Becoming Conscious of Reactivity
Do you sometimes feel like you are a loaded weapon with a hair trigger? One small, seemingly innocuous, or perhaps a big and obvious stimulus that opens the gateways of Anxiety, anger, frustration, sadness, and a whole host of other negative emotions.
Oh, the many things that can and do trigger us in this world!!! Created by our past experiences and beliefs that are born from them. Those traumas seem to pop up out of the blue to ruin your day.
We are constantly bombarded with information real and false, believable, or not; agitated, overstimulated, and divided. We are taught that we live in a dangerous world. That we must be on guard all the time. Traumatized and challenged all day every day. So much to the point that it is becoming customary to give “Trigger Warnings”.
We seem to be increasingly losing the ability to hear each other and accept one another’s differences, or to simply get through the day without being in physical or emotional misery. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
I dream of a kinder and more peaceful world.
How are Triggers created and how do we heal them?
Triggers reveal our deeply held and sometimes hidden beliefs. If you believe something about the trigger is true to you- even beneath your conscious awareness, it can set off a negative reaction. Triggers can reveal your hidden self-judgment.
If you didn’t believe something to some extent, even subconsciously, it wouldn’t trigger you. That was a big lesson for me to learn.
Challenges to our personal beliefs and personal safety are enormous in our current world.
Political Beliefs are certainly in this category…don’t worry, that is all I have to say about that. Except that those triggers, much like the rest of them, come from what we individually believe to be true.
That has certainly been my experience.
Okay great, we believe things and we get triggered- “What causes it to keep happening?”
I’ll use one of my bigger ones, so you know where I am coming from. Many years ago, I was attacked and “pistol-whipped” in my sleep and woke up to a severely lacerated and bone-shattered face. There was an added trauma of not knowing how or why it happened. My injuries required a long hospital stay and reconstructive surgeries. There is a much bigger story to that obviously, and I did learn later what happened. Damage still done.
The experience however, was one that certainly created a lot of beliefs:
One being “it isn’t safe to fall asleep”- particularly when I am not at my own home. The thought of sleep became a trigger, anxiety and insomnia were the result, and drinking alcohol excessively was my solution for years.
This may be a good time to mention that avoidance behavior only perpetuates the trigger…
This was just one of many traumatizing events in my life that contributed to my development of Complex PTSD and a cohabiting addiction.
Many of my triggers used to arrive with a similar intensity of the feeling of waking up to my broken face. My learned and near-unconscious reaction was to run away from it and self-medicate. The point of this article however, is that I found a way out of living in that cave of horrors.
I have learned to tame my triggers.
Perhaps a less intense example:
Say you got stung by a bee while walking through a particular park. The trauma is caused by the actual event of being stung. The mind then associates that area and/or the thought of bees with that trauma. Then the thoughts or memory of the trauma becomes a trigger. So, what happens is that perhaps you stop going to that park, which is avoidance behavior. Perhaps seeing a bee or a picture of a bee, or perhaps the mere mention of bees can trigger the memory of the trauma.
Perhaps now you are terrified of bees or already were and the event only solidified the belief that bees are dangerous and want to attack you, or it could go further… “Parks are dangerous” because there might be bees in them. Better to just avoid parks, right? Now because you believe that parks are dangerous- the thought of a park can become your trigger. A big and possibly malignant cycle has now been created which has a lot of potential to grow and infect other areas of your life.
Your thoughts feed the stimulus, and your belief (because of an experience) causes your brain, body, or both, to have a stress reaction. This is where we generally go on autopilot. Subconsciously you “know” what’s going to happen next so here we go…
Boom! Trigger pulled and you are now exploding with the relative emotions of that trauma.
I know this world all too well from suffering for over 25 years with intense and chronic Anxiety.
As a child, my anxiety originally manifested as stomach aches and no appetite. As I became an adult, it graduated to diagnosable anxiety disorders with full force Panic Attacks from which I was in a state of freefall; having absolutely no sense of control over where my brain or body was heading.
I lived with everything from extreme Panic, beyond terror, to Generalized Anxiety about everything and sometimes seemingly nothing. Social Anxiety and other phobias developed in between. It was only a few years ago that I was diagnosed with CPTSD.
By that time, it had spun off in multiple directions from multiple sources, but the results were the same. Disorder, Fear, Anger, Frustration, Depression, Self-Loathing, Avoidance, Addiction…the list is long, and everything on it had triggers.
A lot of it was created from obvious traumas that branched and produced multiple triggers, that kept me in agony. The rest, from things that I wasn’t yet aware of.
