Do you often feel like certain events make your anxiety levels go haywire? Are you ever scared to approach certain situations in fear of becoming stressed out of your mind?
If you feel like certain aspects of life cause you immense anxiety for no apparent reason, you are probably being triggered. You’ve probably heard this term used as a joke on social media, but triggers are no light topic. Fortunately, you can learn to identify and deal with them.
What Are Triggers?
A trigger is a psychological term for an external circumstance that produces negative emotional or psychiatric symptoms. Those symptoms are usually anxiety, panic, despair, stress, and negative self-talk. Often it is a stimulus, such as smell, sound, or sight, that reminds people of past trauma.
Triggers often cause flashbacks of traumatic situations. This might cause someone to lose track of their surroundings and relive the traumatic event.
Triggers can take many forms, some predictable, some less intuitive. For a veteran, sudden sounds can remind them of gunshots and trigger memories of war, inducing a panicked state. For victims of assault, maybe a smell that was pregnant during the assault might trigger flashbacks.
It is essential to understand that triggers are situations that lead to feelings of anxiety. They aren’t the reason why someone has an anxiety disorder. Even so, dealing with many triggers in a short period can impair someone’s ability to function, says Una McCann, MD.
Remember, triggers don’t have to be one-off events. They can be an accumulation of things that upset you over time. As your relationship and financial problems build up, that whole ordeal can end up triggering you. Loneliness can be a trigger. Information overload and too much social exposure can also induce a state of anxiety.
The main problem with triggers is that you can’t try avoiding them forever. For some people, having to keep a speech is triggering. Or maybe it’s a specific color. A particular smell, taste, or place. Whatever they might be, the only way to avoid them would be to isolate yourself from the world and never leave your home. And that won’t even ensure you will avoid all triggers. At some point, you will have to deal with them. The sooner you identify them, the sooner you will be able to deal with them.
Besides the immediate emotional toll that anxiety takes on a person, it can have long-term consequences. It can cause heart problems, lowers your immune system, leads to gastrointestinal disorders, and affects memory. Learning how to deal with triggers is essential to assure you will lead an overall healthier life.
5 Ways To Identify Triggers That Cause You Stress And Anxiety
These five habits can help you identify triggers of stress and anxiety.
1. Identify Triggers By Listening To Your Mind And Body
Have you ever walked by a specific building and felt immediate signs of stress? Or maybe it happened because of a particular smell or situation. Have you ever wondered why that’s the case? It is because you have encountered a trigger, and your body is reacting to that negative stimulus. Whenever you are in a triggering situation, your mind and body will let you know.
When faced with a trigger, you will feel a rush of emotions that will overwhelm you. These emotions are so strong that they can make you feel physically ill. Many people experience dizziness, nausea, and headaches when triggered. Sweaty palms, pounding heart, and headaches are also prevalent responses to triggers.
But the truth is everyone responds differently to triggers. True, there is a very high chance you will feel some of the effects described previously. But you will also experience feelings that are uniquely yours. The first step in identifying triggers is understanding what emotional and physical states link to increased anxiety.
Don’t listen to a predetermined list you found on the internet that tells you only certain things can be signs. Listen to what your own body tells you. If you are feeling horribly for no apparent reason, that probably means you were triggered by something. According to Lily Brown, Ph.D., keeping a thought journal is the best to identify your responses to certain situations.
Take notes of the stressful emotions you feel out of the blue. Whenever you enter that state, try to look for something that sticks out that might have triggered that state. Identifying triggers means pinpointing that one odd event that induced your signs of anxiety.
2. Identify Triggers By Retracing Your Steps
Identifying responses is the critical first step in understanding what triggers you. But, to fully understand what event triggered you and how or why you have to retrace your steps.
Retracing your steps means pinpointing the moment your body responds to the trigger and working backward through your actions and feelings. Your goal is to understand the context you were in and why the trigger appeared. What were you doing when you were triggered? Did someone else induce that anxious state? Was it an overload of many little stressful moments?
