There’s a storm coming and it’s one of the ever-increasing things that trigger an emotional response of dread in me. What if we lose power like we did during the ice storm? The older I get, the number of events that cause me to react this way grows. It makes sense. I have more lived experience of all the things that went wrong. I have more time to contemplate (ruminate) now. But how can I live life calmly and not react to each trigger?
Lots Of Negative Life Experiences
As I age, my list of triggers grows, and with it comes the anxiety* that I’m not a fan of. A heavy rain storm reminds me of when our basement flooded. Walking backwards to help carry a heavy box, reminds me of a friend who did this, tripped and hit their head. As a younger person, I didn’t have all these lived experiences of chaos and accidents. But why is it always the worse experience that flashes through my brain?
The Science Behind This
In extreme cases, this is called catastrophizing where you ALWAYS think of the worst possible thing that can happen. It is a way to prepare yourself in case something actually does go bad. But it causes your body to release stress hormones that can impair your thinking and causing you to actually make the situation worse. A self-fulfilling prophecy.** Yikes!
Focusing On The Negative
According to studies cited in the Washington Post, we tend to remember the negative events more than the positive ones.*** It’s an evolutionary trait that helped us recall things that were dangerous and stay safe. It was more important to our survival to focus on the scary lion in front of us than the beautiful sunset behind it. We remember and focus on the negative. It’s comforting to know that there are reasons why I’m doing this, but how do I lessen my negative reactions?
Strategies To Try**:
Not surprisingly, many of the strategies that help with other mental health challenges, help with this one too:
- Meditation: practise being present and feeling the emotions as you react to your thoughts about the event. Name those emotions.
- Journalling: Can you find a time when this event turned out well without anything bad happening?
The Stories You Tell Yourself Matter
The next time I’m triggered, I will try to make a conscious effort to list all the times that similar events happened without any negative effects. I will remember that I made it through ALL those unfortunate events. I have resilience! I will also remind myself that I can tell myself positive stories too. I hope this will help me to stay neutral about more events instead of reacting with anxiety. Which strategies have you used when you’re triggered to think the worst?
*I’m not a medical professional and I can only relate my own experiences. Please seek professional advice for mental or physical health issues.
** Click here to read more about Catastrophizing
***Click here to read more about why humans remember the negative.