What Triggers You?

My tree nut allergy has done me more harm than good. When I go to a restaurant, I have to tell the server that I have a nut allergy. I’ve been to some restaurants that won’t even serve me because their food has been “produced in a factory that may contain nuts.” The fact that I have to explain my allergy to everyone makes me roll my eyes in disgust.

Despite the inconvenience of people misunderstanding, I could die if I didn’t explain this to people and inadvertently ate nuts. My throat could close up and I could lose my ability to breathe.

Did you know that anxiety also has allergies? They’re called triggers.

Triggers are objects, actions, or behaviors that can stir up anxiety in an individual. Our triggers are unique to our different childhood experiences. What is anxiety inducing for me may be no sweat for you, and vice versa. According to Psych Central, triggers “set off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of his/her original trauma.”

The level of anxiety that each trigger brings also depends on the level of trauma an individual has faced in his/her lifetime. Victims of sexual/physical abuse or near death experiences may have triggers that cause them to pass out or break into a panic. Others may be easily angered by a specific topic or the way a person behaves. Regardless of what you faced as a child or young adult, you don’t need to have had a traumatic experience for you to have triggers.

Unlike allergies, triggers can be eliminated in your life. However, it requires a bit of self-analysis and patience. Journaling can help you identify your triggers. Take time to think about what makes you uncontrollably angry, sad, or anxious. Dr. Margaret Paul suggests considering when the triggers started. Thinking back to what started the trigger could cause you to have a panic attack, so remember to take deep breaths and stay grounded. Remember that what happened in the past isn’t happening in this moment. If this is too difficult for you to do on your own without having anxiety, ask a trusted friend or a counselor to help you calm down as you process.

When you’ve identified your triggers, consider how you typically respond. Do you tense up? Do you feel faint? Do you have explosive anger? Do you get really quiet? The next step is to decide how you’re going to handle it differently. The traumatic experience that happened to you is in the past, and your present does not need to be defined by your past. You will need to be patient with yourself as you learn how to act differently. Take some deep breaths and practice healthy coping mechanisms to get back on track. You can’t always control how you’re going to react, but focus on what you can control: your breathing, counting backwards from 10, or squeezing a stress ball.

As a Christian, I believe that God can heal your pain by filling that hole that the trauma left. If you were in a near death experience, maybe God wants to show you how He saved your life. If you were abused, maybe God wants to show you His perfect love. If you were abandoned, maybe God wants to show you how He will never leave you or forsake you. Since people have had different experiences, this may seem like a slap in the face that I’m simplifying these Biblical truths like a spiritual band-aid over your deep-rooted pain. However, I’ve seen God heal people from severe trauma, whether it took a few hours or a few decades.

I can’t speak for God and say how He was specifically with you in the midst of your trauma. However, I can say that Romans 8:28 says that God works all things for the good of those who love Him. That does not mean that we have a carefree life, but it means that God can even make a bad situation good. God can redeem your story so that you can help others and you can experience joy again.

God can meet you in your pain. Let Him redeem your story. Be patient with yourself as you heal from the triggers that your past experiences have caused you. It will take time, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Photo by Mitch Lensink on Unsplash


What You Can Control

I woke up this morning feeling nauseous, in pain, and tired. This meant that I could not do the things that I planned to do today (you know, like finally submit my book to a literary agent!). I had everything set up to submit, and all I had to do was do a final run-through and e-mail it. Unfortunately, all I could do was stay in bed and hold my stomach, as if holding my stomach would somehow relieve the pain. I couldn’t control my health, and I couldn’t control my schedule, but I could control the food I ate and the books I read while lying down.

I heard a sermon a few years ago where the pastor told us that we are responsible for our bodies and our choices. I was taken aback by that comment. I couldn’t control my body! I have anxiety. Anxiety controls me.

Or does it?

One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. That means that God empowers us to control ourselves. Addiction may be tough to beat, but God gives us the strength and the willpower to stop. The same is true for anxiety. Anxiety wants you to think that you don’t have control, but the reality is, you do have control.

When life gets overwhelming, it feels like I’m not in control. However, since one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control, that means we have a responsibility for something, and that is ourselves. We are in control of the self when we practice self-control.

I may not be able to control what people say to me, but I can control how I respond. I may not be able to control my noisy neighbors (do your kids have to scream at the top of their lungs in the middle of the day?), but I can control my approach to the situation. I may not be able to control people’s expectations of me, but I can control how I spend my time and the choices I make with my habits and activities.

When anxiety strikes, you have a choice. It may feel like you can’t breathe, but you have a choice to take deep breaths and to practice positive self-talk. You may have a stomachache and feel like you’re going to throw up, but you have a choice to pray and to take your mind off of the pain. My therapist told it to me this way, “No one ever died from a panic attack.” Remember that your anxiety will pass. Don’t do anything to harm yourself physically or to talk down to yourself. Find healthy coping mechanisms such as memorizing Scripture, journaling, deep breathing, or talking it out with someone. Over time, your anxiety attacks will be more manageable.

In the long run, take a look at your life and see what is causing you anxiety. Is it your job, family, living situation, health, free time, relationships, or something else? Any and all of these things can cause us stress. Before trying to take control, identify which of these aspects of your life you can control and which you cannot. You can switch jobs, set boundaries with your family, move out, take care of your body, plan activities that fuel you rather than drain you, and pray about how to approach the conflicts in your life.

Unfortunately, sometimes life isn’t always that easy. Money isn’t always in our favor, families aren’t always that understanding, and medical conditions may cause difficulties in maintaining a healthy weight or working out efficiently. As my friend used to say in high school, “Do your best, and let God do the rest.” Focus on what you can control, and surrender to God what you can’t control. Do what you can control well, and trust God to do His part in your life.

Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. We are not able to control ourselves without God’s help. Pray today for wisdom in how to control yourself, your anxiety, and your life.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13

Photo by Wilco Van Meppelen on Unsplash