By asking these leading questions, you can understand what the prerequisites of trigger forming were. While understanding your responses helps you identify triggers, retracing your steps does that and more. It can help you prevent triggers from taking place. If the trigger was induced by another person, talk with them. Let them know that they’ve done something that made you anxious and that they should fix their behavior. If that doesn’t work, try to distance yourself from them. If a place reminds you of someone you’ve lost and being there triggers you, try confiding in someone. Maybe go there with them so that you can get used to being there again in a safe environment. If you get triggered, you know someone is there to help you get through it.
Triggers aren’t always emotional or caused by others. Sometimes even your diet might be a trigger. Make lifestyle changes if needed. It has been shown that caffeine, sugar, and alcohol can increase cortisol levels, which raises anxiety levels. If you feel like you had just consumed these substances when you were triggered, consider cutting them out.
Understanding the context of the trigger will allow you to start healing and learning to deal with them directly.
More often than not, anxiety triggers result from a boundary being stepped over or a need not being met.
Breaking a boundary is violating a right. Whenever your limits are pushed or outright stepped over, it can feel like losing autonomy and freedom. You feel unsafe, disrespected and your peace is disrupted. In these instances, it is normal to enter an anxious state.
Understanding what your limits are and when they are being broken will help you identify triggers. Maybe you can’t stand being touched because of past trauma. Therefore you can’t go partying in clubs. If your peers pressure you into going to a club, they are the reason you will end up in a triggering situation. They broke your boundary and
If you notice that your peers are being pushy and triggering your anxious responses, reinforce your boundaries. Make your limits clear and set an ultimatum. Either they respect your boundaries, or you will detach yourself from that toxic group.
So, understand what you require and prioritize meeting those needs. Understand your limits and make sure others respect them. Have clear boundaries, and you will lower the risk of being triggered.
4. Identify Triggers By Reflecting On The Past
For many people, traumatic events are so painful that their brain shoves the memories in the back of their minds to protect them. There are thousands of people who were assaulted, beaten, or otherwise abused, and they don’t even remember. Or it’s all hazy and hard to decipher. And even if you do remember them, you make conscious efforts to pretend like you don’t.
Many people will like never to have to remember or think about those traumas ever again. That’s understandable. Unfortunately, even if you don’t actively remember traumas, your brain still subconsciously knows they happened. That means you can still get triggered.
An essential step in identifying triggers is reflecting on the past and understanding the core issues you’re dealing with. Be honest with yourself about what you’ve been through. Accept that you are still traumatized by things that happened years ago. It’s normal to be. If you are a victim of assault, touch might be triggering. In that case, don’t put yourself through situations where a lot of physical contacts is involved. You will just hurt unnecessarily.
The more honest you are with yourself, the better you understand what sets you off and why. After identifying triggers, the next step is to talk to someone about your feelings and try to face those triggering situations slowly.
5. Consult A Specialist To Help You Identify Your Triggers
It is important to remember that anxiety triggers can sometimes coincide with anxiety disorders. Sometimes, the things that set you off are indicative of something more serious going on.
To make sure you aren’t at risk of having an anxiety disorder, consult a psychologist. If you don’t have a disorder, they can help you manage your stress and trauma. If you find out you do suffer from a condition, you will receive the proper treatment.
When it comes to mental health, it is always better safe than sorry. You don’t have to manage your issues alone. Be sure to reach out for help if you feel you need it.
It is perfectly normal for external forces to upset you. If you ever feel abnormally anxious out of the blue, take a step back. Breathe and remember that there is a reason why you think like that.
Understand how those anxious states make you feel, how your body and mind react. Couple those signs with the context of the trigger and realize what were the prerequisites for the motivation. Work on trigger prevention.
Set clear boundaries and take care of your needs. That will reduce the chance of triggers forming. Lastly, be honest with yourself and understand your trauma to work on healthily managing it. There’s no shame in having triggers. You need to know what they are and how to deal with them!