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Becoming Triggered and How to Self-Soothe

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Rebeckah Atkinson

Written by Rebeckah Atkinson, BS

Rebeckah is currently an intern and under the supervision of Kayce Bragg, LPCS (# 8061), LAC #369

Rebeckah Atkinson, BS  is a resident of West Columbia, South Carolina. She received her B.S. in Psychology from Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina in December 2018, and she is currently completing her M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Webster University (Columbia, SC). She is on track to graduate in the Spring of 2024. 

Rebeckah believes that coming to therapy is a powerful step in the healing process. She aspires to create an open, empathetic, culturally sensitive environment in which clients can express their mental health or life concerns in a judgement free environment. She employs an integrative, trauma-informed approach to counseling that includes person-centered, cognitive-behavioral, and family systems therapy techniques. Rebeckah works with individuals, children, couples, and families.

Becoming Triggered and How to Self-Soothe

being triggered

Understanding Triggers and Activations


How often do you find yourself being triggered, burnout or activated? Becoming triggered or activated is your brain’s response to many different things. For someone who has experienced a traumatic event in their past, they may experience flashbacks, fear, and many other responses. But for individuals who have never had those experiences, they are also capable of becoming triggered or activated too.

For example, a mother of four children who has a military spouse and is also working or in school may often feel overwhelmed or overly stressed. As a mother and wife, it is second nature for her to soothe others in her life before ever thinking about herself and how she is feeling.

The Impact of Caregiver Burnout

Caregivers are one of the top roles that experience burnout due to the fact that they are always focused on the others that depend on them. According to the Cleveland Clinic, caregiver burnout is defined as “a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion”. This is something that the majority of people today would just refer to as being stressed. But when you allow yourself to become overwhelmed and ignore the symptoms, it can cause a downward spiral in your life and your health. In the mindset of someone in a position of caring for others, they typically will experience that feeling of guilt if they tend to themselves instead of others. This can lead to fatigue, additional stress, anxiety, depression, and more.

Think about being on an airplane. Before you take off, the flight attendant does their presentation on what to do when the oxygen masks drop. They emphasize the importance of first putting on your own mask before putting on your child’s mask. This is because if you are not safe and able to breathe, then how can you take care of others? This example is very fitting in everyday life. In order to properly care for others, you must first take care of yourself. Life can be very stressful and is full of surprises. If we are not able to take care of ourselves, how can we expect to be able to care for others?

Importance of Self-Care in Caregiving Roles


Anyone is at risk of becoming triggered or activated, and it is crucial that you are able to care for yourself in those moments. People who experience stress or burnout are at risk for engaging in harmful behaviors, such as emotional eating, excessive drinking, escaping reality through means of social media or gaming for long periods of time. It is so important to be able to prevent these behaviors before they become detrimental. 

Self-soothing is one of the best ways to get yourself back to a proper mindset and a way of regulating your body’s response to stress, especially when you are not in a position where you have immediate help available. In the fields of psychology and counseling, we would refer to this as regaining homeostasis. Homeostasis is simply resetting your body after a stress response. Self-soothing is one type of a coping mechanism, which is just simply the ability to get yourself back to a calm mindset. There are countless ways for one to self-soothe that are very beneficial. Not all self-soothing strategies will work for everyone, but that does not mean that there is not one that will work for you.

