Real events that you witness or stories you see on social media or in the news show us the power of suggestion at work when it comes to triggering anxiety. Today an old friend popped in to relay his experience with being “triggered” by the death of a celebrity and how he navigated through that as mostly recovered person. It’s a great chat. I can’t thank my friend Jay Floyd for stopping in to share with us.
- When Jay checked the news and discovered that a celebrity died behind the wheel because of a “health event”, even as a mostly recovered person, Jay found himself “triggered” and feeling all the old sensations that come along with anxiety. Here we have the power of suggestion at play. Seeing confirmation of one of Jay’s fears played a huge role in triggering anxiety long after he has emerged from the disordered state we talk about all the time.
- Even non-anxious people will feel a sense of concern or worry when they see something scary either in the news, on social media, or in real life. That’s just part of being alive. But that non-anxious person will place that event in the “things to know” bucket whereas someone struggling with an anxiety disorder immediately places that event into the “things to be terrified of and guard against” bucket. There’s a big difference between those two buckets! One is based on a more realistic risk assessment mechanism and the other is based on a risk assessment mechanism that’s been thrown WAY out of alignment by anxiety and anxious thinking.
- Regardless of where you might be in recovery, its kinda normal for real life events or news stories to play a role in triggering anxiety. This is to be expected. Someone early on in recovery will spend lots of time in a very uncomfortable state after being triggered, often frantically trying to find complete assurance that the event they witnessed or heard about will not happen to them. This is expected. For people a bit down the road in recovery, when this happens there is often guilt or shame that follows. They will declare themselves as failing because they were triggered and found themselves in an anxious state for some amount of time.
- When it comes to triggering anxiety, and then returning to a “base level state”, recovery is found in the length of time it takes to go from triggered, anxious, terrified, and frantic to calmer and more rational is directly proportional to your recovery level at any given time. Jay found himself anxious and worried and in a “triggered” state for about 30-60 minutes. That same event would have cost him a full week of his life a few years ago. But now when Jay finds something that is triggering anxiety, he recognizes what’s happening and keeps living his life anyway. He is not plunged into crisis mode for days on end.
- There may be fears that you harbor for the rest of your life. Welcome to being alive and being human. You may find yourself “triggered” from time to time but this does not have to be an extended disaster. It does not mean your recovery is broken, that you are failing, or that you will never get better.
- Jay thinks of sensitization like a gyroscope. It spins up really fast then might take a few minutes to slow down. I could not love that analogy any more than I do. It’s accurate and describes a normal process for any person regardless of recovery level.
Here is the episode of The Anxious Truth that Jay and did on highway driving anxiety a while back.
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