Triggers and the Psychology Behind Them

We all have emotional triggers. For some, an errant comment can bring up momentary feelings of sadness or stress. For others, ideas, images, scenes and more can cause debilitating anxiety or emotional distress that destabilizes them for the rest of the day. It can be challenging to identify what exactly our emotional triggers are. But we need to get to know them, understand them and learn how to cope better when presented with our triggers.

What is an Emotional Trigger?

A trigger is a stimulus. It can be a sight, a sound, a smell, a certain location and more, anything that reminds us of past trauma. It can trigger emotional responses such as sadness, anxiety, anger, panic or other emotions. Triggers can also cause a flashback to the event, causing the sufferer to relive the traumatic event. Triggers are commonly discussed in conjunction with PTSD. But they can also be used in context with other mental health issues. Substance abuse, anxiety and eating disorders are examples of other mental health concerns that may have triggers. In these instances, triggers can cause an increase in symptoms.

Beyond Emotional Triggers

Sight and sound are considered the most common emotional triggers. People or situations that resemble past trauma or sounds heard during the traumatic event—such as gunshots or explosions for veterans—are very common triggers. For those suffering from panic attacks, there can be a whole host of different triggers that aren’t necessarily directly related to emotions. Health issues, medications, caffeine and skipping meals can all be physical triggers for a panic attack. Both prescription and over-the-counter medications may cause symptoms of anxiety and trigger a panic attack. Certain active ingredients in medications such as birth control pills, cough and congestion medications and weight loss drugs such as phentermine can lead to feelings of anxiety. People who suffer from anxiety may be triggered by caffeine into having a panic attack. In one study, they found that people with panic disorder are especially sensitive to caffeine and are more likely to experience a panic attack from it. Skipping meals can cause our blood pressure to drop, leading to jittery hands, rumbling stomachs and panic attacks.

Identifying Triggers

Identifying and understanding our triggers is the first step in learning to cope with them. Once we know what triggers us, we can begin to enact certain coping strategies to handle the triggers as they arise. Starting a journal may be beneficial to many. The purpose is to write down when anxieties, flashbacks and other debilitating negative feelings occur and record the actions that lead to these feelings. Another option to manage triggers and cope with the negative feelings is to speak with a psychiatrist. In therapy, patients can process emotions from their past, talk through any patterns that lead to their anxieties and learn new coping techniques. With time and work, patients can face their triggers with much less distress and anxiety.
How We Can Help You?

Best Day Psychiatry and Counseling is here to help you have a better day and find a better way. We treat a wide range of psychiatric conditions for both children and adults. Contact us today, we’re ready to help:

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