What Does It Mean to Be Triggered? (2022)

The term "triggered" refers to the experience of having an emotional reaction to a disturbing topic (such as violence or the mention of suicide) in the media or a social setting. However, there is a difference between being triggered and being uncomfortable.

Feeling triggered isn't just about something rubbing you the wrong way. For someone with a history of trauma, being around anything that reminds them of a traumatic experience can make them feel like they're experiencing the trauma all over again.

Some people cope with stressful events more easily than others; consider the impact such events might have on people with mental illnesses.

Mental Health Conditions Affected by Triggers

Though commonly used to refer to the experiences of people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the term "trigger" can also be used in the context of other mental health illnesses. This includes substance use disorders, eating disorders, and anxiety.

In these cases, a trigger is anything that prompts an increase in or return of symptoms. For example, a person recovering from a substance use disorder might be triggered by seeing someone using their drug of choice. The experience might cause returned cravings and even relapse.

Types of Triggers

Triggers vary widely from person to person and can be internal or external. Following are examples of events that might be considered triggers.

Internal Triggers

An internal trigger comes from within the person. It can be a memory, a physical sensation, or an emotion.

For example, if you're exercising and your heart starts pounding, the sensation might remind you of a time you were running from an abusive partner. Other common internal triggers include:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling overwhelmed, vulnerable, abandoned, or out of control
  • Loneliness
  • Muscle tension
  • Memories tied to a traumatic event
  • Pain
  • Sadness

External Triggers

External triggers come from the person's environment. They can be a person, place, or a specific situation. What may be a normal, everyday situation or minor inconvenience for some may be triggering to someone living with mental illness.

For example, a person living with trauma may be triggered by:

  • A movie, television show, or news article that reminds them of the experience
  • A person connected to the experience
  • Arguing with a friend, spouse, or partner
  • A specific time of day
  • Certain sounds that remind them of the experience
  • Changes to relationships or ending a relationship
  • Significant dates such as holidays or anniversaries
  • Going to a specific location that reminds them of the experience
  • Smells associated with the experience, such as smoke

What Is Abreaction?

How Triggers Are Formed

Mental health professionals don't yet know precisely how triggers form. Some researchers believe that the brain stores memories from a traumatic event differently from memories of a non-traumatic event.

When triggered, the brain might interpret past traumatic events as current. This causes the body to experience symptoms as it did in response to the original trauma (such as the fight-or-flight response).

A trigger can cause an emotional reaction before a person realizes why they have become upset. Often, triggers have a strong sensory connection (a sight, sound, taste, or smell) or are linked in some way to a deeply ingrainedhabit. For example, a person recoveringfrom alcohol use disorder might associate a particular activity with drinking.

Some refer to this as "traumatic coupling," in which a trigger is connected to a traumatic experience, causing you to relive it and associated symptoms.

Are Trigger Warnings Helpful?

Whether trigger warnings are helpful or harmful is a subject of debate. This question is particularly relevant in college classrooms. Some use trigger warnings to give students time to physically or mentally prepare for potentially distressing subject matter, such as physical or sexual violence. Trigger warnings are used in other settings, too, such as in the media.

(Video) What Does It Mean To Be Triggered? 2022

Advantages

Proponents of trigger warnings say they give a person a chance to prepare for the potential trigger or even avoid it. Given that a trigger tends to be more distressing if it comes as surprise, a warning can help someone with PTSD or other mental health condition feel safe.

Disadvantages

Others say trigger warnings can reinforce avoidance behaviors, which might only exacerbate PTSD in the long term. Instead, they argue that the emotions that arise from triggers should be appropriately dealt with in therapy, particularly if the feelings and resulting behaviors interfere with daily life.

These warnings also might cause confusion about the true meaning of being triggered, potentially contributing to a negative and harmful perception that people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other conditions are fragile and overly sensitive.

How to Cope With Triggers

Sometimes, trying to avoid a triggering situation is reasonable. However, if avoidance hinders your ability to function, you should seek help.

Learning to cope with triggers you can't anticipate or avoid requires emotional processing, which is most often aided by therapy. The following are a few effective, healthy coping strategies for lessening the impact of triggers:

  • Calling on your social support
  • Deep breathing
  • Exercising
  • Expressive writing
  • Keeping a journal
  • Mindfulness meditation

Empower yourself by preparing to cope with triggers. Learn to recognize physical signs of reacting to a trigger, such as changes in your breathing, so that you can employ strategies to calm yourself and shift your emotional state.

Your ultimate goal should be to detach yourself from the trigger, recenter, and focus on your coping strategy.

A Word From Verywell

If you regularly feel triggered and unable to cope with situations or feelings that arise in your mind or body, make an appointment with a healthcare provider or mental health professional to discuss your symptoms.

If you have not been formally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, a healthcare provider can assess your symptoms and determine the best treatment options for your particular situation.

The Best Types of Therapy to Treat Anxiety

Frequently Asked Questions

4 Sources

(Video) Tired of getting triggered? Try THIS

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Trauma reminders: triggers. PTSD: National Center for PTSD.

