How can you get to a place of safety on a moment’s notice?

Is the world really upsetting us, or are we upsetting ourselves by what we tell ourselves about it?

Most likely, the latter. Other people are not the sole source of our negative feelings. The onus is on us. The call is coming from inside the house.

We need to take responsibility for improving our situation, not wait for other people to change so we feel better.

There’s an interesting study from a clinical psychology journal about this issue. Concerned about the use of campus trigger warnings, in the absence of any clear evidence of their effectiveness, the authors conducted a series of experiments on more than one thousand people.

They wanted to discover to what extent trigger warnings actually affect people’s ratings of negative college course material and their symptoms of distress as a result. Turns out, trigger warnings didn’t make any difference.

Subjects who saw them, compared with those who didn’t, judged their presented course material to be similarly negative, felt similarly negative, experienced similarly frequent intrusive thoughts and avoidance, and comprehended subsequent material similarly well.

The researchers concluded that this widespread campus adoption of trigger warnings may tacitly encourage students to turn to avoidance, which deprives them of opportunities to learn healthier ways to manage potential distress.

That last part if critical. Because the focus should be on healing ourselves, not changing the situation. Learning how to decrease our tendency to over interpret the actions of others in a negative way.

Without taking that path, without strengthening our ability to handle these small interpersonal matters on our own, life will become one big never ending trigger farm of constant and intense moral conflict.

And that’s no way to live.

My version of this is with vasovagal reaction, which is a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure, often in reaction to a stressful trigger like blood, needles, graphic stories and zombie movies. It’s an awful feeling. Dizziness, nausea, and even fainting are a just a few of the delightful symptoms. It’s been a struggle since adolescence.

What’s fascinating is that, yoga has helped me better handle this reaction. The practice has trained me to use my breath to get to a place of safety on a moment’s notice. As my instructors say, wherever it hurts, send your breath there.

Nowadays, whether I’m giving blood, having painful dental work done, listening to a gross story, sitting in the hospital to visiting loved one, or undergoing surgery myself, simply being able to breathe helps me gain control over that reaction. A deep breath invites inner strength to move through me. And on a good day, it feels like I can handle anything. Trigger warnings not necessary.

How are you developing healthier ways to manage your potential distress? How are you transforming yourself into someone less willing and less likely to be triggered?

It takes time, patience and trial and error to get to this point, but it is possible. We can all find our own unique way to improve our situations, regardless of whether or not the people and environments around us change.

And yes, there will always be some environmental triggers that makes it impossible for us to concentrate on anything else because of our extreme emotions. That’s normal.

But in general, the goal is to focus on healing ourselves, not blaming others. 

Is the world upsetting you, or are you upsetting yourself by what you tell yourself about the world?


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