Triggers can be words, places, names, people, or any number of things that cause us to experience symptoms of our illnesses or engage in self-destructive behaviors. Many triggers are common and easy to identify: we know to avoid people who have hurt us and to not watch movies that may contain violence or drug use. However, sometimes symptoms or urges may come on suddenly with no apparent cause. Triggers that we may not be aware of could be the culprit. 

Avoiding the Obvious

Before investigating more elusive triggers, let’s review the ones we already know about. Even if you know exactly what images or phrases may trigger you, it can still be hard to avoid them. Sometimes they pop up without warning while we’re scrolling through social media, other times we see a movie with a friend without first seeing the trailer. Part of being able to avoid our triggers is helping others avoid theirs. 

The stigma behind mental health disorders and addiction is being reduced and it is now common for many people to include trigger or content warnings before their posts on social media — movies and TV shows have been doing it for years. By promoting a culture that supports others who may be in a similar position to you, you can support yourself at the same time. Some triggers may be harder to avoid, especially those that don’t come through a screen.

If you live near someone you know who is triggering to interact with, try changing your routes or going out with a support buddy. If triggering topics come up in conversation with others, remind yourself that it’s okay to speak up and say the topic is uncomfortable or excuse yourself from the conversation. Avoiding triggers is something we can’t always do on our own but as we continue to promote less stigmatized behavior and thought, we make it much easier on ourselves and others. 

Identifying Unknown Triggers

Now, before being able to avoid them, you have to identify your unknown triggers. This may seem difficult at first glance, but it’s something you can do on your own. To identify our triggers we have to first identify the thoughts or behaviors that are being triggered — trying to tackle them all at once would be overwhelming. Sticking with one thought or behavior, try to recall the most recent times that it presented itself. 

Once you’ve done that you can begin to identify the people, places, and things that were present when it took place. Eventually, you should see a pattern. If your memory isn’t great or this just seems too difficult, you may also consider trying to journal. Journaling is not only a great practice to adopt, but by keeping track of your feelings and actions you’ll be able to better understand them and what influences them. It can be tricky to pin down exactly what it is that’s triggering you but once you’ve detected a pattern certain things will likely stand out to you based on your own experience. 

Why Some Triggers are Hard to Identify

There are many reasons that things may trigger us without us realizing it. The human brain is a complex organ and the way we access memory is still not entirely clear to neurologists. Our brains are constantly performing functions that are out of our control and we are unaware of. Some of these functions may include drawing comparisons between certain memories and connecting them. When this happens we can begin to associate unrelated things with bad memories and those associations can cause those things to trigger us. 

Another reason that triggers may not seem apparent to us is trauma. Trauma can essentially rewire our entire brains and often impacts our memories. Exact details can become fuzzy and inaccessible to us but our brain will still be able to pick up on triggers and signal responses. When this happens we can feel panicked and experience certain urges and that can be amplified by not knowing why we’ve suddenly started feeling that way. 

Overcoming Triggers

Beyond identifying and avoiding them, it is also possible to no longer be impacted by our triggers. Therapy can help us to better understand triggers, their roots, and their impacts. Speaking with someone else, especially a trained professional, can provide insight that otherwise wouldn’t have reached us. Placing the things that harm us into a new perspective makes it possible for us to become distanced from them and eventually hold more power over them than they do us. 

Triggers have the potential to cause devastating changes in our lives. Without knowing how to properly avoid and manage our triggers, we may fall into self-destructive and dangerous behavior. If you are struggling with addiction and your triggers are overwhelming, call Rancho Milagro at (951) 526-4582. We offer life-changing treatment and a commitment to your recovery. At Rancho Milagro, we believe in treating the entire person: mind, body, and spirit. Here you will find individualized care that is suited to your personal needs because we know there is no one path to recovery. Located in the secluded hills of Temecula, CA, we offer a private and peaceful healing experience surrounded by miles of nature trails and over 20 farm and therapy animals. In addition to attentive medical care, we also offer nature therapy, art therapy, massage therapy, and other services. Rancho Milagro is a community of hope and healing, our most important goal is your recovery. 

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