  2. van Marle H. PTSD as a memory disorder. Eur J Psychotraumatol. 2015;6. doi:10.3402/ejpt.v6.27633

  3. Sanson M, Strange D, Garry M. Trigger warnings are trivially helpful at reducing negative affect, intrusive thoughts, and avoidance. Clin Psychol Sci. 2019;7(4):778-793. doi:10.1177/2167702619827018

  4. Bellet BW, Jones PJ, McNally RJ. Trigger warning: Empirical evidence ahead. J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2018;61:134-141. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2018.07.002

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(Video) 8 Signs You May Be Emotionally Triggered

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FAQs

What does being triggered actually mean? ›

The term "triggered" refers to the experience of having an emotional reaction to a disturbing topic (such as violence or the mention of suicide) in the media or a social setting.

What does getting triggered by something mean? ›

It's a very real experience. In mental health terms, a trigger refers to something that affects your emotional state, often significantly, by causing extreme overwhelm or distress. A trigger affects your ability to remain present in the moment. It may bring up specific thought patterns or influence your behavior.

What to say when someone says they are triggered? ›

How To Help A Friend Who's Been Triggered
  1. Understand what triggers are in the first place. ...
  2. Don't tell them they're exaggerating or doing it for attention. ...
  3. Get them out of the situation as quickly as possible. ...
  4. Reassure them that they are safe. ...
  5. Don't treat them like they're crazy. ...
  6. Get them to breathe.
4 Jun 2015

What does it mean to be triggered emotionally? ›

What is an emotional trigger? An emotional trigger is something that causes distress. Emotional reactions to triggers can look like crying, unexplained anger, increased anxiety, feelings of panic, physical symptoms, and more.

What do you do when you trigger someone? ›

If somebody has been triggered, here are a few things you can do to help them recover:
  1. Let them know that they can contact you. This is a simple gesture and a very important one. ...
  2. Be physically close to them. ...
  3. Distract and/or comfort them. ...
  4. Don't be judgmental. ...
  5. Don't beat yourself up if you make a mistake.
19 Aug 2018

How do I know if Im triggered? ›

Signs You've Been Triggered: Examples of Trauma Symptoms
  1. Bothered by small things.
  2. Sensory sensitivity – easily overstimulated, bothered by noises or body sensations that don't always bother you (e.g. touch from others, tags on clothing)
  3. Anger feels sudden and uncontrollable.
28 Oct 2020

What are examples of triggers? ›

Some examples of common triggers are:
  • the anniversary dates of losses or trauma.
  • frightening news events.
  • too much to do, feeling overwhelmed.
  • family friction.
  • the end of a relationship.
  • spending too much time alone.
  • being judged, criticized, teased, or put down.
  • financial problems, getting a big bill.

Why do things trigger me? ›

What we react to – our “triggers”– are unique to our personality and individual history. Think of triggers as wounds – often from past trauma. When we're triggered, we're re-experiencing a past injury in present time – similar to a post-traumatic stress reaction.

How do you deal with a triggered partner? ›

How to Cope With Being Triggered By Your Partner
  1. Practice Mindfulness. Remove your attention from your partner and focus on your breath. ...
  2. Pause and Take a Break. Remove yourself from the situation. ...
  3. Find the Humor in the Situation. ...
  4. Take a Look at Your Coping Skills. ...
  5. Understand Your Feelings. ...
  6. Apologize for Your Actions.
19 Aug 2021

How do you not get triggered by someone? ›

  1. 1) Learn your stress signature. The first step is to recognize that you are being triggered as soon as the signs start in your body. ...
  2. 2) Calm the body. ...
  3. 3) Label your emotions without judgment. ...
  4. 4) Do not give into avoidance. ...
  5. 5) Correct your thinking about the trauma.
1 Feb 2019

How do you communicate triggers? ›

The key is to show that you're listening, to respond appropriately, and to ask relevant questions that are triggers for the individual to express themselves fully. Encouraging gestures, nods, and appropriate and open body language will help the speaker to know that they are truly being listened to.

What are 3 types of behavior triggers? ›

Here, I'll discuss three types of trigger: external, internal, and synthetic. These each have different strengths and weaknesses, and each can be used to design great behaviors that form lasting habits.

What are triggers in a relationship? ›

Emotional triggers are hot buttons that elicit powerful negative emotions. Emotional triggers can develop from insecurities or times when others hurt you in the past. The reason why they're so troubling is that often make you react instead of calmly discussing what's bothering you with your partner.

How do you trigger someone with a word? ›

They are: joy, surprise, trust, fear, anticipation, anger, sadness, and disgust. This palette of human emotions can be used to attract the attention of your audience and make them want to learn more.

