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Dancing with your triggers

Triggers serve a powerful purpose; they signal to your nervous system and body that there is potential danger and primes you for survival. Usually this is due to something (event, images, scent, etc.) or someone reminding your system of a past deeply stressful or traumatic experience. They instantly affect your entire internal state. It can take a person right back into that distressing moment and cause their entire being to instantaneously relive it. We can sometimes see a trigger for what it is and sometimes it catches us completely off guard.

Often we respond to triggers with (now) maladaptive coping responses - please remember, these coping mechanisms you learned in the trauma served their purpose at the time, they helped you through that experience and got you to where you are today. However, today this same coping tool may not be beneficial and you may be wanting to renavigate these waters.

This can be done through things like trauma-informed yoga, mindfulness, trauma coaching or therapy. There are many ways that you can re-explore and integrate safety into your system again. One thing that may be useful for you is to notice what it means to dance with, or befriend, certain triggers. What is it like to sit in presence and witness your emotions and hold them while they work their way through you? The chemicals that create emotions within you only last up to 90 seconds before dissolving and dissipating. 90 seconds of holding space for yourself and allowing yourself to feel whatever is arising within you and then watching is settling back to a more neutral space. I often have to remind myself of this in the moment of Big Emotions, activators or triggers, “Can I hold this with compassion for the next 90 seconds?” If the feelings persist after the 90 seconds we need to check in with the thoughts we’re thinking to see if they are re-stimulating the same emotions.

Now, don’t get me wrong, some triggers and activators are much, much bigger than others and can cause great overwhelm that takes you out of the thinking or rational mind so you may not be able to catch them right away. That’s okay. Breathe and focus on long, full exhales while you get your mind back online (prefrontal cortex) and then maybe you explore what it’s like to witness the emotions move in and through you. This is why I call it a dance, it’s a constant ebb and flow, up and down, and everything in between; sometimes you are in control and lead the way, sometimes your emotions take over and they lead the dance. It’s about working towards a rhythm where you’re both benefiting and can work with and for each other. Go with grace, go with compassion and patience, and over time the dance becomes more fluid, while teaching you something new every step of the way.


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