The digital age of social media has improved many aspects of life. We are able to easily search up information and FaceTime loved ones, but there are also many cons. It has specifically made it far more prevalent for survivors of sexual violence to become emotionally triggered when online. We can’t always control what we view on certain apps such as TikTok or Instagram, and sometimes upsetting content is shown. While many online creators implement trigger warnings before sharing graphic content, some forget or are unaware that there should be one. This can in-turn trigger the individuals viewing the post, and bring up unwanted feelings and emotions. If you want to use social media the risk of watching content that’s triggering can pop up unexpectedly. This tends to happen as platforms like TikTok have become a place where survivors share their stories, sometimes using very descriptive details. If you’re familiar with TikTok, you can’t control what shows up on the ‘for you page.’ This makes it important for you to understand how you can deal with these online triggers in a healthy manner. That being said, if the use of online apps has been continuously messing with your mental health, there is absolutely no shame in stepping away. We support you if deactivating or simply deleting the app(s) off your phone is what’s needed to ensure you’re happy. But, we also recognize that being in the 21st century, it can be challenging to disconnect from social media. Below are strategies and advice we think could benefit you when trying to manage online triggers.
But first, let’s understand what triggers are and how they physically feel:
What is a trigger?
A trigger is anything from a sight or sound that results in a physical or emotional reaction, related to your trauma. It can cause a sudden feeling of overwhelming stress, panic, or sadness making you struggle to focus or be in the present moment.
What does it feel like to be triggered?
You may feel a sudden change in your mood when triggered. For example, a burst of anger or anxiety is common. It could be accompanied by an extreme sense of irritability that struggles to be controlled. If people are around you, you may find yourself snapping at them, not knowing how to contain these emotions. Sounds may become too loud and you can also experience sensory overload which is when your body becomes overstimulated. On the other hand, you can have a sudden feeling of despair, hopelessness and find yourself having symptoms of depression. Many individuals dissociate which is characterized by daydreaming, confusion, feeling as though you’re out of your body, or don’t recognize yourself in the mirror. Others experience flashbacks of the trauma, or intrusive thoughts they cannot control.
Here are strategies for controlling your triggers
1) Identify & recognize your triggers using mindfulness
The only way to know what upsets you online is to be aware and identify what these triggers are. You can do this by talking aloud to yourself or writing them down. These are both great ways to express how you feel without the anxiety of someone else listening. This is essentially self-reflection, a mindful practice that will allow you to be more aware of what’s going on around you while acknowledging certain emotions and why they happen. You can even name the specific triggers which can help you be more prepared and know which actions to take if you come across it again. Once you identify the triggers, you can actively block users who post content that upsets you or know when to shut down your device, which leads to the next point…
2) Don’t re-watch or keep looking at the triggering post
Re-watching or consistently looking at the post will only upset you more. Refresh the page or turn your device off. Don’t try to find more details of what happened, or excessively view the users page who made this post. It’s best to let it go as the details could only create more distress. Give yourself a moment to step away from your device, and allow yourself to calm down.
3) Ground yourself
When triggered, many individuals experience feelings of anxiety, have flashbacks and panic attacks. Grounding yourself is an excellent way to free your mind of these symptoms and calm down. You can ground yourself by using the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 method. This involves finding five things you can see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell and one you can taste. This will help distract your mind and force you to focus on the present world around you rather than the distressing item you viewed. For more information on grounding, check out our blog post What is Grounding and How Can It Help You.
It will always be advised to do some form of physical activity when depressed, stressed, or feeling anxious. We recognize how challenging it can be to get the motivation to exercise but the effects on your brain and mood are extremely beneficial. You can either go on a brisk walk, jog, or watch a YouTube video that guides you through a fitness routine. Yoga is an excellent option as it’s low impact, relaxing but still allows you to move your body. As long as you sweat, the endorphins released in your brain will have a great impact on your mood and can help lessen the effects of a trigger. We’ve listed some wonderful, and easy to follow workout videos on YouTube to give you some ideas.
Meditation can be just as effective as exercising. Once you enter a state of relaxation through meditation and are able to separate your negative thoughts during this time, you will feel amazing afterwards. The effects of meditation are endless and can help with anxiety, reduce stress, increase self awareness, and positively affect your emotional health. If a meditation is done effectively, you should leave feeling relaxed and calm afterwards. Of course, we don’t expect you to know how to meditate solely on your own, which is why we’ve listed some excellent guided meditations from YouTube.
6) Call a family member or friend
Talking out your feelings with a close family member or friend can help alleviate upsetting feelings. It’s unhealthy to bottle up all your emotions and gaining the perspective and support of this close person could be very beneficial.
If you find yourself struggling to manage your triggers on your own, consulting with a mental health professional could help guide you on how to deal with this issue. Having someone outside your immediate circle can sometimes make it easier to open up and receive help. If money is an issue, there are always free helplines where you can seek affordable forms of therapy through websites like Better Help. The links for these resources are provided below.
Remember, these techniques are not only great for online triggers but can also help you in any difficult situation. If you’re experiencing a trigger right now, know that it won’t last and this feeling is temporary. Never feel ashamed to reach out for help, as that is by far the bravest thing you can do.