When Lightning Strikes- Managing Triggering Moments
It’s a calm and relaxed Monday morning.
I walk the dog, make my coffee and sit down to listen to my new audio book.
I am eager to start my day and get to work on my to-do list.
In my everyday life, I am a functioning human being. I have two small businesses I run and maintain, I have an fabulous apartment, husband, dog and personal relationships I invest in daily.
I eat fairly well, am continuing my education with classes and have a workout routine I love.
By the looks of it, people might say I have it all. I definitely believe these areas of my life have supported me in tremendous ways throughout my life and especially when the going got tough.
However, underneath all of these wonderful pieces of my life there’s still a part of me that doesn’t function well. Or, you could say it functions a little too well.
On at least a weekly basis I get triggered by something in my environment that sets my body and mind on high alert.
Sometimes, it’s local construction work that is loud and ominous, sometimes it’s the news reporting yet another mass shooting, sometimes its a physical object that played some part in my Boston or Vegas stories.
Today it was loud construction in the area that brought tears to my eyes a quick edge of panic to my body.
There are moments where I can feel myself being pulled out of my current thriving state of mind and being placed back in Boston or Vegas.
I do not think I’ve ever experienced a full blown flashback, and I do think I’ve been in situations that could easily trigger one where I’ve certainly felt myself begin to leave my body. However, I do know I've experienced both depersonalization (for me it was a floating sensation) and derealization (for me it was a heightened awareness of my surroundings).
I believe that I was able to help myself in these moments due not only to my training as a therapist, but also to lots of tools I already implement for daily self care. I know as a therapist that grounding techniques are helpful and yet I also know something like a drinking is simply self-care. You will see a mixture of both kinds of tips below.
I want to share with you what’s worked for me, so you have an idea of things you may benefit from in times of need:
Movement If I’m in public and can’t easily leave then moving my legs, planting my feet on the ground, rubbing my hands together, running my hands through my hair have all proven to refocus my body on that sensation instead of whatever has triggered me. If I can get out and move then you’ll definitely find me walking.
Breathing Breath-work has worked for me in the past, but it needs to be super deep loud breaths that wake up my body. The slow and steady breath I’ve learned doesn’t help me as much, but it may work well for others.
Coughing Forcing a cough also helps me wake up my body and mind and snap back to the here and now.
Drinking something hot or cold The sensation of a hot or cold drink entering my body is also helpful in pulling me back to the current moment.
Attempting to focus on a distraction Attempting to read or watch something can be helpful as it provides my mind with something else to focus on.
Let the tears flow Crying can be cathartic, calming and expressive of our grief. If you're in a safe place to let it out let those tears flow.
Write/create art about your experience Giving voice and expression to a situation can be very healing. Journal, learn a new art medium. Just get it out of your system.
Call someone who will listen I prefer talking with people who were with me because they really get it. However, I know some of you may have been alone when the event occurred. Reach out to someone who will really listen. And, of course, if you think you may benefit from unbiased support then please seek out a local therapist.
I’ve begun to see my life after tragedy like unpredictable weather- storms can move in fast gathering strength, strike quickly and can also leave in a second. There can be pockets of no rain and dark clouds and moments where it’s sunny and raining. My point is that trauma and life after tragedy is complicated, unpredictable and strange. I get it.
It’s important that we have some tools up our sleeves to combat these storms and shield us from the lightning. I hope these ideas may help you if you’re ever in a place where you need to pull yourself back to center, reground in the present and bring you back home.
I know that dealing with trauma and life after tragedy can feel very lonely, isolating and confusing. There is absolutely no shame in seeking guidance from a mental health professional in your area.