In the last decade, the term “trigger” or the phrase “I’m triggered” has been thrown around a lot. Though many people use these words in a comical sense, it can begin to overshadow the value that the terms and phrases have toward people and their trauma. In daily context, being “triggered” refers to unpleasant things, but we can’t let common use diminish the value that the phrase has in mental health.

Triggers in Mental Health

Triggers still relate to something that reminds someone of their past, but in the mental health field, these memories are extremely painful or disturbing. These feelings can affect someone’s mood, concentration, or even their concept of reality.

A trigger could be something as simple as someone slamming a door. It may not seem that important to one person, but if someone experienced war or a car crash, the loud noise could remind them of their past. Small moments like this are significant enough to throw someone into distress, sometimes causing flashbacks that feel as though they are reliving their negative experience.

Triggers are different for each person, but some could take the form of the anniversary of the event, specific environments or people, a loud noise, certain names, or even the tone of someone’s voice. Some people may not even know they have a certain trigger until it sends them into distress. Again, triggers are different for each person, and they vary from the different traumas they experienced.

what are triggers

What Happens to a Triggered Brain?

Triggers create emotional responses. These responses activate the amygdala which is responsible for emotion and instinctual responses, and they suppress the frontal lobe which is responsible for decision-making and cognitive thinking.

An activated amygdala can produce feelings of “fight or flight,” resulting in reduced critical thinking and objective responses and replacing those things with emotion and instinctual responses. If an addict is triggered, it can be hard for them to stay on the path of recovery, which is why it is so important for sober individuals to be proactive and stay in front of their triggers before they can be affected.

Common Responses to Triggers

The way in which someone responds to a trigger varies between each person. Some people may not even seem like they are being affected by a trigger because they are burying the feelings deep inside. Some people may be completely open about how they feel, and others may want to numb their pain with drugs and alcohol.

Some common responses could be:

  • Panic attacks
  • Flashbacks
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Shaking
  • Chest pains or trouble breathing
  • Muscle tension
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
what are triggers


Learning about mental health triggers can help you or a loved one stay present, manage stress, and refrain from harming yourself or others. It can help you or a loved one recognize triggers in your life and learn safe, healthy ways of coping.