EVERYTHING STARTS WITH AWARENESS!!!
I am going to reference “being present” and “awareness” a lot going forward because to me it was the most important skill to learn. I am certainly not yet a master, and it is a skill that is acquired with practice and repetition over time. This also ties in with my sometimes least favorite word- Patience. Which can surely be very challenging when it comes to anxiety.
Healing can only come from an awareness of what needs to be healed.
So, you first need to begin to or continue to pay attention to what it is that is triggering you:
Is it your thoughts, beliefs, or feelings?
Is it All of the Above?
Thoughts as Triggers:
Is it something that crossed your mind?
Is it something somebody said?
Is it a particular memory? Is it a particular thought that results in a feeling? Is it a particular thing? Identifying what is causing your anxiety, sadness, anger, etc., is the first step.
Beliefs as Triggers:
Do things that you or others believe cause you to be triggered?
This happens when we feel challenged in some way. Someone else may be pushing their beliefs or ideas on you that you don’t agree with. These days, we have been programmed to react negatively to others with an opposing view instead of realizing that we are all on our own journey.
Does it really matter what other people think as it relates to our personal experiences?
Do I really need to give other people’s opinions my energy?
Turns out, no I don’t. Some of my triggers were healed right then and there.
Feelings as triggers:
Something you feel in the body may trigger you.
For example, A racing or pounding heart comes first. Then your mind goes into overdrive because you associate body sensations and trauma and that is absolutely valid. Sometimes though, it is over-stimulation of some sort that causes a reaction.
When I learned to become present with my triggers, I found that something like a rapid heartbeat could have simply been from dehydration-
Or eating too much sugar… Guilty on multiple counts!!!
I used to attach or connect the feeling of my heart pounding with anxiety and that would trigger a panic attack. However, now with awareness, I can experience a body symptom for whatever reason, but instead of being in a panic, I am just a little uncomfortable (and perhaps a little annoyed) until it passes.
“Well, the Body holds trauma, and what if I haven’t healed that yet?
I found that this still applies. I can still have a body reaction to a disturbance. A loud noise, for example, may cause physical tension or shaking; but since I know what it is, I can keep myself calm until it passes without it triggering a heavier response.
I could also engage in some form of self-care to alleviate the stress. I am present, and I know I am safe. No need to trigger a larger reaction.
This is where it can get a little more interesting:
Your triggers are windows into traumas of some form or another.
Sometimes you don’t know the source and you may need to dig a little deeper. You may just find something that needs to be healed or adjusted.
I certainly have.
Are you Avoiding certain things because you know that it is a trigger?
Does a particular something cause you to avoid altogether, or to self-medicate in some way? My
“go-to” became Alcohol, because it was the only “tried and true” thing that I found I could use to escape from the pain I was in.
It got to the point where my avoidance behavior itself became a trigger. Negative self-worth feelings can (and did) come up which further fed the need to escape and self-medicate more. It can get mighty complicated.
It took a long time for me to be able to fully recognize that I was the one in control when I became present. Instead of automatically going for a drink, I could choose to feel the trigger, breathe through it, and let it pass.
How to overcome and release triggers and traumas:
What I have found on my journey is this:
Healing yourself from your triggers mirrors the same process of Meditation:
Become present and aware of the trigger. Then observe it and accept it. Next consciously release it and let it go. It only comes back when you try to ignore and suppress it.
When you feel triggered. Stop, become present in your body, and breathe:
1)Find presence: Become aware of your thoughts and feelings "in the moment". Do not fight them, do not try to escape them, self-medicate, or numb out. It takes time and practice to learn to become present, but it is the most important step with all of this.
2) Let yourself experience it and accept that you feel that way: Trying to cram it down or escape it will make you hold onto it, and it will find its way back up to the surface the next time something (trigger) reminds you of it. “What you resist, persists”.
3) Release the energy: Let it go emotionally and physically.
Ground- There are so many grounding techniques. Walking in nature or even on a patch of grass is a simple way. It is better to do it barefoot if you can. Consciously release the associated energy. Visualize it leaving your body somehow; for example, visualize roots growing from the bottom of your feet and reaching into the earth. Then visualize the energy passing through your body into the roots and then into the earth.
Getting into a body of water if it is convenient is also excellent. People who live near and frequent the beach tend to be a little more relaxed for a reason. Just sayin’…
Sometimes I like to visualize excess energy streaking from my hands like Emperor Palpatine projecting force lightning…
(Yes, I gratuitously used a Star Wars reference. You are welcome and I am not sorry). 😉
In seriousness though,
See it, feel it, and release it in whatever way that works best for you. Visualize and feel the energy leaving your body. Just setting the intention to release it helps to release it.
