What to Do When You Get Triggered in Public

We’ve all been there. Sitting in a public place alone among strangers and bam! you get flooded with anxiety. It seems to come out of nowhere and suddenly you’re hyper-aware of your breathing. Holding back tears becomes difficult. You wonder if the people around you notice that there’s something wrong. You try to swallow your emotions, but it somehow makes it worse. You think hard about other topics and it helps…for about a minute. Then you’re right back to mounting alarm. As your body enters into full blown anxiety, your heartbeat increases dramatically, your throat tightens, illogical and competing thoughts vie for your attention. And the worst part? There’s nowhere to go. People surround you. Their very presence makes you fearful and angry. You need privacy. Now.

This was me this morning at a Social Studies Conference an hours’ flight away from my home. I was in a session learning about Economics in every day life and suddenly I couldn’t function or focus. If I’m honest, these feelings were building all day, but I couldn’t deal with my emotions in this incredibly public place so I kept stuffing until I couldn’t stuff anymore. That’s the thing with emotions-they don’t go away unless addressed.

So what do you do? Leave. Just do it. Go somewhere else: a bathroom, hotel room, nearby empty parking lot, your car-anywhere you can ride out the emotion alone. Yet not alone. Because here’s the good news: we have a good, constant, reliable God. And He’s with us in the pain, fear, irrationality, and anxiety.

Now, I haven’t been triggered in this particular way in a long time. I’ve dealt with a whole lot of my issues in therapy which helps so much. But when anxiety does hit me, it comes with a vengeance. And we need to process our anxiety. For real. It will never go away until we’re honest about it with God. And even then the road to healing is long and hard-and so, so liberating.

So here’s the nitty gritty of dealing with these attacks from my experience:

  1. Get to a safe space away from others.
  2. Briefly contact prayer warriors or friends or your husband and ask them to pray for you.
  3. Let the emotions roll! Feel all of them-yes, all the fears and anxieties. Let the tears fall and don’t judge them.
  4. Cry out to the Lord. Tell Him everything. Every fear, every thought, every hurt-all of it. He can handle it. Trust me. Write them down or say them out loud to God.
  5. Ask Him to expose the lies you’re believing and get down to the root of the hurt. It might be a past hurt from childhood. It usually results in an “I am” statement. For example, this morning my anxiety-ridden statement was “I am unsafe.” Tell the statement to God.
  6. Ask for forgiveness for believing the lies instead of His truth.
  7. Ask God to replace the lies with His truth. Imagine Him beside you. He might bring to mind a verse, a song, a scripture, an image. Ask Him for a new “I am” statement. I am safe. I am loved. I am not alone.
  8. Stay with Him awhile. There’s no rush. Let go of your other responsibilities for a time. Be with Him. Heal. You’re that important.

Thank God for healing. I rest in His comfort today. He is with me. I am safe. So are you.

In my distress I called upon the Lordto my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.” -Psalm 18:6

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” -Psalm 34: 17-18

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