Barton Goldsmith column: How to deal with emotional triggers
According to the Mayo Clinic, “suicidal thoughts are the result of feeling like you can’t cope when you’re faced with what seems to be an overwhelming life situation.” The tension and sadness of anxiety and depression have led many people to making the ultimate mistake of stepping out of life before their time. This is something that happens to people in all walks of life, though we tend to hear more about “celebrity suicides” than those of us regular people.
How do any of us get to the place of even having suicidal thoughts, much less acting on them? What can we do to keep our balance and perspective?
If you get easily emotionally triggered, you may find yourself often thrown off balance. You’re easily triggered because you may not yet have healed from a traumatic episode, or it may be that you’re a highly sensitive person with a good memory who can’t let go yet. As a result, you may suffer from panic attacks, anxiety and depression, but the situation is not hopeless. You can learn to cope with the right tools.
Here's a quick case study: A wealthy landlord in his 50s would have an anxiety attack if anything went wrong at any of his properties, and it did almost every day. Even though he was making more money than he needed, he worried about expenses like they were a medical diagnosis and ruined many days by overthinking, and he did consider taking his own life more than once. He did not have the tools to pull himself out of his own imaginary pit. It makes me wonder if Robin Williams and Anthony Bourdain had similar experiences.
After a year of cognitive behavioral therapy and doing some serious homework like daily journaling, the landlord ended up having many more good days than bad. He also learned to understand his condition, which made it easier for him to slay the imaginary demons in his head. And that is a very important piece for anyone who is anxious or depressed to remember. What you are feeling is most likely not based on fact; it is a twisted version of a past trauma that has wormed its way into your psyche. But you can fight it and win.
Please keep in your head that your feelings can come from altered brain chemistry, hormones or even a bad movie. These feelings do not represent reality. Most all of us have had some experience with this happening to us as teenagers with raging hormones, and it can continue to happen to us supposed grown-ups too. It can also happen to the people we know and love, so keep an eye out for anyone in your circle who is showing signs of not caring about themselves anymore.
I am not suggesting you repress your feelings in any way, which can be harmful to your well-being. The best thing we can all do is to learn to recognize our triggers. That way we can begin to avoid or at least tame them, so they don’t have so much power over us.
If something happens to throw you off balance, remind yourself that you tend to let situations like this overwhelm you, and allow yourself to slow down and take things one step at a time. Take advice when and where you need to. This simple methodology will save you from wasting your days over worrying about something that is not at all out of your locus of control. Learn to recognize and understand (but don’t repress) your feelings, and you will continue to stand in your power.
Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, California, is the author of "The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time." Follow his daily insights on Twitter at
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