Recognizing Grief Triggers

What Grief Triggers Are & How to Recognize Them

Encountering a loss goes hand in hand with processing grief. How grief affects us is as unique and varied as the person facing it. Even if you’ve been touched by grief several times, no two experiences are the same. As you journey through your grief process, certain things may act as grief triggers, momentarily heightening feelings of loss. It may be overwhelming because they can seemingly come out of nowhere, blind-siding you when you least expect it. Understanding grief triggers can help you process your grief in a more manageable and healthy way.

What are Grief Triggers?

When it comes to grief, there is no definitive timeline for how long it will last. It’s a process that can’t be rushed. For some, it may be a relatively short experience. Others may feel like it never ends. In truth, we never fully get over a loss; however, we can still heal and live vibrant, fulfilling lives. Whether the loss occurred recently or several years ago, certain moments in your daily life can trigger a grief response. Grief triggers are anything that stirs up the memory of losing your loved one. It can be a sound, a touch, a sight, a place, a person, or a significant milestone, such as a birthday or holiday. Grief triggers can be challenging because they often present themselves uninvited and without warning. You could be having a wonderful, uplifting day when a thunderbolt of loss strikes. Even if you feel you’ve made it through your grief process, something can still trigger a profound sense of loss. On the bright side, it can also stimulate a wonderful memory of your loved one that makes you laugh or feel a wave of comfort and peace.

What Does it Mean to Recognize Your Grief Triggers?

While grief triggers may seem random, making sense of what motivates them is possible. Recognizing your grief triggers means understanding what triggers the memory of loss, how it affects you, and how you can respond and cope with it in healthy ways. You’ll feel like you’re being hit out of nowhere without knowing your grief triggers. It may cause you to feel more guarded and anxious as you constantly brace yourself for possible grief triggers, making your grief process more challenging.

How to Identify Your Grief Triggers

Journeying through grief can cause you to run the gambit of emotions. One day, you may feel like your normal self; the next may bring overwhelming emotions, while yet another may cause you to feel numb or “checked out.” Luckily, there is something you can do to help you get a handle on this rollercoaster ride of emotions:

Keep a Record

As triggers present themselves, note them by writing them down in an emotion journal. Some people prefer using their smartphones or tablets, while others are more comfortable with pen and paper. Either will work as long as it’s convenient and accessible for you. As you go through your day, check in with yourself and observe your mood. Important details to look for include your location, who you were with, what you were doing, and how you were feeling. Did certain circumstances or people produce a grief trigger? Creating an emotional intensity scale may help you quickly record how you feel at any moment. Maybe a rating of one is a normal day, while a ten represents an overwhelming emotional trigger. You may notice a pattern. For example, your emotions may feel more intense in the afternoon, or you may notice that your anxiety spikes regularly at night time. It may take time to recognize patterns, and that’s okay. It’s all part of the process. Once you identify grief triggers and patterns, you’ll be one giant step closer to healthily coping with them.

What to Do After Identifying Grief Triggers

Once you have a better understanding of what triggers grief for you, you’ll be able to put yourself in a position to manage them effectively. As you identify grief triggers, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings and process them. It may feel safer to ignore the feelings, burying them deep inside you; however, that will only cause deeper pain and heartache. We heal and move forward with our lives by facing our grief head-on. Create a plan ahead of time to help you respond to grief triggers. When you feel triggered, accessing your plan will help soothe your system while acknowledging your feelings. You can build several things into your plan to help you process grief-related triggers.

Grief Journal

Pouring your thoughts and emotions onto paper can be a wonderful release when you feel triggered by grief. Even when you aren’t triggered, setting time aside each day with your grief journal can help release the possible mounting pressure of grief.

Reach Out to Others

Whether it’s a family member, a friend, or a professional therapist, talking with others about your grief will help you face it and surrender the pain that comes with it. If it helps, make a pre-arranged plan with a friend. Set up a codeword that you can text or call them with to let them know you’ve been triggered and need help.

Set Aside an Emergency Activity

Think about a simple activity that normally brings you comfort. Ideally, it may be something that you can readily access at any given time. It could be a meditation, a song, or a breathing exercise. You can also find a quiet space or go outside to be alone.

Grief triggers can be challenging, but you have the power to face them with patience and fortitude. Knowing what triggers your grief can strengthen your resolve and build your confidence. Having a plan ahead of time will keep you grounded and stabilized, bringing you peace of mind. As you go through the grief process, take it easy on yourself. Soon, the cloud of despair will lift.

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