I'll never forget the time my client Jackie* came into session very excited. "I was in the car, and I started to get anxious!" she exclaimed with a big smile on her face. "You seem happy about that," I said, wondering why she was so positive about getting anxious. "Yes, when I started to get anxious I began to feel trapped as usual and then I stopped and asked myself what might be triggering my anxiety. And I figured it out! The sun was coming through the front windshield and I was getting hot! I pulled over to the side of the road and took my jacket off. I felt better right away!"
Jackie's positive feeling about her experience was due to the fact that she figured out what specifically was triggering her anxiety, in this case being too warm. Once she identified the trigger she was able to do something about it, or what I like to say, "she un-trapped herself from the trigger." By realizing that she was getting too warm and taking off her jacket, Jackie stopped her anxiety level from climbing higher. Had she not noticed her rising anxiety level and asked herself what it was about, Jackie's anxiety might have continued to rise, even to the point of having a panic attack.
If you recall, most sources describe panic attacks as something that occurs "without warning" or "out of blue." In my post last week, "Understanding the Vicious Cycle of Panic," I asserted that panic almost always starts with a stimulus, or "trigger," even if it is extremely subtle. I'm going to start to discuss those triggers today.
There's a very popular show for small children called "Blue's Clues." Blue is an animated dog who lives with her "real" (non-animated) friend Joe. During each episode Blue likes to play a game called "Blue's Clues" in order to answer a question posed by Joe, such as, "What would you like to do today Blue?" or "What was your dream about last night, Blue?"
Blue always leaves clues by making a paw print on the clue. Joe finds the clues and draws each clue in his "handy dandy notebook." When he gets all three clues he sits down in his "thinking chair," and "thinks, thinks, thinks" about each of the clues he has gathered. Once Joe looks and thinks about Blue's three clues, he finds Blue's answer to his question.
Trigger hunting is a lot like Blue's Clues in that you have to actively look for the thing(s) that might be triggering your anxiety. Some of the triggers are subtle and not immediately obvious. Also, triggers are often connected to another and you may have to look at several triggers in order to understand how they work together to stimulate your anxiety. When you have all the clues, however, then the start and progression of your anxiety will make much more sense. Once you understand what pushes your anxiety level up, then you can take specific steps to lower it.
Two Categories of Triggers: External and Internal