An urge to engage in risky or self-harming behavior, such as abusing drugs, gambling, or even something as simple as biting one’s nails is set off by certain triggers. There are external triggers and internal triggers, and it helps to be aware of both types and how to respond to each.
External triggers are people, places, things, or times of the day that present opportunities or reminders to engage in the harmful behavior. These are considered high-risk situations that are easier to identify, are more predictable, and are easier to avoid than internal triggers.
Internal triggers can be more confusing because the urge to self-harm may just seem to surface out of nowhere. However, you can indeed identify what sets off these feelings. It can be a thought or an emotion such frustration, sadness, or even excitement. It can also be triggered by a physical sensation such as nervousness, tension, or a headache.
Here are some tips to combat triggers:
- For a few days, keep a log of when and where you feel the need to engage in the behavior.
- Remove the external triggers in your home. For example, if you are struggling with alcoholism, do not keep alcohol in your house.
- If it is in social situations that your undesired behavior becomes a problem, then avoid these gatherings. Remind yourself that this is a temporary situation and that once you have better understanding and more control, you will be able to attend such events again. Keep yourself socially active by creating opportunities for alternate, safer activity. Decide to leave high-risk situations quickly and plan exit strategies in advance.
- Create a list of reasons why you’d like to stay away from the harmful behavior. Keep this list handy, and read through it every time you find yourself weakening. It will be helpful to consult this list often.
- Appoint and prepare a friend or a group of friends you trust to be readily available to dissuade you from the harmful behavior, should you need that help.
- Create another list of productive activities you can turn to instead of giving in to the undesirable behavior.
- Prepare positive self-talk for when urges arise, such as, “Resist! You can do it!”
- Ride your urge as you would an ocean wave. Instead of giving in, try to tolerate your feelings. Know that just as waves rise and fall, so too will these urges. Then, pat yourself on the back and treat yourself with some kind of reward for your success!