Let it go.
I still sometimes catch myself holding tight when I become present in my body. Something that has improved greatly over time but is a process just like everything else. The body remembers trauma, but I have found that I can use my mind and be intentional about it.
Recently I was experiencing some heavy breakthrough anxiety sensations. Sometimes I am not sure where from, it doesn’t always matter. It could have just been from overstimulation, but I have been using this and it has worked within moments.
I feel the anxiety- Immediately recognize it and become present in my mind and body. Let myself feel it- Accept that I feel that way, and then Consciously release it. It happened twice within about an hour or so the other night, but when I did this- It passed…quickly and didn’t return after that.
-Mindfulness: Beginning a mindfulness practice is a very important step. This is the simple act of waking from autopilot that we tend to run on most of the day and returning to a state of awareness. Wearing a rubber band on the wrist or a particular piece of jewelry can be used as a simple reminder to become present. I also highly recommend reading:
“The Power of Now” by: Eckhart Tolle.
-Meditation: A regular meditation practice is extremely beneficial. Finding a sense of calm to go back to, or remembering a set point from the peaceful state of meditation can help immensely- Regular meditation can bring peace to unwanted, automatic, and rapid thoughts. — Yes, you can relieve that!
-Other Grounding and Centering practices, Energy and Body Work: This could be anything from taking a walk in a nature spot, getting into the water, getting a massage, working out, to doing Yoga or Qigong. There is also Energy work such as Reiki or Breathwork. You can also do body trauma work such as Trauma Release Exercises (TRE).
-If you want to go the extra mile-
-Give gratitude for the trigger. Being grateful to it for illuminating something that you need to heal. Attaching positive thoughts over negative thoughts can be very powerful.
-Take a cold shower. Think of working with a trigger the same as you would getting into a cold shower without tensing up. Consciously relaxing as you go in the water instead of giving it physical and emotional resistance can make it less intense. It works literally and metaphorically, and your body will remember. Allow it, Accept it. Let go. There are many other positive benefits to cold immersion, but I need to wrap this up. 😊
These are all tools that I have implemented personally and have been immensely helpful in my healing process.
Having less negative energy trapped within can reduce the power of a trigger for the same reason.
I am not a doctor, or a certified therapist so take from this what you wish. I am not telling you to ignore your doctor and I am surely aware that certain activities that have been outlined here may not be in everyone’s best interests from a physical or mental health standpoint. So, consult your doctor or therapist where you need to. I still do.
I can confidently say that I am well educated from studying Biology and Psychology in university, internships, years of personal study, and a lifetime of experience and experimentation that has ultimately brought me to finding peace and healing.
I am someone who suffered miserably for over 25 years with anxiety and had come to the belief that this was what life was always going to be.
I am so grateful to have found that is not the case!
The cure for my hopelessness came with Awareness. My only wish is to help at least one other person find a way out of the maze.
I did that most importantly, by practicing becoming present. Learning Acceptance over resistance, overcoming fear by Allowing myself to feel it. Then learning how to Consciously Release what I was holding instead of running from what triggered my anxiety and other mood disturbances.
The world conditions us to run away from discomfort. I’m telling you to head into it! “Feel the Fear and do it anyway”. Feel the anger and pain and let it pass.
That which you ignore will show its head again when the same stimulus arises. Remember:
“What you resist, persists!”
LEAN INTO IT, experience, accept, release.
Awareness of triggers enables you to find your way back to the present moment and make a conscious decision instead of a thoughtless, fear-based reaction from what happened in the past. You are empowered when you become aware, and therefore consciously able to choose to live with Intention.
Triggers are indications of something that needs to be healed or where to do “shadow work”. Being grateful for the trigger and further exploring to find traumas and negative beliefs, gives you the ability to release and heal.
Practice becoming and staying present through triggers so you can move through them instead of resisting, numbing, and self-medicating.
Instead, you can implement positive affirmations, practice self-care, grounding, and any other ways that help you to release energy in a healthy way.
Know that the past doesn’t dictate the future. Our attachments to past events lead us to believe they do.
So, take a breath before taking a shot, or a hit. Take a walk before you bite back or throw a jab. There is a way out of that cave.
If you are suffering, DON’T EVER GIVE UP! You are worthy and You are not alone! You can do this! You can recover.
You can find peace.
-Love, Light, and Gratitude-
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