A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape, or flashback, or a feeling that transports a person back to the event of her/his original situation. Triggers are very personal, as different things trigger different people. A pleasant trigger may be the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. An unpleasant trigger may be a war veteran having a flashback while watching a violent movie. This type of trigger is generally associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and activates the fight or flight response.

An individual will react to the trigger flashback with an emotional intensity similar to that at the time of the experience. During a traumatic event, the brain often ingrains sensory stimuli into memory and becomes a habit. When someone becomes aware of a habit and continues to do it, then it is a choice.

A person’s triggers are activated through one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. The senses identified as being the most common to trigger someone are sight and sound. Triggers can cause a person to feel overwhelming sadness, anxiety or panic. When a person is in or perceives a stress-inducing situation, hormones related to the fight or flight response take over. The individual loses their objectivity, rationality and become totally, temporally absorbed in the experience. The result is wanting to fight or run away.

Triggers can be useful as they tell us we have an unproductive and usually negative past experience we can learn from. By becoming aware of our trigger and taking responsibility for our reactions, we can choose to heal this automatic response. Triggers will disappear if we don’t feed and repeat them. So, let’s see how we can get rid of unproductive triggers.

Steps to Success  

1.      Awareness: Admit to and be accountable and responsible for your trigger and behavior. Do not blame anyone else.

2.      Feel: Identify your specific emotions and past experience.

3.      Breathe: Release emotions and thoughts as you exhale.

4.      Desire: Break the trigger cycle by being more powerful than the trigger.

5.      Repeat: Mentally say positive affirmations to feel good and extinguish the trigger.

Jeff Gero, Ph.D., is a stress management specialist and coach. He can be reached at 818.879.1373, or find more tips on his website: StressSurvivalKit.net.