Triggers can result from a situation that has or will happen and are usually associated with a negative emotional reaction. A trigger can be a flashback that sets off a memory that can send a person back to the moment in time of trauma. It’s a reminder. This reminder can cause an overwhelming feeling that produces anxiety, sadness, or even panic. Triggers can come in many forms that don’t have to be physical. For example, the date of an anniversary can be a trigger. Sometimes we can predict what will be triggers. For example, watching a scary movie might cause a person to re-live a trauma in their head. Even smells can set a person off. Certain people can be very hyper-sensitive to their triggers. For example, a person recovering from an eating disorder, might be triggered by celebrities and Instagram models that are extremely skinny when they see them.
When the original trauma occurs, we are in flight or fight mode. During this time, short term memory is faulty. The moment in time gets shuffled around and de-prioritized. The situation doesn’t get filed as past event, rather it remains recent and in the short term. This makes the memory easier to recall. Then when similar situations arise, the brain senses the stimuli and recalls the memory. The brain also falls victim to habits. So let’s say someone always smokes while they drive. The brain soon starts to associate driving with smoking, the two go hand I hand, and hence the habit has been formed. The brain then thinks whenever you drive you smoke, and driving becomes a trigger for smoking.
When it comes to triggers that cause us to emotionally eat or avoid exercise, we have to stop and think about the associations. Are the triggers internal or external? Internal would be memories, emotions, or body sensations. Examples include feelings of anger, frustration, feeling out control, feeling vulnerable, pain, sadness or anxiety. External would be people, places, or situations. These include arguments, T.V or movie shows, car accidents, smells, anniversaries, holidays, seeing certain people, or the way relationships panned out. Whatever the case, our why has to be handled and controlled. This involves breathing, grounding ourselves, relaxing, being mindful, and finding support. A life lived by the fear or triggers won’t work. But if you eat like its Thanksgiving every time you see a certain person, then the trigger needs to addressed. We can’t deny what we don’t want to face or we can’t move forward. Our journey is about growth and change, and also diminishing triggers that aim to harm us.