I'm back after a bit of a break! Here's a short post on finding calmness within triggers and how to mindfully deal with intense stimulus.
Triggers tell your brain that you're supposedly in danger and that there is a threat perceived, which needs to be immediately responded to. The sympathetic nervous system is activated to save us from said perceived threat and we go into the well known "fight or flight" mode. This automatic activation not only reacts to physical threats, but also ones that could harm emotional well being, such as rejection or embarrassment. The main thing to note about this response is that it can prevent us from finding a state of presence in triggering situations, therefore clouding our judgment. The state of calmness is counteracted by this response so oftentimes, an opposite reaction occurs which does little to actually help the situation. It's important to remember that you don't have to be in the exact same situation as when the trigger first initiated, but as long as the feeling is the same, it's enough to invoke a reaction.
One of the hardest things about triggers is learning to recognize them. Because we believe our perceptions to be our realties during the time a trigger arises, they can be difficult to identify- which all comes down to self-awareness.
Because of this, it's also important to recognize that consciousness cannot be immediately produced, it can only be enabled. If you focus on something and deeply try to find calmness within it, you’re actually producing acetylcholine (focus chemical) in the brain, which is a neuromodulator that’s going to produce certain thoughts within your brain. In a state of calmness, the neurotransmitter GABA will actually be more dominant within your brain, NOT acetylcholine.
How To Feel Less Triggered
Whenever an emotional trigger emerges, it’s actually a result of the current situation stimulating the group of neurons stored in the brain that represents triggers of a previous experience. If the previous or initial experience was particularly traumatizing, the new experience will trigger the amygdala, or fear region.
Whenever you feel triggered, rather than trying to intellectually "solve" the situation or frantically get rid of whatever you're feeling, stop for a minute, take a deep breath, and take a period of space between the stimulus and the response. The longer the you can make that time of space and the calmer you become using the sighing neurons (neurons that calm you down) in your brain, it can reproduce new neural pathways to feel safer next time. Circling back to neuroplasticity, this is a key step in training your brain to gradually find comfort during such events.
Realizing that you need to take a moment to calm after a trigger means you have learned from the initial stressful experience, which your brain now recognizes. If you don’t, you’re deepening the compulsive reaction which is opposite to consciousness. When you’re not thinking in fight or flight mode, you’ll be able to better analyze and communicate your own needs.
Recognize the Threat
When you're able to recognize and name your threats, it's much easier to be aware of them and also what situations can potentially provoke them. Your brain will naturally look to validate your behavior or rationalize your reactions, which is why recognizing your triggers is so difficult, but also so necessary.
"At any moment, your rate of breathing, blood flow, tension in your muscles and constriction in your gut represents a pattern you can identify as a feeling"(Antonio Damasio).
2. Identify the Source
Though the original event may not happen frequently, it's still important to identify other similar situations that can evoke the same feeling(s). Try to notice patters or relative occurrences that could possibly share a feeling or generally be stress-inducing to you. Whatever similarities there are, it's necessary to search deeper within the common ground to figure out what steps you can take accordingly.
3. Take Time To Heal
Reflect on your feelings and behaviors that arise during those triggers. Remembering to accept yourself and your emotions is a major step in understanding that triggers are just like unhealed wounds that show you the parts of yourself that need healing. Ask yourself "What do I know now that I don't before?" or "Are my thoughts really true, is there actually a real threat?"
The first step to self regulation during triggers is to calm yourself. This decreases both cortisol and adrenaline that flood during such events.
Other Ways To Feel Less Triggered
Ex. "I did the best I could with the knowledge and beliefs I had at that time. I acknowledge myself for trying to grow and for the level of awareness I have developed as a result of that experience".