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What Happens When You're Triggered?

Discussion in 'Anxiety & Panic Attacks' started by anthony, Dec 23, 2009.

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  1. anthony

    anthony Master of none!


    PTSD trauma-wiring:

    1) My brain evaluates stimulus (often-times unconsciously, which explains why I sometimes go into the trigger-cycle and don’t even consciously remember anything setting it off; unconscious evaluative processing is up to 20,000,000 pieces per second; conscious evaluative processing is ~40 pieces per second).

    2) My (reptilian, sub-cortical) brain makes the nano-second evaluation and decides: DANGER. The “danger-namer” – just to be safe – can make very broad generalizations so that even if something only vaguely resembles some piece of the original traumatizing experience, it will take action; it goes by the “just in case” rule I guess. To ensure survival, the danger evaluating center shuts down that ol’ pesky SLOW neocortex (cognitive reappraisal – the part that might say, “Oh hey, hold the phone, this isn’t REAL danger, folks”; the neocortex also includes our speech center, explaining why speech may elude me).

    3) A series, or rather, a domino effect of hormonal and chemical reactions begins. Adrenaline is released (fight or flight!). Blood rushes to the big muscles for immediate action (which is why I can’t feel my lips, and my feet and hands get cold). Epinephrine and norepinephrine increase, cortisol levels jump. And then, with no “real” danger to respond to, the inevitable slump/crash.

    Nature endowed us with a remarkable system to keep ourselves alive. Understanding what happens to my body during a “trigger” helps me understand why it’s so exhausting; when all those chemicals aren’t utilized, it just floats around my body until they’re processed (why I’m such a HUGE proponent of exercise for us PTSD folks).

    I think that, before getting diagnosis and treatment, this constant cycling of fight/flight and crash is a big part of the insidiousness of this thing…the body is being torn apart by these responses and our poor brains, once they come back “online” after a trigger, are bewildered and there seems to be no way out. When nothing in its internal repertoire seems to work, the brain just starts looking for external relief (“hedonic rewards”) like alcohol, drugs, etc. But I digress into theory….

    Sometimes a trigger is just all about recovery: aerobic exercise to bring all the levels down; TaiChi, yoga or some other concentrated body/mind unifying exercise to bring me back to balance; meditation and cognitive tools to bring my neocortex back into control and not lead to further self-traumatizing (by my auto-reaction and chemical responses): the more I trigger and DON’T use tools afterward, the more hard-wired those triggers become (in my experience).

    For me, it’s also been immensely helpful to work on increasing my inner sense of security by working on a “compassionate inner voice” – almost like a “good parent”; one that, as soon as possible after a trigger, can begin helping me repair my damaged inner sense of safety and will comfort that panicked part of me, the voice that can say, “It’s ok, you’re safe. Wow, that was scary, wasn’t it? Whew! But you ARE safe…it’s okay…”

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  3. h2o

    h2o Active Member

    Thanks for this article Dylan - a good explanation.
  4. chowda

    chowda New Member

    Dylan, you're right on. It has helped me of late to know there is research showing that neurology explains why we reflexively respond the way we do, primitive though it is.

    I agree that exercise helps. It takes a lot of exercise for me to reach the end of my Anxiety-driven energy. But it's the only way I have found to turn the energy into something positive.

    I have trigger "hangovers" which occur when I don't catch triggers and respond compassionately - and often I don't - which bring me into a dissociative state in which I am harder to reason with.

    I appreciate your work on the compassionate inner voice. I would love to hear more about how you are developing this resource.
  5. TEL

    TEL Member

    Well, today I get to stay at home while my hubby goes out for a celebration dinner with some friends (their celebration) at Red Lobster.
    Why don't I go? Not because I wasn't invited. These are dear friends of ours, who don't even know yet that I'm not coming. Not quite sure what I'll say yet about it...
    The reason I don't go is because the sights/sounds of people cracking crab/lobster, which happens to be red, really triggers me hard.
    Last night, we went to a mongolian bbq where I chose to sit while my hubby got my food for me. Why? Because this all you can eat buffet is scattered with sights of seafood/red/legs, etc, that causes me to lose my ability to speak or answer anyone.
    We rarely go there because of this issue. But last night, he really wanted to go, and I didn't even think about the trigger stuff. Until we got there. Usually, I can walk around that disturbing stuff to get what I want; but the past few weeks I've been particularly sensitive.
    He wanted to eat the crab, but didn't because it would bother me. I felt bad about that. Every minute I'm sitting there, the sights/sounds disturb me more and more. My dad (in Memory) is sitting at the table eating. Sounds of breaking bones, blood, cannibalism, and I feel surrounded by people around me doing this. Yes, I know they're just a bunch of people eating normal dinner for God's sake! But oh, that's not what it feels/sounds like...
    So I decide to just eat some ice cream instead of finishing my meal. Ice cream is my comfort food. Of course, within balance. Past few weeks, I'm eating it almost everyday....
    Finally, I decide that instead of waiting til I need to flee the restaurant, I tell hubby that I'm going to the car to spend time reading a book I just bought. And while I do, I told him to please, go ahead and get the crab, enjoy it. Take your time. I'm just going to enjoy my book. He feels bad; but I tell him NO don't feel bad. I would feel bad if he didn't get to enjoy the crab.
    I'm glad I did that. He returned to the car awhile later, happily stuffed full of crab.
    So today I'm trying not to feel sorry for myself that I am not going to the Red Lobster tonite to celebrate my friend's recent accomplishment. Thinking of what I could do to have a good time while hubby's gone with them.
    Thanks to anyone for taking the time to read this...
  6. Brontie

    Brontie Well-Known Member

    Thanks. Interesting article. I do meditation. You'd think it was the Cure for all but I can still get triggered. Seeing someone mistreat someone, shouting and yelling, does it. It surprises me that it still happens but just being more aware of it and what can cause it helps.
  7. angel2write

    angel2write Mad Scribbler & I.C.P.
    Premium Member

    That's interesting about exercise "burning up" the unused hormones. This would explain why beating up a sleeping bag with my kid's whiffle bat last week made me feel better after the anxiety attack. I thought at the time it was curious that I felt so relaxed the rest of the day when usually a panic attack in the morning would have me on edge for hours.

    I'm struggling with anxiety right now, so I'm going to go have another fling with the bat & see if it helps. It might be crazy, but it has to be better than feeling like this.
  8. Simply Simon

    Simply Simon Fathom the Power

    Angel, I was just thinking of your sleeping bag beating session while reading about the hormones and thought I'd go try it out next time I got really stressed and overwhelmed.

    Thanks for the article, really sheds a lot of light for me.
  9. caliaviator

    caliaviator Active Member

    Exercise truly does wonders for me.

    I never thought of it as using your energy so that these stressors aren't hardwired to your experieneces but it makes sense. Whenever I'm stressed out I go work out on the TRX for a couple hours and do some running. I come back and even though the problems are still on my mind, I still feel like I let out a great deal of frustration. The rest of the stuff I just release it verbally through conversation or I just yell at the mirror. The mirror thing might sound strange but I've always found it so much better than yelling at the nearest person and feeling guilty afterwards.
  10. Dee Morris

    Dee Morris Active Member

    Makes perfect sense. Thanks for the article.

    My go-to exercise is walking my dog. I enjoy aerobic classes but I am often intimidated by the quantity of people in the classes. When I walk I can put on headphones & tune out any outside noises. The dog seems to enjoy it so it's a win for me.
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