941-462-4807 OR 860-501-9767 meg@megberrylcsw.com

Isn’t it frustrating to be afraid to leave your house because you are sure something will trigger you, causing a panic attack? Even at home you may have panic attacks. It doesn’t feel like you are truly safe anywhere. It is so frustrating when it seems like so many things (and sometimes things you can’t even pinpoint) trigger you, causing panic attacks.
When something happens to you that your brain can’t file away as “just a memory,” it seems like everything reminds you of that event. Sometimes, literally EVERYTHING seems to remind you of it. This can cause bothersome and recurrent thoughts of the event, or bring you right back to the event, making you relive the event in every aspect – physically feeling it, smelling it, hearing everything clearly, seeing it like it is happening right now, anything you tasted comes back to you, and even the emotions, just as strongly as you felt them then, happen now. This is a flashback and is often just as scary as the original event because you aren’t fully in reality at that time. You are reliving the event. We’ll talk about flashbacks at a later date, though. For now, suffice it to say that having flashbacks does not mean you are crazy.
So how do you deal with life when you are being triggered daily? How do you function in society when you are so afraid of being triggered? I believe that knowledge is power. When you understand something, it takes so much of the fear away. Unknowns are scary for everyone. We tend to go to the worst case scenario when faced with an unknown. When something becomes a “known,” it is easier to deal with. Then you can tackle it because there is only one situation – the known situation. For example, do you have, or know someone who has, fibromyalgia? It wasn’t that long ago that fibromyalgia wasn’t a diagnosis. People would struggle with the symptoms for years. Doctors weren’t able to explain their pain, fatigue, and other symptoms. Was I going to die and the doctors just couldn’t find the problem? Do I have some sort of cancer that they don’t see yet? Do I have some sort of neurologic issue that will cause me to not be able to walk, talk, or function in the next couple years? Am I crazy? Is this real or just in my head? Once doctors were able to put a diagnosis to those symptoms, it wasn’t so scary anymore. Now it is frustrating because they don’t know what to do or if they can cure it. But it isn’t so scary anymore. Understanding what triggers are and what triggers you can take some of the fear out of it. THAT is the first part of dealing with life when being triggered daily.
The second important part in dealing with daily triggers is understanding the difference between real and perceived danger. Right now, in this very moment when you are triggered, are you physically in life threatening danger? I don’t care about 5 seconds from now…right here, right now, in this very moment, are you in danger? (If you don’t react right this very second, will you die)? If the answer is “yes” – react. However, if the answer is “no,” ground yourself. Use your senses to stay in the moment. When your mind goes back to the traumatic event, bring it back to the present by pointing out things you see currently with your eyes, what you hear currently with your ears, what you physically feel (even if just the clothing on your body or the wind, or the chair you are sitting on). The key with grounding also lies in understanding. When you are triggered, the stress hormone, Cortisol, is pumped into your body, giving you what you need to fight, flee, or freeze. Just because you recognize you are not in danger in this very moment, and you work on grounding, doesn’t mean the Cortisol will just settle back down. It takes time for the chemical to reabsorb into your body. When you understand that you have been triggered (it doesn’t matter what triggered you necessarily), that you are not in physical danger at this moment, that the Cortisol will take time to settle back down, and you use grounding techniques, you are well on your way to successfully dealing with daily triggers.
This is only step one. Until the memory is “just a memory” you will likely be triggered by things in the environment. It can be very tiresome and frustrating to deal with triggers until the memory becomes “just a memory.” Work with a therapist on getting through what happened to you. Give yourself permission to work on it and feel safe. If you need help finding a therapist, I will be more than happy to help you. I do not know therapists in every state, but I will still do what I can to help you. You can call me at 860-501-9767 or 941-462-4807 or email me at megberrylcsw@fastmail.com. I wish you the best on this journey!