Triggers (part 2) December 2017

 

Last month we looked at triggers and how they set off a memory tape.

This month we are going to look at how to manage the triggers themselves.

Next month we will look at choices for managing the bodily reactions that triggers cause.

Review:  A trigger is something that sets off an old memory tape. Triggers are encountered through the five senses which sends a message to the brain and you can think, feel and react just as you did back at the time of the original incident. (see November 2017 blog)

 

Remember The Skunk: A skunk’s power comes from the ability to let off a strong pungent odour. When this gland is removed however, the skunk loses that power.  So it is with triggered memories. It is a de-scented skunk. The memory can only do what YOU allow it to do. You have the control now that you didn’t have at the time of the original incident.  Remember, it is a memory … it is NOT happening now. You can also use this same analogy about a bee without a stinger.

 

The following are ways that you can respond differently from how your mind and body are telling you to react when you encounter a trigger.

 

AVOIDANCE: I realize not all triggers can be avoided, but if you know something triggers you then you can look at possible ways to avoid it. For example, if you know that the city bus where you got assaulted triggers you, you might find alternate means of transportation.

THOUGHT STOPPING: As you’ve learned in previous blogs, your thoughts drive your feelings. One of the major interventions is to get hold of those thoughts before the intensity of your feelings builds too high. There are many techniques you can use for thought stopping and you may want to try several until you find the one that works best for you. Don’t get discouraged; it’s hard at first but keep trying. It will get easier and easier the more you use it. Here are a couple:

  1. Envision a word, for example STOP or CALM or PEACE each time you catch yourself getting caught up in destructive talk. You might picture something that this word symbolizes, for example, a road STOP sign or a flashing STOP sign. CALM might be a gentle snowfall or laying on warm sand at the beach. PEACE might be seen as a sleeping puppy or twinkling stars. You get to pick what you think will work for you.
  2. Use a behaviour that will only be used for thought stopping. Examples might be snap your fingers, pinch your earlobe, whistle a long note, count to 10, anything that will signal your mind to STOP. You can programme your mind so it will respond to this. Choose something that you can use comfortably anywhere, even in a crowd, as consistency is vital if it is to be effective. You don’t want to have one cue for public and a different one for private.

 

DEEP BREATHING: One of the body’s automatic reactions to stress is rapid, shallow breathing. Breathing slowly and deeply is one of the ways you can “turn off” your stress reaction and “turn on” your relaxation response.

RELAXATION: There are many tapes on the market for use in relaxation or you can make your own. Breathing is often incorporated in relaxation exercises.

VISUALIZATION: Counteract the negative trigger with a positive one. (yes, you can have positive triggers, too!) Replace the scene your mind plays with a more pleasant one – in other words, change the channel! Envision a time, place, or event when you were secure, relaxed, having fun. Make a list of your positive triggers. You might consider writing these out and posting them somewhere handy to see.

RESCRIPTING: Have you ever thought of rewriting the scene that caused you trauma? This may be an exercise you want to do with your therapist or someone you trust. Things to consider when doing this are: what would you want to be different? a) Something someone said or did? b) Something you would have liked to have said or done? c) someone else coming into the picture that makes a difference? Play the scene out in your mind. How is it different now?

DESENSITIZATION: This is a technique that allows you to build up a resistance to the trigger and lessens its impact on you. This is something that you may need someone trusted to help you to do this.

FOREWARNED, FOREARMED: Much like desensitization, this technique allows you to “build in some buffers” if you know you are going to encounter an unavoidable trigger.

 

Reactions in the past don’t have to continue in the future.

Choose today to start making changes. Change will occur as you continue to:

  • Identify what your triggers are.
  • Recognize how you respond to those triggers.
  • Be receptive to trying new ways of managing the triggers.

 

 

Judith S. Carscadden