Taming Triggers for Better Mental Health
When it comes to mental health, learning about triggers can be an important step on the path to wellness. You may have heard the phrase “trigger warning” to joke about a person’s perceived inability to deal with difficult subjects or adverse opinions. For people living with mental health disorders and addiction, triggers are more than a buzzword—they often appear as an obstacle to be feared and avoided, but they can also be a way for patients to understand their mental health challenges.
What are triggers?
We generally know the word trigger to mean an event that causes something to happen. When we apply this idea to mental health, it is an event that contributes to a change in a person’s thinking, emotion or behavior. The initial event associated with the onset of a mental illness is considered a trigger. Subsequent reminders of that initial event—a particular sound, interaction or location—that cause symptoms to resurface are also triggers.
Triggers can be external, such as witnessing drug use, or internal, such as experiencing anxiety. Stress of any kind can also be an external trigger. Everyone has triggers that influence their moods and behaviors, whether we are living with a mental illness or not.
How Do Triggers Affect Mental Health?
Experiencing triggers can reignite memories of trauma and cause flashbacks to that traumatic moment. These memories and flashbacks can negatively impact a person’s mood, render a person unable to interact appropriately with the environment around them, or cause them to relapse into harmful habits.
PTSD is triggered by an exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, sexual violation or other traumatic event. After that initial exposure, PTSD symptoms can be triggered again by sights, sounds, or other experiences that remind them of the initial traumatic event.
Preventing relapse to substance use disorder is largely a matter of becoming aware of the triggers to relapse, then finding ways to avoid or cope with them. Professional help is usually needed to gain awareness of and develop plans to deal with triggers to relapse.
Taming Your Triggers
While encountering triggers is a challenge for people dealing with mental health issues, understanding those triggers can be an important way for patients to gain a sense of control over how their mental health affects their lives.
The key is to anticipate triggers ahead of time so they don’t come as a surprise, then use a plan or coping strategy to deal with them. If your mental health problems are causing regular distress and interrupting your life, talk to your doctor about treatment. If triggers are a minor problem, try the following to cope:
- Be aware of your triggers and where you might encounter them.
- Decide on healthy ways to deal with the negative emotions that come up after a triggering event. Having solutions prepared beforehand can reduce stress in the moment.
- Review how you typically respond to your triggers.
- Determine how you’d prefer to respond to your triggers.
- Put your plan into practice.
If you are facing problems with your mental health or substance abuse, see a doctor about what kind of treatment is available.