“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” – Wendy Mass
This article was originally posted for The Odyssey on August 1, 2016.
In today’s world, anxiety and depression are fairly common amongst young people, teens, adults and even the elderly. Given all the violence and tragedy that has struck our planet in the past five years, this kind of traumatic effect seems to be expected. Despite there being disgusting acts of violence and swarms of death, people also have to deal with everyday issues, such as social anxiety, depression and the struggles of living with those disorders and mental illnesses. They have worries of their own; they worry about their family, friends and themselves, nonetheless the safety of strangers across the globe. In times like these, it is important to be aware of all the possible triggers that exist and how we should go about managing and inevitably surviving our triggers and emotions.
A trigger or an emotional trigger is a response to music, television, film, current events, or just regular sounds or speech that elicits a strong emotional reaction, or flashback to a painful memory. For example, a veteran of war and a victim of PTSD may regard fireworks as a trigger because they are reminded of the gunshots and violence they witnessed firsthand. Mostly triggers are linked to sometimes traumatic events that had a strong effect on someone which will forever tie them to that event. When a trigger strikes, our body is not aware that something has changed and the trigger often blinds the body’s instinct to assess the reaction evoked.
When someone is affected by a trigger, they can do anything from shaking to shutting down and in some cases, depending on the severity, someone could pass out or faint. One simple word or sound can be absolutely ground-shaking to someone who has a trigger and can destabilize or paralyze them emotionally, almost immediately.
According to MindBodyGreen, a lifestyle blog, triggers exist because when we were children or at some point in our lives, we were faced with pain, trauma, or suffering that we were not prepared to handle or deal with at that time. Thus, we become “triggered by experiences that are reminiscent of these old painful feelings.”
One of my biggest triggers is suicide. Any mention of the topic in current events or even specifics that hit closer to home and I am suddenly caught in panic attack after panic attack, unable to cease sobbing. We don’t have to be watching a memorial or tragedy on television; I can be affected by any mention of it, whether it be on the radio, in a movie, or in person. After riding out the attack and the terrible emotions that sparked from the trigger, I feel defeated, helpless and sometimes even pathetic. It can be demoralizing to be destroyed by something so little, so quickly, so randomly. I know that I am not alone in facing this problem and that there are thousands, if not millions, of other individuals who face the same meltdowns, the same panic attacks and the same debilitating weakness that resorts from such triggers.
Not sure if you have any triggers? Triggers can either be very easy to identify, or very difficult. They can be easy to spot if you find yourself all of a sudden acting very upset when something is said to you. For instance, if when you are rejected or if something doesn’t go your way, you find yourself getting so angry that you punch things. Perhaps being rejected is a trigger for you. Triggers can also be more specific. Sometimes names or specific words, such as ‘suicide’, can trigger a more complex response, such as shaking uncontrollably, or crying uncontrollably. The key is to watch your body and catch these emotions before they evolve into something terrible, if possible.
Controlling your triggered response is the most difficult part. If you or anyone you know has a trigger or triggers that you know of, you should know how to treat that person. Reassure yourself or your friend that their reaction to their trigger is justifiable, even if you’re not entirely sure. Telling someone that they are overreacting when they are triggered is only going to set them off more. Next, make sure to comfort the person being triggered, by holding their hand, hugging them or simply just listening to them. If you are being triggered, try changing your environment, going for a walk, or even reaching out for help. Everyone is different but if you truly know the person, you should know how to comfort them or, in some cases, yourself. Listening and patience are perhaps the most important part of the trigger process because forcing someone to talk is only going to make them sink deeper into their emotions and themselves, farther away from reality.
Some outbursts and triggers cannot be controlled. I truly believe that I have to ride out my trigger’s attack until I can grasp onto something real. There are many coping methods for people who are triggered and many who deal with anxiety will see similar exercises. These tips and tricks can be applied to both the comforter and the person who is experiencing the aftermath of being triggered.
The first tip is a little obvious but breathe. It is essential that both the comforter and the triggered, even if they are the same person, breathe. Next, the triggered person needs to detach themselves from the trigger so that they can grasp something more tangible. A friend of mine told me to look around the room and take inventory of everything that I see, to remind myself that I am living in the present, to remind myself of reality. Finally, the triggered person needs to focus on something and center themselves, in order to return to reality and retreat away from the panic surrounding the trigger. This can be obtained through muscle relaxation or some type of meditation.
If you are alone in your time of stress, follow these same tips, but do not be afraid to reach out to someone if you feel that you either want or need to. Being alone and in such a panic can be terrifying and it is nice to have someone there, if possible. If not, no worries! You can do this. Just keep centering yourself and focusing.
The emotional response surrounding a trigger is not always escapable. The pain of the memories that flood into your entire being after experiencing a trigger is unreal. If you’ve never been triggered by anything, count your lucky stars. Feeling like I’m not in control because of the emotions that overtake me in these times is extremely terrible. I cannot even think of more adjectives to describe it because it can be so painful to have to shut down like that. I experienced my trigger when I was in high school and was simply not mentally prepared or equipped to handle the trauma and stress that resulted from the entire situation surrounding it. Now due to that shock at such an impressionable age, I am plagued with my trigger at home, at school, in the grocery store and just about anywhere else it decides it is welcome to make an appearance.
It is important to realize at the end of the day, no matter how many triggers you have, that you are not alone in facing these issues and meltdowns. If you are hanging out with a friend who suddenly becomes triggered, remember to breathe and comfort them as much as possible, but most of all, remember to listen. Absolutely do not denounce their insecurities and reactions and do not belittle them or manipulate them. Remind them that they can survive their emotional triggers, just like you can, just like I can. You will survive it, just like you did the last one, just like you will the next one. We can do this and even if we need a little help, we will survive this.