Know Your Triggers

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The Lark DPP check-in on triggers introduced the idea of triggers and what they can make you do without really thinking about it Knowing your triggers can help you respond to stress in healthier ways and avoid the less-healthy effects of triggers. 

 

What Is a Trigger?


A trigger is something that leads to an action on your part or it has another effect. When talking about stress-related triggers, the effects could be:

  • Being cranky and more likely to argue with people.

  • Being more distracted and less productive.

  • Drinking alcohol or smoking.

As talked about in the Lark DPP check-in, another effect of a trigger can be stress eating. Many people stress-eat sometimes, or eat, when they are not hungry for food, because of boredom, anger, frustration, or other emotions.

 

Common Triggers


What are your triggers? What causes you to lose your temper, miss work deadlines, or eat ice cream from the carton? There are many common triggers. The Lark DPP check-in mentioned a family emergency, tight deadlines, and running low on sleep as possible triggers. Other common triggers are:

  • An argument with a friend, family member, or co-worker.

  • Life changes, such as moving or getting a new job or new roles.

  • Getting a divorce.

  • Caregiving for a family member.

  • Managing a chronic condition.

Sometimes, there is a chronic stressor that is wearing you down for months or longer, and a specific event is the trigger that throws you over the proverbial edge. For example, if you are always worried about money, you might handle it okay most of the time, but a final straw might be if your child asks you to go to an amusement that you cannot afford. This might upset you so much that it triggers you to hit the refrigerator to numb your senses.

 

Sneaky Triggers


Some triggers can be harder to identify because they are either positive events or subtle. An example of a positive event that can lead to overeating is a celebration, such as a birthday, wedding, anniversary, or holiday. A subtle trigger might be physical inactivity, which can lead to more hunger and cravings.

Other sneaky triggers include:

  • Too much sedentary time, such as when watching television, using your smartphone, or working on your computer. While sitting and being distracted, you might eat more than you realize.

  • Watching television and surfing the net. Plenty of online advertisements are for food and they can make you feel like eating, especially junk food.

  • Being with friends who love to eat. Do you have any friends that only get together to eat, or always include eating when you get together?

 

Food Triggers


Some triggers are specifically related to food. For example, having junk food around can trigger you to eat junk food. That can happen when a coworker or friend offers you homemade baked goods, when you have leftovers in the fridge (have you ever eaten pumpkin pie and stuffing for breakfast the day after Thanksgiving?), or when the server places bread and butter on your table as soon as you sit down at a restaurant.

It can also happen when you drive by a favorite fast food place on the way home from work, even if you were not thinking about food before you saw the place, or when you walk past the chips in the supermarket, even if they were not on your shopping list. Quick fixes for these triggers, besides being aware of them, are to drive home a different way so you do not pass the fast food joint, and to avoid the chips aisle in the supermarket.

Another potential trigger is not having enough healthy food around. When it is time to eat a meal and junk food or fast food are quicker to access, you may just opt for the high-calorie fare with excessive starch, sugar, fat, and sodium, and without many nutrients. Worse, these less-nutritious meals and snacks can increase cravings for them, leading to a vicious cycle. 

Knowing your triggers can help you recognize when they are coming or have happened, and allow you to think more carefully before they affect you. At the same time, the increased awareness can also reduce your overall stress. 

 

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health