The term “triggered” has entered our national vocabulary as a general reference to sore spots in a person’s psyche that result in emotional outbursts, particularly in conversations about politics. We’ve all seen the PTSD “triggered” memes. However, there’s a much more serious use for the term “trigger.” In psychology, a trigger is a stimulus or condition that prompts a relapse of depression. A depression trigger can be something simple or a complex series of events.
Although a depression trigger isn’t the root cause of a person’s depression, triggers can cause a recurrence of depression. It’s important to understand one’s triggers, as depression tends to be recurrent. People who have lived through one depressive episode are 50 percent more likely to endure a second episode, and the likelihood of recurrences just goes up after that. A recurrence of depression, called a relapse, can often be prompted by events or situations like the ones below.
These are all examples of common depression triggers:
- Stress. Stress is a common depression trigger. Feeling overwhelmed can make us feel hopeless and out of control. We have to learn to establish clear boundaries and say no when we’ve already got a full schedule of things to get done.
- Sensitive times of the year. Times like anniversaries, birthdays and holidays can be very hard. People are reminded of good times in the past that won’t come again and loved ones who are no longer in their lives
- Illness or injury. An injury can cause a relapse into depression, especially an injury that limits a person’s mobility. Chronic illnesses that flare up from time to time, are also antecedents for depression.
- Financial stress. Money problems can trigger depression and other major mental illnesses. The stress and worry associated with even minor money issues have been shown to lead to an increased risk of depression and anxiety.
- Problems at work. Work stress can prompt a depressive episode. Often, work stress comes from heavy amounts of work coupled with feelings of helplessness and an inability to change one’s situation. That’s also a common feeling in depression.
- Relationship difficulties. Relationship problems can include those related to marriage and partnership, or those between family members. The closer the relationship, the more potential for depressive thoughts to emerge.
- Poor sleep. For many people, trouble sleeping is a herald for an oncoming depressive episode. This is especially true for bipolar disorder, in which insomnia can trigger either a depressive or manic episode. People with depression rely on getting healthy restful sleep daily, and even a few nights of poor sleep can signal the onset of a depressive episode.
- Substance abuse. Many abused substances work paradoxically; that is, they have stimulant and depressant effects. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, but many stimulants, like methamphetamine, produce serious “crashes” when a person refrains from using them. Another issue is a relapse from sobriety into active addiction. A relapse can send a person into a sharp downward arc that can lead to suicidal thinking.
- Trauma, grief, or loss. Grief can send people into a deep depression that can last for months or years. Losing someone close is also a very common trigger for depression.
- Seasonal Changes. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real condition in which the shift from the long days of plentiful sunshine found in the summertime give way to shorter, darker winter days. This seems to evoke depression in some people, due to the disturbance in their circadian rhythm.
Coping with Your Depression Triggers
To manage your depression triggers, you have to develop a good sense of what situations and stimuli make your depression worse. Psychotherapy can be a great help in getting a better understanding of what makes you uniquely vulnerable to depression. The following steps can also help you gain control of your depression triggers.
- Identify your triggers and the circumstances in which you experience them.
- Evaluate how you usually deal with your triggers. Identify what works and what doesn’t.
- Imagine how the situation would ideally develop when you encounter a depression trigger. Imagine the best-case scenario and an acceptable scenario. What would it take for each scenario to come about? What changes would you have to make to take away a trigger’s ability to bring about a relapse into depression?
- Identify who can help you defuse your triggers. Who can you enlist to help you avoid a relapse into depression?
- Write your plan down. Make it as simple as possible, but make sure to put it into writing. Putting a behavioral plan into text helps make it a reality.
Many depression triggers cannot be avoided, but they can be planned for. Having a support system of people to rely on when things get rough is a critical part of increasing resilience to depression. Seeing a mental healthcare professional regularly is also a vital part of all mental health plans.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for Depression
There are many treatments for depression, including medication and psychotherapy. Since 2008, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been used as a rapid, painless and non-invasive treatment for depression. TMS therapy uses targeted magnetic pulses to stimulate areas of the brain that affect mood, helping you get back to your best life in a matter of weeks. Most people experience no side effects and receive lasting relief from depression. The best part is it’s covered by most major insurance companies, Medicare and TRICARE.
This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer.
Rosenthal, N. E. (1984, January 1). Seasonal Affective Disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/493246
Sareen, J. (2011, April 04). Relationship Between Household Income and Mental Disorders: Findings From a Population-Based Longitudinal Study. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/211213
Taming Triggers for Better Mental Health. (2017, March 31). Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/apa-blog/2017/03/taming-triggers-for-better-mental-health