Stress Relief Principle #4: Triggering

by Doc Orman, M.D.


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This week, I’m going to review two important stress relief principles, and then I’ll suggest one simple stress relief strategy that is based upon both of them. 

The two stress relief principles I’m going to discuss are: 

1)    Triggering

2)    Automaticity 

This post will focus on triggering.  In my next post, I’ll discuss automaticity. 

What Is Triggering? 

Triggering is a very common occurrence in life that everyone experiences. The reason we all experience triggering is because we all have bodies.  Triggering is what happens to us (to our bodies) when some external or internal stimulus comes into contact with our body and causes it to react. 

For example, somebody says something to you in a demeaning way and you (your body) reacts by feeling angry.  In this example, the external stimulus—whatever that person said, including the way they said it—impinged upon your body causing it (you) to react emotionally. 

Here’s another example.  You mess up at performing a very simple task, one that you’ve completed successfully many times before.  You immediately criticize yourself, telling yourself  “I’m such a stupid imbecile.”  As you hear yourself uttering these words, you begin to feel a little down. 

Now, let’s rewind this example and see what really happened.  First, you messed up a simple task.  Once you recognized this, your lack of success became an external trigger, causing you (your body) to utter a demeaning put-down directed at yourself.  Once you heard your own negative assessment, your words then acted as an internal trigger, which caused you (your body) to react again, this time with some type of mild negative feeling. 

We Get Triggered Hundreds (If Not Thousands) Of Times Every Day! 

If you were somehow able to keep track of every single experience you had in any given day, you would probably notice that your body was triggered hundreds, if not thousands of times.  Most of these triggering events are probably inconsequential and are fairly benign.  But several times in a day, you might get triggered to have a significant amount of “stress.” 

In fact, we get triggered so often in life, and by so many external and internal things, that we don’t even notice that we’re being triggered all the time.  It just feels like normal life to us.  So that’s why I’m bringing this to your attention.  Triggering is something we all experience, multiple times every day, yet we have very little conscious awareness that repetitive triggering is always going on. 

NOTE: We can also get triggered in good or beneficial ways (just think about the last inspiring or scary movie you saw).  Anything that causes our bodies to react can be considered “triggering,” whether it produces positive, neutral, or negative reactions. 

Why Is Triggering Important? 

The primary reason why triggering is so important is that it’s the starting point for many of our physical, emotional, and behavioral reactions.  It’s also the starting point for most of our stress. 

If you truly want to build an accurate understanding of where stress comes from in human beings, you have to start with the principle of triggering.  And you also have to appreciate that when triggering happens to us, it always happens to our bodies.  Whenever we think we were triggered emotionally, mentally, physically, or even spiritually—the bottom line is that the only thing that actually got triggered was our bodies. 

Triggering is a body phenomenon.  Nothing more. Nothing less. 

In my next post, we’ll extend this understanding to include the concept of automaticity.  Triggering is what happens to our bodies.  Automaticity is what happens inside our bodies.  It’s the end result of what triggering starts. 

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