Strategies for Self-Soothing

  • Change of Environment: This does not mean that you must pack your bag and leave for good, but simply walk away from the situation that activated you until you have calmed down and are able to return with a healthier mindset. Many people will simply go for a walk, take a trip to the local park, and enjoy the soothing sounds and views of nature, or simply find their “happy place”, which may be a place in their home that is deemed their “quiet space”. This self-soothing technique is very simple, and it works because you are removing yourself from the environment that was triggering or activating for you. It is easy to become overwhelmed by certain environments or crowds, so it is important that you recognize when it has become too much for you. 
  • Yoga for Stress Relief: Stretching your body for a few minutes at a time releases tension that builds up after a stressful event. The body’s reaction to stress and shock is to freeze up and can cause you to become physically tense. When you become stressed, your body releases “toxins” that build up in your muscles and can cause actual tension in those muscles. You do not have to know anything about yoga to implement this practice into your routine. Here are some simple, yet effective stretching methods:
  1. Trunk Twist: Slowly twist your upper body from one side, holding the position. Twist to the     other side and hold. Relieves tension in the lower and upper back.
  2. Neck RotationsTilt your head down toward each shoulder. Hold for a few seconds on each side. Releases tension in the neck and shoulders, common areas for stress accumulation.
  3. Toe TouchesBend at your hips and lean down toward your toes. Don’t stress if you can’t touch your toes; focus on stretching your back muscles. Avoid bouncing or over-stretching to prevent muscle strain.
  4. General TipsSimple stretching practices can effectively relieve stress. Be mindful not to force or overexert yourself during stretches. Stretching targets key areas like the neck, shoulders, and back where stress tends to accumulate.
  • Warm Shower or Bath: Taking a warm shower or bath is more powerful in relieving stress than most people think. This is something that is typically viewed as a means of hygiene, which it is, but it can also be done to relieve stress. Here are some tips:
  1. If you have taken your daily shower, gone to work, and come home feeling overwhelmed, you can take a warm shower or bath to simply relax, without having to do your entire shower routine. 
  2. You can incorporate soothing music, soothing smells, and even soothing imagery into this time. Soothing imagery will only fit here if you have your bathroom setup to be a tranquil environment, but it is not required. The warm water has its own soothing effect on the body by relaxing the muscles that have built up tension. 
  3. When you need silence, lock the bathroom door, and enjoy your peaceful, quiet time in the shower or bath. 
  4. But if you are like me, soothing sounds help make the bath or shower more relaxing, especially if you are one who tends to ruminate on your thoughts and worries. 
  5. Soothing smells are also another way to boost the effect of the stress-relieving bath or shower. I like to have candles by my bathtub and now you can even get ‘shower steamers’, which are tablets you put in the floor of your shower that release relaxing smells, such as lavender, eucalyptus, and other natural stress relieving scents. Other people use actual eucalyptus to hang in their showers. 

These are simple, yet powerful additions to the relaxing shower or bath. Outside of the bath and shower, the soothing sounds, smells, and imagery have a powerful effect on our brains. They stimulate positive hormones that combat stress and negativity.

  • Focused Breathing and Mindful Practices: A few other well-known methods of self-soothing include focused breathing, self-soothing touch, mindful walking, and self-compassion. These are very simple practices that are easily implemented into your everyday life. Focused breathing is known to help relieve anxiety and stress simply by focusing on your breathing. 
  1. A popular breathing method is the 3-4-5 breathing technique. You simply inhale for 3 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds and breathe out for 5 seconds. You can choose any time lengths that work better for you, but you want to focus on spending more time breathing out than in. When doing your breathing technique, your body begins to reset, and your heart rate will begin to normalize. Most practitioners will set a specific amount of time for you to do your breathing techniques, but you can simply practice it until you find what works best for you. 
  2. Self-soothing touch is a way for you to feel what your body is doing by placing your right hand on your heart and your left hand on your stomach. You will then focus on the feeling of your body’s movement when you breathe. When focusing on this, you will notice that the faster your stomach and chest are rising the faster you are breathing, which means that your heart rate is heightened as well. By feeling the movement, you will begin to slow down your breathing and lower your heart rate to achieve homeostasis. This helps you connect your body and mind, bringing you awareness that you are triggered or activated, and gives you the ability to self-soothe through touch. 
  3. Mindful walking is simply just as it sounds. Take a walk, short or long, and focus on your surroundings. If you live in a community with a lake, take a walk around the lake and just enjoy the peaceful, calming nature of it. If you live in a city, where the surroundings are distracting and noisy, find a place that is peaceful, such as a park or nature walk. During this walk, you will use your 5 senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch) to take in the peacefulness and calming nature of your surroundings. This will enable you to put your worries and stress into perspective, clearing your mind, and allowing you to release the tension from them. 

Empowering Yourself with Self-Soothing


Self-soothing is a powerful technique that does not require you to rely on anyone other than yourself. You already have the ability to ground yourself and control how you react and feel when in a triggering or activating situation, and now you know exactly how to do that. It is important to remember that self-care is a must, especially when you are in a caregiving role.

Seeking Help and Advocating for Yourself


Everyday things, such as work, finances, grocery shopping, raising children, taking care of your spouse or partner, and many others have the potential to become overwhelming. Burnout is unavoidable if you do not take care of yourself first. When you are at your best, you can give your best. If you find yourself in a place where you feel hopeless, lonely, or want to just give up, there are so many resources available to help you find peace, happiness, and a desire to live again. Reach out for help, advocate for yourself, because you deserve to live your best life, and your loved ones need you, you need you.

being triggered

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