Mental Health Column: Excessive Triggering


By Rena Patel ’19

Staff Writer

A few weeks ago, I took my sister and her friend out to dinner. Being the two 14 year olds that they are, innocent and influenced by media they don’t particularly understand, they were bickering about something. I zoned out. if I’m going to be honest, my job was just to keep them alive. It was only when I heard the phrase “I’m so triggered right now” come out of my sister’s friend’s mouth that I snapped back to reality.

“What did you just say?” I asked.

My sister rolled her eyes, sensing a lecture coming, and oh boy were they in for it. That is, until I realized that it wasn’t just 14 year olds that said things like this. I’ve heard similar phrases coming out of my peers’ mouths. The meaning of triggers, what constitutes as a trigger, and what it means to “feel triggered” has been removed from its original roots in mental health vocabulary and undermined in societal situations.

Triggers, as defined in the world of mental health, are “external events or circumstances that may produce very uncomfortable emotional or psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety, panic, discouragement, despair, or negative self-talk,” ( While triggers are incredibly real and trigger warnings are necessary to ensure that everyone remains aware and has the option to opt out of situations that can make them uncomfortable, society has normalized the use of the word “trigger” and in consequence, diminished its significance.

This normalization has led to many condemning safe spaces and trigger warnings on content, calling individuals who call for those labels and warnings as “infantile” and accuse those who support and accommodate for those individuals as “coddling them,” (NY Times). And this is due mostly to the fact that people are using the term “trigger” as a general phrase to express discomfort as opposed to having actual negative effects to mental health.

“Being triggered” is not and should not be an expression to convey mild discomfort, negative emotion, or awkward moments. Triggers are moments or objects that produce an intense reaction from those who are affected. Using triggers in everyday speech in a normalizing way undermines the necessity and importance for those who actually experience an adverse emotional or psychiatric reaction.

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