If you are in the process of grieving a loss, you may wonder what it means to recognize your grief triggers and want to better understand why some feel as if they come out of nowhere. Grief triggers can be anything sensory that activates a memory of your deceased loved one or reminds you of them in some way. Understanding your grief triggers can help you fully process your emotional experience as it relates to your loss.
What Does It Mean to Recognize Your Grief Triggers?
Recognizing your grief triggers means understanding what your triggers are, what they activate within you, and how you can cope in healthy ways. If you aren't able to understand your grief triggers, you may feel as if you are being triggered out of the blue, which can create additional anxiety on top of the grief related emotions you may already be experiencing.
Identify Your Triggers
During the grieving process, you may oscillate from feeling numb, to extremely emotional, to somewhat like yourself. This will all depend on your particular grieving experience. To help you better understand what your current and potential grief related triggers are:
- Check in with yourself throughout the day and begin keeping an emotion journal where you can track your moods
- If you feel a more intense emotional experience at some point during the day, be sure to write down in your emotion journal your location, the emotion, where you feel any activation in your body, the emotional intensity on a scale, who you were with, and what you were doing
- After a few weeks, you may begin to notice a pattern in terms of your triggers.
- Be sure to write down triggering people, situations, and circumstances in your journal.
- Be patient with yourself and know that it may take some time to uncover your grief related triggers.
Process Your Triggers
During the process of grieving, it can feel counterintuitive to allow yourself to fully feel your emotional experience. Because grieving can be inexplicably painful, some may experience the urge to numb their emotions and dissociate from the reality of what happened. Know that this drive is totally normal and serves as a way to protect you from experiencing pain. However, doing so can actually prolong the pain you feel as your brain needs to fully process difficult experiences in order to consolidate and store memories appropriately. If the brain is not able to process an experience fully, you may often feel triggered and/or develop symptoms of one or multiple mental health disorders. Healthy ways to process grief related triggers include the following:
- Consistently maintain a grief journal and give yourself alone time to release your thoughts and emotions.
- Join a grief support group.
- Connect with a therapist, especially if you notice you are struggling with acts of daily living, or are having thoughts of harming yourself or others.
- Speak with trusted and supportive loved ones who you can open up to.
- Consider EMDR therapy if you are experiencing trauma-related symptoms.
- Try trauma sensitive yoga.
- Spend time in nature.
Create a Plan
Once you have an understanding as to what typically triggers you, you can better prepare for situations that are likely to incite a triggered response. To create a plan that keeps you emotionally safe:
- Maintain an awareness of your current triggers.
- Know that your triggers may shift depending on where you are in terms of your grieving process.
- Consider several scenario outcomes for the upcoming triggering experience.
- Come up with a few healthy ways you can cope with the situation so you have options if you do feel triggered.
Use Your Support System
During this time, it's important to connect with trusted and supportive loved ones who you can lean on. Feeling support during vulnerable periods in life can help you feel connected and loved and can make processing your emotional experience to its full extent a bit easier.
Set Boundaries for Yourself
Know that the emotions and thoughts associated with grief can feel absolutely exhausting, and there will be times when you need to pause and give yourself some time to step away from your internal process. To ensure you aren't numbing out or dissociating from your experience, schedule some time to allow yourself to fully process your emotions and thoughts related to this loss, but also be sure you are taking care of yourself and giving yourself some much needed breaks. Breaks can help you emotionally recharge and ensure you aren't wearing yourself down. During breaks you may:
- Eat something nutritious- you may forget to eat regularly during this time, or not feel hungry at all, but it's still important to continue to nourish your body
- Watch a movie or read a book that is lighthearted and won't trigger intense emotions related to grief
- Practice breathing exercises
- Connect with loved ones
What Do You Do When Grief Gets Triggered?
Your feelings of grief may be triggered at any point. Keep in mind that being triggered means having an intense emotional reaction to something. This means that you may already be feeling an emotion or multiple emotions related to grieving a loss and also be triggered by someone or something that takes your emotional experience to a more intense level.
How Can You Positively Manage the Stress Caused by Loss?
Stress can be a side effect of grief and impacts individuals for many reasons. The best way to manage stress is to experiment with different techniques to see which ones help reduce your stress. You may try:
- Speaking with a trusted loved one or therapist
- Spending time with animals
- Volunteering at a cause significant to your particular loss (when you feel ready to do so- this could be a potential trigger if done too soon)
- Doing something outside that gets you moving
- Scheduling time to process your experience and giving yourself breaks
How Can You Tell if Someone Is Grieving?
Everyone grieves differently, so you may or may not be able to tell that someone is grieving. Some common signs of grieving that some individuals may exhibit:
- Withdrawing from others
- Feelings of sadness and anger
- Feeling emotionally numb or in disbelief
- Distracting oneself with tasks
- Change in appetite and sleep patterns
- Physical manifestations of grief like headaches and stomach aches
What Are the Normal Stages of Grief?
When it comes to grief, there is no normal. Everyone will grieve differently and may or may not experience the same stages of grief. Keep in mind that if some stages are experienced, they may be in a distinct order unique to the specific individual. Stages can also be revisited throughout the grieving process, as this tends not to be a linear experience. Some may experience:
- Denial and disbelief regarding the loss
- Anger about the loss and surrounding circumstances
- Bargaining with yourself or a higher power about how you can bring your loved one back
- Experiencing symptoms of depression as the reality of the situation sets in more
- Accepting the loss
Is Violence a Normal Step in the Grieving Process?
Violence towards oneself or others is not a typical aspect of the grieving process but may be triggered by the loss experienced. If you or a loved one is having thoughts of harming yourself or others, or has acted in a violent manner towards yourself, property, animals, or other individuals, be sure to get help immediately. You can:
- Call a crisis line anonymously
- Reach out to the police for a wellness check
- Connect with a therapist who specializes in grief work
Recognizing what triggers more intense feelings of grief is an important aspect of your emotional process. Being prepared for what tends to trigger you can help you navigate this difficult time with the use of healthy coping skills.