How to Cope with Triggers

This is an article of mine that was originally posted in Feministing’s community blog.

Triggers are one of the hardest parts about being a survivor of sexual assault (or any other trauma). It’s not possible to avoid all triggers, so what can you do when you come across one? Some get into the habit of using unhealthy coping strategies such as alcohol, drugs and self-harm. Fortunately, there are also many healthy alternatives. There’s no one size fits all coping mechanism, so try these out and find what works best for you.

1. Positive self-talk

Don’t put yourself down. Remember that this is a normal, knee jerk reaction. It’s the way our brains are wired (unfortunately). You wouldn’t be human if the trauma you’ve been through didn’t scar you in some way. You are not weak.

2. Get away from the trigger if possible and move to a space where you feel safe

3. Grounding and mindfulness

Bring yourself back into the moment.

4. Relax

Wrap yourself in a blanket, brew some tea, breathe deeply, read, try progressive muscle relaxation

5. Find a distraction

Build a blanket fort, cook, watch a movie, play Candy Crush, do a productive task such as the laundry

6. Exercise

Go on a walk/run, take kickboxing classes, do yoga

7. Express yourself through art

Listen to music, write poems, paint

8. Comic relief

Two words: cat videos

9. Keep a journal

This can be a great tool for building self-awareness. Try keeping track of what triggers you, what your reactions are and what strategies help you.

10. Talk with a therapist

It’s not always possible to talk with a therapist right away, but this can still be a useful tool even after the trigger has passed. Similar to keeping a journal, this self-reflection can be a big help. It’s also great to be able to confide in someone without the fear of being judged or misunderstood.

11. Build a support system.

Find some people who you can call and chat with when you’re feeling triggered. If you don’t feel like talking, even just sitting with a friend or being with a group of people can help.

12. Write a letter to yourself

Imagine the perfect thing someone could say when you’re feeling triggered and put it on paper. What makes you feel encouraged and strong? What makes you feel calm? Celebrate your victories. Acknowledge that this is a normal reaction to trauma and it will pass. Remind yourself that when you’re triggered, you’re not just along for the ride. It’s possible to take control.

13. Put a note in your phone

In the middle of an intense trigger, it’s sometimes hard to remember what to do. Try putting a note in your phone with your go-to coping mechanisms.

Feel free to share more coping strategies in the comments!

Thank you for reading this article. You can find my backstory here.

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