Emotions, Triggers and Treatment
By Glenn Dillon, LCSW
Emotions and the Past
Sometimes in the course of our daily lives, we experience feelings of heavy stress and then anxiety involving racing thoughts and worries. Before long, the stress and anxiety gives way to feelings of dread, exhaustion, and depressed mood. We may start to feel unable to experience moments of joy in our daily lives, which just exacerbates the depression, thus feeling even more depressed.
Though sometimes these feelings are caused by situational triggers in our current life, (such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job or a health condition), sometimes these feelings are actually activating something familiar from our past.
The Past Revisited
The “familiar” is often a traumatic event or situation from our past (be it 4 months ago or 29 years ago) that involved experiences of heightened arousal, anxiety, panic, and/or intense feelings of dread and fear of death (be it real or perceived).
Something as innocuous as a falling leaf and a cool breeze or the brief whiff of a specific smell such as car exhaust, fragrance from a specific food, or a perfume may alert your emotional memory and active the central nervous system, and then suddenly….BOOM! You are having a crippling attack of anxiety or intense dread. You may not exactly sure why this feeling is happening, but you feel awful.
This experience happens to many people and the feelings of activation that come up are treatable and can improve. Though processing some of the past traumatic events in counseling may be helpful, the ultimate goal is not to rehash the gritty details of the past but to learn how to regulate and alter the unpleasant feelings happening now that are making current daily life difficult.
Often with the benefit of techniques such as body-centered mindfulness techniques, sensorimotor therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, meditation, (or other therapies like EMDR/Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), these symptoms can become under control and manageable.
Books on Emotional Trauma
Start with reading one or more of these books on the treatment of trauma: The Body Remembers by Babette Rothschild, Trauma and the Body: A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy by Pat Ogden, and Treating Trauma by Peter A. Levine.
For the best results, of course, combine the knowledge from these books with on-going counseling, where techniques are practiced and both past and current stressful events are processed in a safe space in a more relaxed state of both mind and body.
Trauma Final Thoughts
Though every person’s process and time line for change is different, eventually, the mind and body will begin to learn a new experience, an experience of healing and integration. Then there will be little to no activation of these familiar yet unwanted feelings from the past and you’ll be more able to live your life, enjoying the present moment.