How do you stay calm when triggered? ›

How to Quickly Calm Down When You Get Triggered at Work
  1. Take deep breaths. When you're in fight-or-flight mode, your breathing becomes irregular, fast, short, and shallow. ...
  2. Distract yourself. ...
  3. Use your words. ...
  4. Be ready with a script. ...
  5. Don't forget to process your feelings.
18 May 2022

How do you soothe yourself when triggered? ›

Here are six simple ways you can self-soothe:
  1. Stop! Pause! ...
  2. Deep breath in, long breath out. When we let the out-breath be longer than the in-breath, we send a message to the nervous system to relax. ...
  3. Recognise the trigger. ...
  4. Tap it out! ...
  5. Put your hand on your heart and talk yourself down. ...
  6. Give yourself a reactionary gap.
17 May 2017

What is a trigger in mental health? ›

A trigger, sometimes referred to as a stressor, is an action or situation that can lead to an adverse emotional reaction. In the context of mental illness, referring to triggers usually means something that has brought on or worsened symptoms.

What is a trigger person? ›

In the context of mental illness, "trigger" is often used to mean something that brings on or worsens symptoms. This often happens to people with a history of trauma or who are recovering from mental illness, self-harm, addiction, and/or eating disorders.

What are examples of emotional triggers? ›

Common situations that trigger intense emotions include:
  • rejection.
  • betrayal.
  • unjust treatment.
  • challenged beliefs.
  • helplessness or loss of control.
  • being excluded or ignored.
  • disapproval or criticism.
  • feeling unwanted or unneeded.
13 Nov 2020

How do triggers heal? ›

5 Techniques to Heal Your Emotional Triggers
  1. Be aware. In your journal, identify your top three emotional triggers which cause you to be most upset and thrown off balance. ...
  2. Track the trigger's origin. Journal about where these triggers originated. ...
  3. Reprogram negative beliefs. ...
  4. Act as if. ...
  5. Work with a therapist or coach.
5 Feb 2019

What does being triggered feel like? ›

Responses to Triggers

You may feel strong emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety, sadness, numbness, or feeling out of control. Being triggered may primarily show up in how you behave; you might isolate yourself from others, become argumentative, shut down emotionally, or become physically aggressive.

What does triggered mean slang? ›

Urban Dictionary is used to define slang and colloquial terms, and it proceeds to define “triggered” as “when someone gets offended or gets their feelings hurt, often used in memes to describe feminist, or people with strong victimization.”

Why do I feel so triggered? ›

An emotional trigger can be your memories or experiences that create a powerful emotional reaction, despite your present mood. Emotional triggers are associated with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Triggers explain the reason behind a person's reactions rather than being used as an excuse for the behavior.

What happens when trauma is triggered? ›

Initial reactions to trauma can include exhaustion, confusion, sadness, anxiety, agitation, numbness, dissociation, confusion, physical arousal, and blunted affect.

What are 3 types of behavior triggers? ›

Here, I'll discuss three types of trigger: external, internal, and synthetic. These each have different strengths and weaknesses, and each can be used to design great behaviors that form lasting habits.

What word can I use instead of trigger? ›

In this page you can discover 69 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for trigger, like: provoke, bring, activate, stimulate, bring about, provocation, instigation, set off, induction, precipitate and stop.

How do you use triggered? ›

Triggered sentence example. Was that what triggered his decision to leave? He sensed the ward he triggered and waited. We tend to notice every time the expected effect is triggered by the cause, but may not notice all the times it isn't.

How do you use the word trigger? ›

Verb Smoke triggered the fire alarm. The timer was set to trigger the bomb in exactly one hour. His remarks triggered a public outcry. Certain foods trigger his headaches.

When did triggered become a thing? ›

The clinical notion of triggering dates back far as 1918, when psychologists tried to make sense of "war neurosis" in World War I, and later World War II, veterans. The term "post-traumatic stress disorder" came into use after the Vietnam War, but was not recognized as a diagnosable affliction until 1980.

How do I stop being triggered? ›

Managing them in the moment
  1. Own your feelings. First, remind yourself that it's totally OK to feel whatever you're feeling in that moment. ...
  2. Give yourself some space. Physically leaving can help you avoid emotional overwhelm. ...
  3. Keep an open mind. ...
  4. Communicate.

How do you stay calm when triggered? ›

How to Quickly Calm Down When You Get Triggered at Work
  1. Take deep breaths. When you're in fight-or-flight mode, your breathing becomes irregular, fast, short, and shallow. ...
  2. Distract yourself. ...
  3. Use your words. ...
  4. Be ready with a script. ...
  5. Don't forget to process your feelings.
18 May 2022

How do you heal triggers? ›

8 Simple Strategies to Help You Identify, Manage, and Heal Your Emotional Triggers
  1. Figure out your big three. ...
  2. Understand what comes right before a reaction. ...
  3. Identify your story. ...
  4. Recognize the physical signs. ...
  5. Find an effective method to interrupt your reaction. ...
  6. Take deep breaths. ...
  7. Change the atmosphere. ...
  8. Practice thought stopping.
28 Jan 2022

Videos

1. Psychological Triggers: Explained
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2. What Does 'Triggered' Mean?
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3. What is a triggered meme? The meaning and definition of triggered memes
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4. Here's what to do when you're triggered
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5. Why Are We so Easily 'triggered'?
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6. 5 Things To Know When You're Triggered - Childhood Trauma
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