Self-care vs. Trigger care

Self-care vs. Trigger care

Raise your hand if you received a self-care gift this holiday season. Scented candles, heated neck massagers, or maybe a gym membership!   Now raise your hand if you think that self-care is the right response when you feel emotionally overwhelmed.  

Follow me here for a minute:  You’re cooking dinner.  You have a short window to finish up and serve the food before you have to leave to pick up a child from practice.  Then the dog throws up. While you’re cleaning that up, you hear your youngest knock the lamp over with his basketball.

You get that quick flash of rage (or frustration or defeat, it's different for everyone).  So naturally, you stop what you’re doing and light the scented candle.  Right?

Wrong. Proactive self-care is not the same as in-the-moment trigger care.  

We all get flashes of big emotions that can make us feel overwhelmed, emotionally flooded or dysregulated.  For those of us with chronic stress, anxiety or a history of trauma, these big emotions can last longer than a flash if we don’t practice in-the-moment trigger care.

Trigger care is how we choose to respond when we’re overwhelmed.  In the example above, we would use that split second after the flash of rage (frustration, defeat) to notice the big feeling and make a subtle shift to a new sensation.  For example, when I get triggered I feel my heart rate speed up and my blood rush to my face.  In that split second after the rush, I take a sharp inhale and then as I slowly exhale I force my attention away from my exploding thoughts and into my feet.  

Why my feet?  They are the spot furthest away from my rapid heart rate and pulsing temples.  I can concentrate on using the strength of my feet to connect with the floor and literally ground myself into the present moment.  While I’m there, I take one more breath in and out.  Or two.  Or three.  In short, I unwind my triggered state until I settle into the safe state that I know from my practice of self-care.

Because I do light those scented candles and make time to use heated neck massagers.  I take walks. I journal.  I do it because self-care feels good, but also because my body needs to practice feeling good.  By practicing self-care, I give myself a familiar and safe place to land once the rush of the trigger is over. When I arrive at feeling safe in my body, I know that I’m ready to calmly address whatever comes next - dogs, basketballs and all.


Andrea D. Goodwin

Stress Relief | Trauma Recovery

Certified Safe & Sound Protocol (SSP) Provider

Certified Trauma Recovery Coach

e: [email protected]

c: 224.408.0809

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