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Triggers are external events or circumstances that may produce very uncomfortable emotional or psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety, panic, discouragement, despair, or negative self-talk. Reacting to triggers is nor mal, but if we don't recognize them and respond to them appropriately, they may actually cause a downward spiral, making us feel worse and worse. This section of your plan is meant to help you become more aware of your triggers and to develop plans to avoid or deal with triggering events, thus increasing your ability to cope and staving off the development of more severe symptoms.

Identifying Triggers


Write “Triggers” on the second tab and insert several sheets of paper. On the first page, write down those things that, if they occur, might cause an increase in your symptoms. They may have triggered or increased symptoms in the past. It may be hard to think of all of your triggers right away. Add triggers to your list when ever you become aware of them. It is not necessary to project catastrophic things that might happen, such as war, natural disaster, or a huge personal loss. If those things were to occur, you would use the actions you describe in the triggers action plan more often and increase the length of time you use them. When listing your triggers, write those that are more possible or sure to occur, or which may already be occurring in your life.

Some examples of common triggers are:

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  • 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
  • physical illness
  • sexual harassment
  • being yelled at
  • aggressive-sounding noises or exposure to anything that makes you feel uncomfortable
  • being around someone who has treated you badly
  • certain smells, tastes, or noises

Triggers Action Plan

On the next page, develop a plan of what you can do, if a trigger come up, to comfort yourself and keep your reactions from becoming more serious symptoms. Include tools that have worked for you in the past, plus ideas you have learned from others, and refer back to your Wellness Toolbox. You may want to include things you must do at these times, and things you could do if you have time or if you think they might be helpful in this situation. Your plan might include:

  • make sure I do everything on my daily maintenance list
  • call a support person and ask them to listen while I talk through the situation
  • do a half-hour relaxation exercise
  • write in my journal for at least half an hour
  • ride my stationary bicycle for 45 minute
  • pray
  • play the piano or work on a fun activity for 1 hour

If you are triggered, and you do these things and find they are helpful, then, keep them on your list. If they are only somewhat helpful, you may want to revise your action plan. If they are not helpful, keep looking for and trying new ideas until you find the most helpful. You can learn new tools by attending workshops and lectures, reading self-help books, and talking to your health care provider and other people who experience similar symptoms.

Sourced in November 2013 from:

Center for Mental Health Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
5600 Fishers Lane, Room 15-99
Rockville, MD 20857

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