By Alysha Clark
For me it starts with tightness in my chest while feeling nauseous- it might lead to an out of body experience where I feel like I am observing what is happening rather than experiencing it. All I want to do is leave the situation and curl up in a safe space. Sometimes, this is followed by dreams of past traumas along with irritability and a low tolerance for stress. This unfortunately would happen in some of the worst times, like in the community supporting someone in going to the food pantry or while having a discussion with my supervisor, or at a family event. For many years, I was not aware of what was happening to me, but with some support, love and awareness, I have learned that I am experiencing a “trigger.”
The word trigger is used frequently and the experience is different for every person. So I think it is important to describe what it is in a general sense. Triggers are an emotional reaction to a certain situation, topic, smell, taste, sound, person, news article, social media post, ect. While providing Peer Support services in the community and in everyday life, I started to learn what situations trigger me and what I can do to support myself in that situation. It is important to note that when we are experiencing a trigger, sometimes it is no one’s “fault” but rather our bodies trying to identify danger and support us in avoiding it.
Here are some ways I have learned to support myself during a “triggering” time, they have helped tremendously.
- Prepare for the meeting/situation: Sometimes I know that a certain person or situation can trigger me easily- like intense arguments. If I know this, I try to prepare myself for the meeting by doing some breathing and meditation beforehand. I usually pick an affirmation to repeat to myself during the time such as “I am safe and I am loved.” Or “this meeting does not define who I am.”
- Bring along love and support to the meeting: Someone once suggested that I “bring my support system with me” theoretically when I go to the meeting. I will talk to a trusted person before the meeting and let them know I would appreciate their support. Then I would meditate on that person being with me in the meeting and remind myself of that during the meeting.
- Have an object for comfort: Find an object that has emotional meaning to you, that you can touch, rub and hold. I use rocks, essential oils, stress balls, bracelets, and rings. When rubbing it, I remind myself of its emotional significance and the love that it holds. I keep these in different places around my office, car, purse, and home to pull out when I need some extra support or would like the comfort.
- Take a break: It is okay to ask for a break if you are feeling triggered. Sometimes though, I don’t want to tell others this so I might go to the bathroom. While in the bathroom or on the way, I will again say positive affirmations and check in with my body, noticing where I might be tense and reflect on what is happening.
- Change your environment: I thrive when I have sun and fresh air around me. So I might ask if we can have the meeting outside or go for a walk. I also do much better when I am taking notes during a meeting if I am feeling stressed. So I might offer to be the note taker, or take notes for the person I am chatting with. I also might change the way I am sitting. Sometimes sitting in front of someone looking right at them can cause a transfer of their energy to me- so I might change the direction of my body diagonally or look right above their head.
- Ask for what you need: Sometimes I am very open about what is happening in my body. I have opened up to others about my past traumas, experiences and history. If I am providing Peer Support services, I might explain a certain word or phrase and why it is triggering, ask them if they would use a different word in the future.
- Leave if you need to: For whatever reason, you can leave if you need to. If this is during work, explain that you need to pause. Then talk to your Supervisor, HR Person, and/or a trusted coworker about the situation.
- Engage in wellness afterwards: Sometimes I am fine through the really triggering situation but then afterward have a load of mental health challenges that pop up. When the pandemic first came up, I was surprisingly calm but after a while, I started having some of the worst mental health challenges in my life. So I have learned that engaging in wellness afterwards is extremely important to me. For me, this looks like attending my therapy sessions, a Yin Yoga class, watching tv for a whole day in bed, crying it out, getting a massage, eating healthy, going for coffee/tea, sleeping and taking a hike. But most importantly- I try to have RADICAL self compassion.
Thank you for taking the time to read some way I have supported myself when I am triggered. While I have learned a lot over time, I still recognize that I change everyday and it is important to recognize what supported me before may not in the future. It is critical that I continue to look for teachers of this work, listen for what has supported others and openly share to create dialogues that deepen my understanding.
What are some ways you support yourself?