What is a Trigger?
A trigger is a reminder of past trauma. This reminder can cause a person to feel overwhelming sadness, anxiety, or panic, or anger. It may also cause flashbacks. A flashback is a vivid visual often negative memory that may appear without warning. It can cause someone to lose track of their surroundings and relive the traumatic event.
I used to and still sometimes get triggers of my past. It’s also inevitable, with the life I have had. It can be as someone simply calling me an Idiot, or Stupid. It triggers me to the point of me running away and crying like a child. And then not even know what happened later. Sometimes I get horrible night terrors waking up the smelling the horrible cigarettes my mother use to smoke and seeing my mother screaming and threatening to hit me in bed. Since I live in the same town I grew up in there are still places I have a difficult time going.
Triggers can take many forms. They may be a physical location or the anniversary of the traumatic event. A person could also be triggered by internal processes such as stress.
Sometimes triggers are predictable. For instance, a War Veteran may have flashbacks while watching a violent movie or hearing fireworks, or someone standing to close behind them. In other cases, triggers are less intuitive. A person who smelled incense during a sexual assault may have a panic attack when they smell the same incense in a store.
Some people use ”trigger” in the context of other mental concerns, such as substance abuse or anxiety. In these cases, a trigger can be a cue that prompts an increase in symptoms. For example, a person recovering from anorexia may be triggered by photos of very thin celebrities. When the person sees these phot, they may feel the urge to starve them again.
How Are Triggers Formed?
The exact brain functioning behind triggers is not fully understood. However, there are several theories about how triggers work.
When a person is in a threatening situation, they may engage in a fight or flight response.
The body goes on high alert, prioritizing all it’s resources to react to the situation. Functions that aren’t necessary for survival, such as digestion, areput on hold.
One of the functions neglected during a fight or flight situation is short term memory formation. In some cases, a person’s brain may missile the traumatic event in its memory storage. Rather than being stored as a past event, the situation is labeled as a still-present threat. When a person is reminded of the trauma, their body acts as if the event is happening, returning to fight or flight mode.
In some cases, a sensory trigger can cause an emotional reaction before a person realizes why they are upset.
Another theory is that triggers are powerful because they often involve the senses. Sensory information (sights, sounds, and especially smells) play a large part in memory. The more sensory information is stored, the easier a memory is to recall.
During a traumatic event, the brain often in grains sensory stimuli into memory. Even when a person encounters the same stimuli in another context, they associate the trauma. In some cases, a sensory trigger can cause an emotional reaction before a person realizes why they are upset.
Habit formation also plays a strong role in triggering. People tend to do the same things in the same way. Fill the same patterns saves the brain from having to make decisions.
For example, say a person always smokes when driving. When a person gets in the car their brain expects them to follow the same routine and light a cigarette. Thus, driving could trigger the urge to smoke, even if the person wishes to quit smoking. Someone can be triggered even if they don’t make a conscious connection between their behavior and their surroundings.
What Are Trigger Warnings?
A trigger warning is a notice of potential triggers in future discussion or content. The aim is to let people with mental health concerns avoid or prepare themselves for triggers. It is impossible to predict or avoid all triggers, since many are unique to a persons situation. Warning are often reserved for common triggers such as images of violence.
Even though some triggers can not be predicted. One should not go around in constant worry or panic of having one. In some people they are inevitable but, it would be disgraceful if you let it ruin your life. Find joy and peace where you can.