Understanding Mental Health ‘Triggers’
You will often see and hear people referring to ‘triggers’ when discussing mental health topics. But what is a trigger?
Well, a trigger is something that causes an adverse effect on somebody’s mental health. And these can take many forms. It is important to be aware of what these triggers are because if we are conscious of them in ourselves and others, we can ensure we do what we can to support one another through these times.
I have grouped these triggers into 7 categories:
This type of trigger is often referred to as SAD; Seasonal Affective Disorder. The Sun provides us with a supply of vitamin D which is known as the happy hormone. It helps to balance our moods and it has been found that people who are deficient in it can struggle with depression. So whether we are impacted by a reduced amount of vitamin D, or we are affected by the cold and wetter conditions, or the shorter days and the longer nights. The seasons have been identified as triggers for some people feeling low during the winter months.
Dates are commonly associated with grief. We remember those who have passed on the anniversary of their death. On their birthday. At Christmas. On our wedding anniversary. Especially during the first year which is often the hardest. And on all the special occasions that occur after they have gone that we wish they were still here to be a part of. To share this memory together.
Grief is not the only area associated with date triggers. For example, we may remember the anniversary of our divorce.
When a person’s mental health is triggered by a date, they will often start feeling low on the days leading up to it. And they may struggle to shake these feelings once the date has passed.
Life events are often unpredictable so we are unable to prepare for them in advance to make sure that we are mentally ready to cope. These are things like: going through a divorce, a loved one passing, hormonal changes such as menopause, a health issue or injury and so many more potential scenarios it becomes too many to list.
Stimulants and Depressants
These are things like coffee, alcohol, and recreational drugs that can boost good moods but also make our lows so much lower. And at times of unhappiness, people will often resort to drugs and alcohol misuse as a way of escaping.
Feelings are a broad area to be triggered by. We all experience so many feelings and emotions that all affect our mood and state of mind in both positive and negative ways. So which ones trigger poor mental health?
Well, this isn’t an exhaustive list but some of the main ones that can contribute to feeling low are often work-related. We live busy lifestyles where we find ourselves spinning several plates at once and this can often have a detrimental impact on both our physical and psychological wellbeing.
Feelings of being stressed and overwhelmed, are often the contributing factors for people taking time off sick. People will push themselves so hard that they reach a point of burnout and often find that despite feeling exhausted, they will suffer from disturbed sleep, either from an inability to fall asleep or from restless nights when they do fall asleep.
Stress can also be bought on through financial difficulties. We live in a buy now, pay later culture and the need to have an Instagram perfect life is added pressure. But when the bills mount up and we have no means to pay them, our mental health can suffer.
Some people may be sensitive to particular topics of conversation due to their own experiences. For example, if someone has suffered from suicidal thoughts or has had a loved one who died from suicide, they may struggle to hear about other people’s experiences on this subject.
This is often flagged in advance with a ‘Trigger Warning’ so that those who do struggle with that particular topic, can avoid reading or listening any further.
Flashbacks of Trauma
Again, this category can cover so many different things. When we experience trauma, all of our senses have the potential to remember different aspects of the event. So we may find that a specific smell triggers a flashback, or it could be a specific place or person. Even characteristics that someone shares with a person that caused us harm can be enough to take us back to that event and the feelings and emotions associated with it.
Recognising your own Triggers
We must recognise our own triggers. And for some people, this may be obvious. But for me, I found myself going in and out of cycles of depression and I had no idea why. And mine turned out to be quite the balancing act. I like having a purpose and I find being busy really helps. So I would take on lots and this would have a real positive impact on my mental health. Positive until the point I reached overwhelmed, where I took on too much and then struggled to cope. My sleep would become disturbed and I would feel more and more exhausted until I eventually reached burnout.
So you can see how it is not always straightforward. But by recognising what my triggers are I can catch them early. So if you are in the dark about your triggers then I suggest you write a journal so that you can start to identify what lifts your mood and what pulls it down.
Other things that you can do is to have a balanced and nutritious diet with plenty of exercise and exposure to natural daylight. This can be difficult to do when you are struggling with your mental health, so establishing a routine when you are well will help to prevent relapses.
Make sure you don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to friends, family, colleagues, and your manager. Ask for help. Tell them how they can best support you through this time. And if you feel you need it, speak with your GP and/or go to therapy. There are also lots of support lines that you can ring, text, or even message online to get the support you need.
First and foremost, we don’t always know what someone else is going through. And so above all else, we must remember to be kind.
If you are aware that a loved one or colleague may be experiencing one of the things that we have discussed, then take the time to check in on them and make sure that they are ok. Ask them how they are feeling and if you think they may be giving you a polite response or masking their true feelings, then remember to ask twice! “And how are you actually feeling?”
The most important thing you can give someone is your time. Be available to them and listen to what they are going through. Show them compassion and empathy and ask them how you can best support them during this time.
It really isn’t about grand gestures. It is just about being there for them at a time when they need you.
“Sharing a post about mental health does not automatically tell the World that you are struggling. Instead, you are telling the World that you support Mental Health.”