I was sitting on a cold steel table in the emergency room fighting severe chest pains. After two hours of tests, pills, liquids, poking and prodding, and attempts to get my blood pressure to go down, the doctor came in to tell me that what I was experiencing was an intense panic attack. What? This had never happened to me before. “But my chest really hurts!” I emphatically pointed out. “Yes” she said calmly. “Panic attacks really hurt.” What brought on such an extreme reaction? In the moments before my chest began its painful jabbing- my then- fiancee and I were having a discussion about going to a car dealership to buy a car. I was suddenly overcome with an irrational fear and not long after was headed to the emergency room.
A psychological trigger is defined as, “a reminder (including smells, sounds, or sights) of a past trauma that causes an overwhelming feeling of sadness, anxiety, or panic.” Strange as it may sound, the idea of going to a car dealership reminded me almost spontaneously of an emotionally traumatizing experience (no offense to car dealerships) and triggered panic. I did not know how to combat it and needed hours in an emergency room to calm down.
I am usually one of those irritatingly happy people who most often sees the world in a pastel rainbow swarming with butterflies . Of course, I do have sad times like every one else, however, my unhappy moments generally are just that- moments, rarely lasting longer than a few hours or a few days. However, last May I got into a lingering funk. These particular blues were hanging on and because I could not nail down an apparent reason, I became “down” for being “down” which was causing me to be “down” on myself.
Then one morning I realized that I was experiencing a trigger. Last year at that same time, I had undergone many big changes in my life. I retired from a 25-year heart and soul career and started a new job with a huge insecure-inducing learning curve. That month I had also experienced some hurts that caused my spirit to need recuperating for several months. May was bringing this all back to me on a subconscious level and cocooned me in a deep sadness. When I realized most of what I was feeling was just a trigger about this time of the year, I was able to to begin to let go and move on.
In addition to learning the power of recognizing a trigger to help overcome its effects, I have also found that when I am triggered by something in the present that brings back something negative in the past, I can apply two tiny words to the situation and finish the sentence with a scripture to help me get recover more quickly. Those words are “and yet”. Let me explain.
Yesterday a five minute phone conversation triggered disquieting unrest. The words spoken did not match statements made a few weeks earlier. The incongruity in one simple sentence incited a fear that did not seem reasonable When I recognized I had been reacting to a reminder from the past, I applied my strategy. I thought: I am afraid and yet “God did not give me a spirit of fear, but of love, and of power, and of a sound mind.” 1 Timothy 1:7 After a short time, I was able to think of the conversation in a more realistic light, let go and move on.
Most people have a few triggers. Some are healed quickly and others seem to take a lifetime. Some are severe and some are mild. I am discussing mild triggers that are sometimes helped by just knowing what they are so we can examine reasons we may be reacting a certain way. I have discovered that if I mentally or aloud state my true feelings, “I am afraid” “I am sad” “I am lonely” “I am hurt” due to a trigger from a past negative incident, apply “and yet”, and then finish the sentence with whatever scripture I have memorized or can find for my situation (sometimes repeated several times), it can be one helpful tool to find triumph over those triggers.
A few of my favorite “and yet,” statements are:
I feel weak, and yet, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13
I feel sad, and yet, “The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Psalm 28:7
I feel stressed, and yet, “When I am overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I”. Psalm 61:2
I am not a professional counselor or psychologist. I do not mean to suggest that this is a cure-all for any time you are sad, scared, or stressed. I do know that when I recognize I am experiencing a trigger from something that happened in the past using Bible scriptures can bring relief to my immediate reaction and put me in a place to see the incident more rationally.
Another strategy I have used is to refocus my attention onto something calming or more positive. For example, today I was in a class where the heat vent was blowing hot air directly onto me. For many years, this has caused me to feel anxious. It reminds me almost subconsciously of a traumatic time in my past. Usually when confronted with direct heat like this I can usually move or avoid it. However, today I could not change seats or better position myself. What helped was being aware of this trigger and then focusing on more positive things going on in the room (the instructor’s booming voice, the woman’s pretty pink bag that perfectly matched her sweater, a delightfully displayed fruit plate) to relieve my stress.
Also, I have found an additional method to help heal a damaging trigger is to replace the negative trigger with something good. For example, for many years, I used to dread Thanksgiving. My family has helped to make it a very joyous special day full of gratitude and now I love it. Thanksgiving is no longer a trigger for me.
Perhaps, you are wondering why you are feeling a certain way and cannot put your finger on why. It may be helpful to examine the possibility of being triggered by a stimuli in your environment or a reminder of a difficult event. If you already know your triggers and when they are sparked, you may want to try applying my “and yet” strategy by adding comforting scripture to combat what you are feeling, refocusing on something else, or proactively replacing the negative trigger as it arises with a deliberate pleasant experience.
Just a reminder: If you are experiencing acute sadness, chronic stress, or severe anxiety, please seek help from a professional medical provider.
Dear Lord, I pray for each and every reader of this blog. I know that You are the Healer, the Comforter, the Protector, the Strength, the Shield and I am so grateful for the healing that has been done in my own life and the healing that is ongoing. I pray for the healing of any reader who needs it right now and for comfort for any reader needing comfort. Help us to see the trigger areas and to turn them over to You so we can let go and move on. In Jesus name, Amen