, cook, bookkeeper, and administrator of everything. Sometimes, it gets to be too much, and I forget to take care of myself.
Carolyn Riker is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in private practice. She is also an author of three books. Her most recent book is "My Dear, Love Hasn't Forgotten You."