Triggers: What They Are and How to Manage Them

beverage-brewed-coffee-coffee-1508110.jpg

I think we have all become more familiar with the word ‘trigger’ recently. More and more TV shows and social media posts are receiving criticism for not doing their part to warn others about the potentially traumatic material being shared. Other times, it is the people and places in our lives that help create an overwhelming emotional response. With the holidays approaching, I notice that I have more conversations with my clients about how to care for themselves knowing that interactions are about to increase significantly. So, where does this come from? Why do we feel triggered? Oftentimes, we experience triggers because of our brain responding to trauma.

What are triggers?

By definition, a trigger is any stimulus that contributes to an unwanted emotional or behavioral response. It can be a person, place, situation, or thing. Just about anything can be a trigger. These are a few examples of triggers that I’ve discussed with clients:

-Emotional State (angry, depressed, happy, sad)

-Physical State (relaxed, tense, tired)

-Presence of Others 

-Physical Setting (work, party, ex-partner’s house)

-Social Pressure 

-Activities (work, working at home, watching TV, playing sports)

-Thoughts

How do I manage them?

-Sometimes, the best way to deal with a trigger is to avoid it. This might mean making changes to your lifestyle, relationships, or daily routine. Because certain triggers require more processing and understanding than others, there is nothing wrong with caring for your immediate needs by avoiding the trigger.

-Create a strategy to deal with your triggers. This might include incorporating new coping skills into your routine. I usually help clients develop an emergency contact list of trusted people for situations that are too overwhelming to process on their own. Another part of our conversation is about rehearsed phrases. Sometimes my clients can’t avoid certain people or situations, so having a plan of what to say can be helpful.

-Don’t wait until the heat of the moment to test out your coping strategies. Practice! It’s similar to how we learned about fire safety. The more you practice your emergency plan, the easier it is to remember the steps during an actual fire.

The difficult part about recognizing and managing triggers is that they can be unpredictable. I hear so often from my clients that they weren’t expecting to feel scared or sad in what “should have been” a normal situation. We can’t see the future, so we do the best we can with the tools we have in the moment.

If you want a chance to process the triggers in you deal with or to learn more about how they developed in your life, contact one of our therapists.


Authored by: Lakeita Roberts, LPC

Michael Primeaux