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