obsessed with mental health
Things I learned in therapy #1: A few steps I take when I am triggered.
Disclaimer: I refer here to triggers as instances where something elicits a strong negative emotional reaction in me that is in connection to past difficult life events. Aside from the immediate emotional reaction, there can be longer term consequences such as nightmares, forgotten memories pushing their way back into my head, etc. However, I do not and never have suffered from very serious PTSD. My triggers are, for all intents and purposes, mild. Also bear in mind that I am listing my personal, entirely non-professional ideas. These cannot replace professional support.
1. Notice what is happening.
Despite years of practice, I still usually experience a delay between the start of the trigger, and my awareness kicking in of what is happening. That’s because my triggers come in all shapes and sizes. Yes, there are those cases where someone describes something/a movie scene shows something/etc that is highly similar to my own experiences. Those triggers are easier to identify; they are sort of textbook. However, many of my triggers can be more subtle. A subtle behaviour shown by another person. A use of specific words. It can sometimes take a while for me to identify why I am experiencing an emotional reaction, as it might be building up slowly.
2. Remove the source, if possible
If there it is an article/movie/tv programme, look away or turn it off. I’ve always been torn between triggers, and being attracted to things that relate to my own difficulties. I used to obsessively watch movies that were both hugely triggering and comforted on some level by the existence of “fellow sufferers”, even if they were fictional. But I’m better now at stepping away, because I’m not craving that sort of comfort as much any more. I know now that I am not alone.
It’s more difficult if it’s the content of a conversation you are in, especially if I don’t know the people very well. Perhaps try “I’m sorry, but could we talk about something else?”
3. Breathe and ground yourself in the present moment.
Right now is not the past. I try to get as much sensory input from the (safe) here and now as possible. Tune into the sensation of my feet on the ground. Notice the colours of things around you. Remind myself of where I am and what I am doing, how old I am.
4. Be kind to yourself.
Do something nurturing/comforting for yourself that makes you feel safer. Look at yourself with kind eyes. Hug yourself. Take the time to look after yourself, just like you would if you physically hurt yourself.
5. Accept that the trigger has happened.
The emotional reaction to “having been triggered” can sometimes be almost as bad as the trigger itself. I admit that I get frustrated, but thoughts like “Why is still happening?” “I thought I had come so far” “Things will never change” are not helpful. Try not to listen to these voices. Actively tell yourself kind things (see above). Maybe start with “It’s ok”.
6. Talk to someone who knows what you are on about.
I’ve seen a real increase in awareness at my university of what triggers are. I used to think it’s something you only know about if you are “part of the self-help community”. But I don’t think that’s true any more. There has been some great progress! Second, unfortunately, traumatic experiences are very common. I almost have more friends who also fall somewhere on the PTSD spectrum than those who don’t (although that could be because I’m a mental health geek and like to hang out with my kind). I can share my triggers with them, which helps.
Please share your experiences and advice in the comments!