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  • Writer's pictureAlex Rathbun

Identifying triggers and how to deal with them

Identifying triggers and how to deal with them

Hi there, welcome to Brightly Alex Mental Health Monday! Each week I talk about a recent experience of mine with mental health. This week I want to discuss triggers - what they are and how to deal with them.

What is a trigger?

I've heard the word "trigger" used sarcastically or half-jokingly a lot on social media. But that's not really what I'm talking about. For me, a trigger is usually a circumstance or a set of contributing factors at once that cause me to start feeling anxious, or sometimes cause a panic attack or depression.

For example, over the past few months, I've realized that every time I've visited my family in Michigan, when I come back and am alone, I start to feel anxious. Some other triggers for me are having an unstructured day alone, having little work to do, feeling physically sick, not getting enough sleep, or experiencing a sudden change of plans.

Thinking through the trigger

Through discussion with my therapist and others, as well as journaling, I've realize that I become anxious after visiting family because of the sudden contrast in social interaction and routine. When I work alone for a few weeks straight, I get into a fairly comfortable rhythm and routine and enjoy being alone. Then, I go to Michigan and am surrounded by all the people I love constantly for a few days, giving me a lot of joy and taking me out of my rhythm. Then, I return home and it can be difficult to find my solo rhythm again and being alone will often make me suddenly panic.

How do you deal with triggers?

So, once you can identify triggers, there are helpful steps that can be taken. Unfortunately, sometimes knowing what sets me off forces me into overanalyzing or overthinking scenarios (ie. if I know I'm going to be alone for a whole day, I'll make myself feel anxious before it even starts just by thinking about it). Obviously that's not ideal, so instead it's been helpful for me to stop and think about exactly what's scary, then plan ahead to combat that fear.

For example, today is my first day alone after being with family for Thanksgiving all last week. I knew this day was coming, so I was able to logistically prepare by scheduling fun activities for myself, planning out my work week in detail ahead of time, and making sure I'm interacting with plenty of people this week. I also took sleeping medicine last night to ensure a good night's sleep before my day alone. I'm sure some anxiety will still come, but hopefully this preparation will help minimize it.

What if you don't know your triggers?

It's taken me a while to find patterns in the onset of my anxiety. Sometimes it comes when I'm alone, sometimes when I'm with people. Sometimes it comes in my apartment, sometimes it comes when I'm at a coffee shop. Sometimes it comes when I'm doing something familiar, sometimes it comes when I'm trying something new. These inconsistencies can be really frustrating because it's scary to not know what will trigger you.

For this, I'd say that having grace for myself has been extremely important. Being patient and not expecting too much from myself is crucial. Also, sometimes I need to just accept that I became anxious over one small thing, but I don't need to overthink it and fear that it will happen again when I do something similar.

I hope this helps! Enjoy your post-Thanksgiving week. Here are some favorites from my trip:

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