How To Claim Power Over Your Mental Health Triggers

How To Claim Power Over Your Mental Health Triggers

Today’s post is a guest post by James Prescott:

The word ‘triggers’ has become a bit of a jargon word in talking about our emotional health recently. And like any jargon word, the term has become misunderstood and overused.

But when it comes to mental health, the word triggers is a serious word. A trigger is when an event, a comment, an action, something very specific to you and your story, does something in your brain which sets you on a downward spiral. It doesn’t just make you uncomfortable, but if you let it, it can overwhelm you and take over your day.

To explain, let me tell you a bit of my story.

As a teenager, over 20 years ago, I experienced a major trauma over several years. It involved physical abuse, illness and alcoholism, and then the loss of a parent.

Most days during my teenage years, I would routinely get psychologically bullied at school, then come home to have to break up loud, often violent fights between my parents.

As you can imagine, trauma like this leaves its mark. But I hadn’t realised how damaging this was until recently. When you’re growing up with something like that, it’s easy to normalise it and make it less serious than it was. But it had a huge impact on me, at a very deep level.

 

So let’s skip forward to now. I was in a meeting, with two particularly aggressive people. The two people starting acting aggressively towards each other. Loud, physically intimidating. And one stormed towards where I was sitting and violently threw the phone in front of me out of its socket, and smashed a cup of tea all over the wall.

The meeting was stopped instantly.

I returned to my desk, and didn’t say a word. I was in shock. I was frozen. I had no words. My head was empty. I had no idea how to react. I felt paralysed. I tried to type, follow my work habit, but then my head started to kick in.

I began having flashbacks to my childhood. Pictures, events, sounds, of those events of 20 years ago, as if they were happening right now. My body was physically present in the room, but my head, my soul, my heart, were totally elsewhere.

And once I recovered from the shock, over the next few days my emotions began to get very close to the surface.

This is how a trigger works.

Something in the event at work had triggered something in my brain, in my memories, the deep wounds in my psyche, the unheard screams of my inner child – and brought it all to the surface.

 

So how to deal with this?

 

First I had to recognise that I couldn’t control myself being triggered. This is really important for us all to remember. Us getting triggered has nothing to do with us. It’s not our fault. It’s in our brains. Never blame yourself for that.

Second, I realised that I have the power to control how I respond to my triggers. This is one thing I realised through my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) training and mindset coaching. We do have power to not let these triggers control us. All we have to do is train ourselves, get the right support, and we can harness that power.

All I needed was a mental strategy, to train myself – and I could stop triggers controlling me, and choose a more healthy response.

So I spoke to a specialist. In my conversations with her I began to understand what triggered me, why it triggered me, and what positive and negative responses were (tweeting when triggered I realised is a bad thing, for example). Then. Based on this, I decided that next time I was triggered, I’d stop, get some space. I’d allow myself to feel the emotion, process it, feel it. And let it go. I would stop, breathe, detach myself from the emotion, the trigger, and allow myself to feel it without responding to it.

It took time to get into the habit of doing this, but I’m beginning to master it. I still have my down days. I still have moments where triggers get to me. But overall, I’m in a much healthier place.

The thing about triggers, is that we all have them, and they will be different for each of us. Only you, and maybe those closest to you, will know what triggers you.

And it’s totally OK. Being triggered doesn’t make you deficient. It makes you human.

I want to encourage you, empower you to know that you do have the power to choose how you respond. You might not have a choice about being triggered – but you have the power to let it control you, or not.

Talk to a specialist. Find someone you trust to talk to about. Write it down. Do some research. And start training yourself and even visualising how you might respond in a healthy way when triggered.

You’re not alone on your journey. What triggers you is valid because it’s part of your story. But it doesn’t have to control you. There is hope. Freedom can be yours.

Triggers are part of our lives. But they don’t have to control us.

 

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James Prescott is writing coach, podcaster and author of the several books, including Mosaic Of Grace’ & also ‘Dance Of The Writer: A Beginners Guide To Authentic Writing, which is available free at his website, jamesprescott.co.uk. James appears on the weekly ‘Poema  Podcast’, exploring creativity, spirituality and identity, You can connect with James on Twitter at @JamesPrescott77

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2 Comments

  1. November 19, 2018 / 7:59 am

    Good post. I use EMDR for flashbacks. I think that would work for triggers. I was recently triggered by another abuse survivor graphically describing the abuse he suffered as a child. I haven’t been triggered in probably 3+ yrs and I wasn’t prepared for it. I had to talk myself down from the whole thing. Took a couple of days. I’m starting a MH support group and I know I have to be prepared for this.

  2. Kim
    November 30, 2018 / 12:13 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story and what you’ve been trying to overcome things when you are faced with triggers. I was triggered by a coat this week. A coat. I was in an abusive, controlling relationship and it was the exact coat they wore. It triggered memories, I felt anger initially then I shut down.

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