How I Handle Triggers

They overpower me sometimes… Those triggers that pull me back into a piece of my past that I try so desperately to leave boxed up in a corner. I had another today, albeit more unexpected than most. I consider myself to be fairly self-aware of my triggers, but today, I stepped foot in an environment that I have not experienced in 10 years. I had to visit a high school today.

Not the high school I attended; Just a high school. As I parked my car and headed toward the front doors, I began to feel my body tensing up. I felt my heartbeat begin to race as I reached the entrance, but when I opened the front door, the trigger fully set in. It was the smell in the hallways. As I looked around, there were walls covered with self-made posters advertising clubs, games, and events. The smell of the sharpies and markers used on these posters triggered me. How would the smell of markers on posters trigger me?

As I waited in the office for a meeting to begin, I let my mind wander a bit. I wanted to figure out what I had just experienced and why. Why was that smell triggering? How could I even smell that? I took a deep breath and allowed my mind to take me back to my high school. What do I remember about the hallways? I hadn’t thought of my high school in this much detail in a decade, but when I gave myself the time to do so, it all came flooding back quite quickly. My high school also had posters hanging everywhere, taped up by students trying to advertise for various upcoming events. I rarely looked at these posters in high school because I was not involved in any clubs. However, my mind connected memories to these posters… Why? Because there were times I’d run down these halls holding back tears until I could make it to the bathrooms. Because there were times I’d gotten into an argument with a partner or a friend in the hallways. Because there were times I’d wanted to just give up on my life as I walked down these hallways.

When I put these memories and triggers together, I immediately resorted to grounding techniques that I often encourage clients to do as well. Grounding focuses on our five senses, but I’ve found that identifying a sense that is more powerful to me to be a good one to rely on. For me, that is sense of smell (hence the trigger being scent in this high school). I always keep scented things in my purse/bag that have no real connection to any memories within my life, such as scented lotions, scented hand sanitizers, or perfumes. As you may realize, these items that I turn to as a way to ground myself must change often, for continually using the same scented item eventually turns into a memory of its own: I apply this item when I’m triggered. It’s all about self awareness and knowing the ins and outs of yourself. ✨

I encourage any reader to look up grounding techniques and find what may best work for you. I do want to point out the main difference in grounding and coping though. Grounding techniques are used to pull us back into the “now”. They remind us that we are here in this room, in this moment, not wherever our mind has taken us. Coping skills often look similar to grounding techniques (because they honestly are), however, coping skills can be a bit more versatile. For example, my strongest coping skill is without a doubt music. Music is my escape when needed most. Although, for grounding purposes, music can have the opposite effect because so much emotion is connected to music for me. I have learned that music is not a good fit for me in regards to grounding myself due to the emotion it brings me. And that’s okay! Learn what best works for you. Listen to your body. Focus on how your body instinctively reacts to situations. Find what coping skills and grounding techniques are best suited for your well being. ❤️

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