Tuesday Tales: Have you been triggered lately? – Donna Thistlethwaite

Do you ever sense yourself being triggered by a life situation? Basically, it’s an emotional or physiological response to a situation or both. Sometimes we’ll recognise it but often we won’t be conscious of what is happening or why.

A few years back I employed a school based administrative trainee to work one day a week in my business. I was excited about getting some help, having someone to talk to and facilitating some new skills for a young person.

As the start date drew near there was the usual documentation to work through. One afternoon as I read through my commitments, which included salary obligations, I suddenly felt an energy wash over me. In hindsight, I know that it was a sense of fear. When it arrived I recognised it instantly and involuntarily exclaimed: “Whoa I know you, you’ve been here before”.

Back in 2012 as my career was derailing and my mental health crisis heightening, I decided that I would be sacked from my job. I became consumed by a fear that I would cause my family to lose the townhouse my partner had owned when we’d met and that I wouldn’t be able to financially contribute to my family. I had talked him into refinancing the property only a short time before to set us up better financially.

Interestingly I had this feeling come up again at the start of 2020 when I decided to leave career coaching to transition full time into mental health speaking and training. I was down to my last $5K in my business account (the equivalent of one month’s pay) but had a strong sense that I was making the right decision.

So what was different between 2012 and these more recent incidents? Thankfully I have learnt to quickly recognise what is happening and take action to address the fear. In both recent instances, I sat down with my partner and explained what I was experiencing. I asked if I could take a sum of money from our family finances to meet my commitments and/or to fund a period until I could find a job if I needed to. This led to the fear subsiding and me being able to calmly move forward. In both situations, I didn’t have to access the backup money.

If you ever find yourself having a strong reaction to a situation, you might find it useful to reflect on whether you’ve experienced this feeling in the past. Often same circumstances won’t be identical but there will be an underlying emotion or need that is triggered. Recognising the feeling and looking at it with a rational mind can often minimise its impact.

Speaking to someone who knows us well, particularly if they’re a bit removed from the situation, can also be helpful. You’ll also consider professionals such as psychologists for support and tools for more helpfully responding to triggers.

For me personally, I am so grateful that I now understand my fear around financial decisions that could impact other people and know how to best support myself.

The more we understand ourselves the better life gets!

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Donna Thistlethwaite is a Brisbane-based speaker and trainer specialising in mental health and resilience. She is an accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor and Resilience at Work Facilitator with a passion for suicide prevention and for helping individuals, teams and organisations to THRIVE. You can find out about her next Mental Health First Aid courses here.

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