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Recognizing and Understanding Triggers

We hear this word all the time… trigger. But what is a trigger and what do we do with it? There are so many ways we can feel a trigger. Usually we feel it in our body. One example is the positive experience that comes with a trigger where you hear a song or see an image that reminds you of a fond memory. Then there is the negative experience that comes with the triggers reminding you of previous discomfort or trauma. Both are equally important to understand, though it’s commonly our negative triggers that lead us to stress, anxiety, and poor mental health.

As we progress in the therapy room, we begin to uncover what triggers might cause the dysregulation we feel, dysregulation is the therapy word that we often call anxiety, stress or just not okay. This is part of our awareness stage. Perhaps it’s a response from your partner or friend where you feel a wave of letdown. Your body responds negatively and you begin to assume the worst. We enter the realm of fight, flight, or freeze in these moments. It’s then crucial that we begin to recognize how we are viewing the experience and that it turning on low level thinking and responses. Triggers often feel black and white, it can only be this way or that way and there is no in between. However, it’s the in between that matters most so that we can connect to the other person or the stimulus without assuming the worst.

One of the greatest metaphors I’ve recently come across is that our emotions are like a tunnel. We have to get through the tunnel in order to come out the other side. It’s dark, it’s uncomfortable, and we often want to turn back. Taking this step backwards is then allowing the feeling to consume us, and rather than making the emotion go away, it just gets bigger. When you’re stuck in the tunnel, you’re likely in a triggered, fear state. What does it feel like? What do you notice is happening in your body? How does it smell, taste, and what are you hearing?

Once we recognize the symptoms, we can utilize a mindfulness based practice to regulate ourselves, i.e. walk through the tunnel until the end where we meet transformation. Mindfulness is simple, yet complex in the dysregulation. If you’re finding yourself stuck in the dysregulation and can’t pinpoint what your body needs to regulate, begin with breathing and physical movement. When our bodies are in active, mindful states, our brains have an easier time connecting to our creativity and logic. Sensory focused tasks are important when connecting to mindfulness. Now that you know what you feel in your body, your job is to connect to an activity that supports that part of the body. If you’re feeling blurry in vision and your head is hot from anger, try splashing your face with cold water. If your gut is irregular and your body is slow, try actively moving using vigorous exercise.

A key part of walking through our tunnel is asking our bodies what’s needed. What can I do for you? How can I help you? When we talk to ourselves, and we really take a moment to listen, the trigger subsides and your logic brain with begin to wake up.

Simple, and complex. The simplicity is listening to your body. The complexity is offering it what it needs. And remembering that every emotion is temporary is an important part of the process. Everything is temporary. Every moment of sadness, happiness, love, and pain is a temporary experience, so with this in mind you can come out the other side and reduce the complexity of the symptoms that the trigger has on you.

This is just a bit of the wisdom Giulia has to share in her therapeutic work. If you’d like to speak with her about therapy click here to get scheduled.

2955 Valmont Rd. Suite 130
Boulder, CO 80301
(720) 588-3174

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