Triggers and Coping

Triggers are things, people, situations or events that cause you to experience symptoms of your SMI. On anniversaries of a traumatic event like a car accident, people with anxiety may relive the experience and feel the great fear associated with the original event.

Learning to Cope

Learning to cope with triggers is one of the greatest challenges of living with an SMI. One of my triggers is something that cannot be eliminated from my daily life. I have to bear it as best I can with a lot of patience. I know that soft Classical music helps me cope so I carry around some ear buds and plug them into my phone to listen to the Brandenburg Concertos.

I know that working helps me cope also. Doing nothing just doesn’t help anyone. Working causes stress so I have to be careful and make sure that I eat, sleep and take breaks. Anyone has to do these things to stay healthy.

WRAP and Paper Lists

For a while, I kept a paper with a list of triggers on it. As some weren’t triggers anymore because I stopped reacting to them, I would erase them. I had a goal of having a blank sheet of paper. I guess that there will be triggers for a long time. I have come to the realization that the triggers are like an unwanted house guest who invited her way into my space and now won’t leave.

I pray for other people who have really bad reactions that they can’t control to those triggers. It’s not a lie that these triggers can cause horrible behavior and emotions. WRAP is the method that the veteran’s community endorses where I live. Completing my WRAP included the section that I told you about that had a paper list. Not knowing what to do with triggers made me feel out of control. I would always think of other people as being the causes of my distressing emotions. The truth is that no one can make you feel a certain way. You are free to stop before the feeling hits you.

Not a Good Idea: Alcohol

Triggers are not easy to cope with even when you know about them. Sometimes, you can’t avoid the thing that you consider a trigger. Sometimes, I know that this sounds terrible, but others will trigger you on purpose just to be jerks. You have to be proactive and on top of it. Drugs and alcohol don’t help because even though you momentarily dull the emotion associated with the trigger, soon you will need that substance to help you manage like some kind of crutch.

The best way to manage triggers is to learn what they are for you and come up with your own coping strategies. For example, you can ask yourself, “Why am I feeling bad right now about what is going on around you?” and, then say, “I am going to close my eyes for a few 20 counts and bring a beautiful visualization to mind.” After a few times of doing this, instead of reacting negatively to the trigger, you will just start visualizing.


The final thing to know about triggers is that not only people with SMI have them. Have you ever heard someone say, “She really knows how to press my buttons,”? Those buttons are other words for triggers. We all have them. Some people have learned skills that help them better cope with them. Other people’s mental chemical makeup precludes the ability to learn those skills easily and have to work harder. I have to remember that I am different, but not unique.

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