In day-to-day conversations, and especially on social media, you may have encountered people saying how they “got triggered” by seeing, reading, or hearing something. However, what is exactly the meaning of that phrase?
In everyday use, “getting triggered” is usually used to describe feelings of discomfort, annoyance, or disagreement with content the person has come across. However, psychologically speaking, the phrase has a deeper and more complex meaning.
What does it mean to “get triggered”?
“Getting triggered” relates to a strong, negative emotional reaction to a trigger, no matter how we felt before engaging with it. You might have had a happy and fulfilling day and come across something that triggers you. And, for example, instead of only feeling discomfort, you might be experiencing intense fear, anxiety, and thinking that your life is in danger: you are convinced something bad is about to happen.
Even though getting triggered is a lot more common among people with mental health disorders such as PTSD, anxiety, eating, or substance abuse disorders, the truth is that anyone can have this experience.
What are triggers and why do they trigger us?
In short, triggers serve as reminders. What they do is disconnect us from “here and now”: they either bring us back to memories of difficult or traumatic experiences from our past, such as abuse, bullying, or embarrassment; or encourage us to feel fear, insecurity, and anxiety about what the future has in store for us. In other words, the trigger reminds our brain of a negative experience, which leads to the brain activating the fight-or-flight response, in order to protect us.
A trigger can be pretty much anything, and triggers vary from person to person. However, Triggers can be divided into two large groups: external and internal triggers. External triggers are triggers which can be found in the world around us and are usually connected to sensory information, such as smell, sounds, or sight. Internal triggers come from within us in form of bodily sensations, emotions, or even in form of thoughts.
Examples of external triggers
Examples of internal triggers
What can I do if I get triggered?
1. Engage in self-soothing
Reactions produced by triggers can be intense, overwhelming, and steer us away from the present moment. Find a quiet spot in your surroundings and do things that make you feel safe, calm, warm, and cosy.
Some self-soothing activities that could help you:
2. Get the emotions out of your system
Sometimes when we get triggered, we need calmness, safety, and comfort. Other times we might feel like the triggers brought us so much energy and emotions that we might burst any second. And that is okay. Sometimes we need to let our emotions out in a more physical way. In such times, give journaling a try. Active sports, such as cycling, running, or swimming, are also a great way to let it all out.
3. Reach out to people you feel safe with
It may be overwhelming to deal with all these intense emotions and racing thoughts on your own. If there is a person you trust and are comfortable with, ask for their support. Sharing your emotional experience and getting emotional support can help you calm down and relax.
4. Seek professional help
In some cases, the triggering can be frequent and intense, calming down can take a long time, and this whole process disturbs your day-to-day life. If you feel like this is the case, and that it is difficult to handle your triggers, it would be a good idea to seek out a therapist. The therapist can help you understand the roots of what you are going through and will support you in coping and healing from your triggers and disconnection from the “here and now”.
Experiencing emotional reactions to triggers is nothing to be ashamed of. They are a way of our body alarming us and expecting something will happen because of our previous traumatic experiences or beliefs we have. However, you don’t have to experience getting triggered over and over again: you can work on regaining control and coping by following the tips above. And if you ever need an extra hand, here at Antiloneliness we are happy to support you on your path of overcoming these reactions.
Written by Tena Mijić, Intern Psychologist at AntiLoneliness
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