A trigger is anything that produces flashbacks or strong memories of past traumas and stressful events. Usually, they are prompted by something you feel, see, smell, taste, or hear, but thoughts and emotions can also cause them. Every person has unique triggers though they share many common ones.
There is no way to avoid all triggers that may cause intrusive thoughts, cravings, or remind you of moments you would rather forget. Something as simple as a picture or location can cause you to relive a body memory or sensation from when you were abusing a substance. You may not always predict when and where they will happen, but you can prepare yourself to deal with them safely and effectively by learning coping skills.
Identify and Track Your Triggers
Before you can determine which coping skills will work best for you, you must learn how to identify triggers. One good way of doing this is by tracking them and writing down what you were thinking and experiencing directly before they happened. Doing this can help you establish a pattern that can highlight your specific triggers. Once you have identified them, you can work with your therapist or someone in your support system to help you develop useful ways to counteract each trigger.
A few triggers that are common for individuals recovering from substance use disorder include:
- Stressful social situations
- Seeing or hearing people talk about the substance
- Feeling overwhelming or intense emotions
- Sensations like hunger or exhaustion
Take Advantage of Therapy
The best place to work through your triggers and develop coping skills is during one-on-one or group therapy. One reason for this is that the experience and knowledge that the therapist has makes it easy for them to present a laundry list of tried and true coping skills you to try that have been used for decades by people recovering from addiction or trauma. You will not have to start from scratch, which can save you time and potentially lower the risk of relapsing by preparing you to deal with the effects of your triggers.
Sometimes it can be helpful to talk with your therapist about how you felt before, during, and after being triggered. However, this is not safe for everyone. If talking about it in detail makes you feel panicked, anxious, or like you may revert to old habits, then you may want to avoid doing it all at once. Instead, you can work up to it with encouragement from your therapist. If talking about it is not something you are comfortable with, writing the details down can still be helpful. Getting the trigger information out of your head and into some external form can sometimes decrease stress associated with those triggers.
Common Coping Skills
Below are a few common coping skills similar to what you might learn in therapy or during self-help groups:
- Grounding Techniques: You can work with your therapist to find a grounding technique that works best for you, but these often involve using your senses to identify things in the environment around you.
- Using Your Support System: Social support can make a big difference when you experience a traumatic reaction. Sometimes calling, video chatting, or texting with someone in your support system can help calm you and mute any cravings or intrusive thoughts that the trigger may have caused.
- Mindfulness Exercises: You can focus on the real world around you instead of any sense memories that might be drawing you back into old thoughts and habits.
- Relaxation Exercises: Consciously relaxing your muscles and evening out your breathing can calm the mind and loosen the hold of flashbacks or sense memories.
- Deep Breathing Exercises: Deep, even breathing helps you relax physically, positively affecting the mind. There are many apps you can use to assist with adjusting your breathing pattern.
- Writing Down Your Feelings: Putting your feelings into words can sometimes make the effects of triggers dissipate quicker. Some people use a note app or carry a physical notebook for this purpose.
Be Patient With Yourself
You may have to try multiple coping skills before finding one that works well for you, and some stronger triggers might require additional help from people you trust. Many people in recovery find it helpful to have a safety plan in place to help them get through difficult moments like when cravings are triggered. Be sure to practice patience each day as you learn to identify and overcome the things holding you back. Recovery is not linear, and it is entirely normal to have setbacks along the way. As long as you keep looking forward and utilizing your resources, things will get better.
You can use healthy coping skills to overcome various triggers that could cause roadblocks in your recovery. Everlast Recovery Centers encourage anyone experiencing trauma responses to speak with their therapist or a trusted member of their support system about the emotions and physical reactions caused by those triggers. Self-help groups and one-on-one therapy often cover relapse prevention measures, including how to safely and adequately deal with places, people, objects, or memories that may cause you to fall back on unhealthy habits and ways of thinking. There are many options for overcoming triggers, including meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises, and social support. You can find the ones that work best for you and use them to keep your recovery and healing on track. There are many resources available. You do not have to go through this alone. To learn more or get help today, reach out to Everlast Recovery Centers by calling us at (866) 338-6925.