A lot of staying grounded and stable has to do with preparation.
We’re GOING to get triggered throughout the day— and a lot of those triggers are going to come from places and situations that are completely unexpected.
If we’re going to handle those triggers, we need to have our coping thoughts and habits planned out in advance. We can’t be trying to come up with them on the spot, in the midst of a stress reaction.
When we’re triggered, our ability to think is literally impaired.
Triggers fire up the parts of our brain that are responsible for keeping us alive and dealing with immediate threats— and they temporarily shut down the parts of our brain that think and reason in calm, organized patterns.
Ever wonder why our responses to triggers and crises can sometimes seem all over the map? It’s because our brain isn’t wired for nuance and high level thinking when it’s facing survival threats— it’s wired to escape the threat, come hell or high water.
What that means is, we can’t count on reasoning our way out when we’re drowning in a emotional reactions.
We need to give ourselves something to grasp onto BEFORE we need it.
A big part of recovery is coming up with lists of stuff to say to ourselves and do when we’re in crisis.
When we’re facing a craving; when we’re triggered; when we’re suddenly circling the drain, we need to have access to the words and behaviors that can keep us afloat until we can think again.
Those words and behaviors need to be pre-planned. We can’t be trying to come up with them on the spot.
I’m a big fan of organizing our coping thoughts, skills, and options into lists that are no more than one or two actions away.
We can keep lists on our phone of things to say to ourselves when we start panicking or dissociating.
We can keep lists of grounding techniques on our phone, and grounding objects, such as a totem or bracelet, in a pocket or on our body.
We can keep folders of helpful pictures— such as nature pictures, pictures of important people, or screen shots of helpful quotes— on our phone.
The important thing is that we have access to those resources without thinking too much about it.
It’s really important that we be realistic about what we are and aren’t able to pull off during an emotional crisis.
When we’re triggered, we’re NOT going to be doing a lot of high-level reasoning. We’re going to be up in our head, and maybe not terribly verbal— and we’re NOT going to be inclined (or maybe even ABLE) to think in an organized way about what to do.
We’re not ourselves when we’re triggered.
When we’re panicked or craving or dissociative, it doesn’t matter how intelligent or capable or we are— our nervous system is short circuiting our ability to respond.
We need to be realistic about what’s needed to get back in the driver’s seat.
If you’ve struggled with handling triggers or cravings, you’re not alone. Everybody who deals with depression, anxiety, trauma, or addiction has been in that position.
EVERYBODY who is at risk of getting triggered or relapsing has to be prepared with lists of coping thoughts and strategies. NOBODY is “too recovered” to be prepared for an emotional emergency.
The good news is, the more often and more effectively we cope with triggers, the easier it GETS to cope with triggers.
But the difference between successfully handling triggers and cravings and not is very often in being prepared and realistic about them.
Easy does it. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
And marathons are all about training and managing your energy.
Subscribe to the Doc’s free email newsletter!