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Triggers For Depression

How to Recognize Your Depression Triggers

Depression can feel isolating. When it’s at its worst, depression can make you feel like the world outside your bedroom is dark and threatening. At Sun Behavioral Health Kentucky, we want you to know you’re never alone in this. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, over 43% of adults in Kentucky are struggling with either depression or anxiety.

With proper treatment, depression doesn’t have to last forever. In treatment, you can learn how to manage your depression in healthy ways to find relief. One of the most valuable things you’ll learn and practice in treatment is how to recognize your triggers. When you can recognize what’s setting off your depression, you can learn to manage and correct the thoughts that no longer serve you.

What Causes Depression?

There is no single cause of depression. We can’t blame this on ourselves or others. To experience depression, most people need to have risk factors in place – things that make us vulnerable to mental illness or mood disorders. Some of these risk factors include:

  • Past history of trauma
  • A volatile upbringing
  • A stressful lifestyle
  • The death of a loved one
  • A history of health problems
  • Poor nutrition
  • Substance or alcohol use
  • History of abuse
  • And more

We don’t know what causes some people to experience depression over others, but we do know that our history plays a role. Who we’ve dated, what trauma we’ve experienced, or what our health has been like can contribute to the development of depression. In some people, depression is more likely simply because of their personality type.

Thinking about why depression happens or what risk factors we possess can be a slippery slope. We might feel the need to assign blame or we might criticize ourselves for past choices. This isn’t productive when we’re experiencing the ebbs and flows of depression. The focus should be on how we can reclaim our lives and manage depression by identifying our triggers. 

What is a “Trigger”?

A “trigger” is anything that causes a painful memory from your past to resurface. If you were in a previous relationship where you were yelled at every day, the sound of someone yelling might “trigger” your depression. Triggers can be anything: songs, smells, sounds, colors, phrases, movies, poems, and more. If someone abusive from your past drove a white truck, white trucks might trigger your depression. If someone you cared for passed away, the smell of their perfume might trigger you. Triggers are different for everyone. Each individual comes with their own traumas, stories, and histories. 

What Are Some Common Triggers of Depression?

As unique as each individual is, there are still common triggers that affect many with depression. Triggers like these can often cause a depressive episode, which is a period of severe depression that lasts around two weeks. Anyone living with a mood disorder should be aware of common triggers, so they know what to look for. Recognizing these common triggers can help you combat, and maybe even prevent, depressive episodes.

  1. Stress. Large, stressful life events – moving, marriage, divorce, the loss of a job – can trigger depressive episodes. The feeling of hopelessness or deep overwhelm can trigger something called “state-dependent memory”, which means your mind goes back to other times in your life when you felt similar stress.
  2. A shift in the seasons. Seasonal depression is real, and there’s even a name for it: seasonal depressive disorder (SAD). During the cold winter months, depressive episodes can be triggered by increased isolation, a lack of vitamin D or sunshine, or even a change in your exercise routine.
  3. Illness, injury, or a health issue. If you know you’re prone to depression, seek extra care during difficult physical times. Illness, injury, or health issues can trigger deep feelings of frustration, anger, or hopelessness.
  4. Finances. Finances are a major trigger for depressive episodes. If you’re worried about how you’re going to afford to eat or put a roof over your head, your mind is going to react like it's in danger. This can trigger a depressive episode.
  5. Substance use. The use of substances like alcohol or drugs can decrease brain activity and change how the mind is wired. Because alcohol and opioids are depressants, engaging in substance use can trigger your depression. If you’re prone to depression, keep an eye on your substance use. This can be difficult to do — sometimes, it’s hard to tell if you’re using substances because you’re depressed or if you’re depressed because you’re using substances. Monitor the patterns of your substance use, and remember that anything that goes into your body can affect your mood.
  6. Death, trauma, grief, or loss. Loss impacts everyone deeply, even those who aren’t prone to depression. This is one of the most common triggers to look out for. If you’ve experienced a difficult loss, practice self-compassion and turn to the people you trust. Therapy can also be a wonderful way to take charge and manage your grief.

How to Recognize Your (Personal) Depression Triggers

If you’re struggling with depression right now, chances are you’ve had the same triggers for a while. It can be hard to recognize them because they’ve been there for so long; you don’t notice them anymore. There might be times when you fall into a depressive episode without any clue as to why. That’s okay – you can still learn to identify old triggers (and new ones!).

Noticing your personal triggers takes self-awareness. When you start to feel sad, even if it’s only for a moment, notice the thought that brought you there. Write it down. The next time you experience that feeling of overwhelming sadness, compare it to the last time. Was it that same thought that brought you here, or something different? This is why keeping a journal is important for people with depression. The more you look inward, the more you’ll be able to catch these triggers as they happen.

Recognizing your personal triggers might not be easy, and you may need some help. If you  decide to attend therapy, make sure it’s with someone you trust. The more you trust someone, the more willing you’ll be to open up about your past and your traumas. Your therapist can help you look back and identify the events or challenges that activate your depression. A good therapist can also teach you how to catch negative or unhealthy thoughts before they trigger you.

Your past should not dictate your future. It’s natural to still be deeply affected by what has happened to you. Through depression treatment and self-reflection, you can learn to overcome your triggers and live a life of wellness and recovery. But how?

Coping With Your Depression Triggers

One of the most popular therapeutic behavioral techniques is called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. You may have heard of it if you’ve attended therapy. The premise behind CBT is that we can catch our thoughts as they happen, check them to see if they’re healthy, and change them if they don’t serve us. A popular mantra or phrase in CBT is “catch it, check it, change it.” This is how you can manage and heal your triggers. When you feel something unpleasant, force yourself to notice the thought. Ask yourself,  “is this accurate? Is this true?” If not, replace it with a healthy, honest thought.

For example, if one of your common thoughts is something like “nobody likes me, I feel so alone.” Notice the thought when it’s happening. It’s not healthy, and it’s not true. Replace the thought with something like,  “I feel lonely right now, but it’s temporary. I know that I’m loved, and I know I can cultivate a fulfilling life.”

There are also things you can do to keep your triggers from becoming frequent occurrences. As crazy as it sounds, exercise can stave off unhealthy thinking by regulating important chemicals in your brain. In some cases, exercise can be as effective as antidepressants. The same thing goes for your diet. Healthy nutrition will impact your mind in healthy ways.

Finally, never hesitate to ask for help. Whether you decide to confide in a friend or a trusted therapist, having someone to talk to can help combat depression and depressive episodes. Therapy is one of the best investments you can make for yourself. You’ll carry what you learn in therapy for the rest of your life.

If things get too hard, or if you feel like you can’t manage your depression, seeking treatment is smart. There are both inpatient and outpatient programs for depression, and they’re designed to help you find relief.

Overcome Your Triggers With SUN

At Sun Behavioral Health Kentucky, we’re proud to serve our community with evidence-based techniques and a master-level staff. We’re standing by, waiting to help you out of depression and into a life of recovery. For questions or to set up an appointment, call us at 859-429-5188 today!


FAQs About Triggers For Depression

What are the symptoms of depression?

Symptoms of depression can include poor eating habits, social isolation, loss of a job, sleeping too much or too little, and more.

What are the triggers for depression?

Common triggers for depression include seasonal changes, death or loss, illness or injury, substance use, and more.

How do you cope with depression?

Seek help when you feel like you need it, and choose a therapist you trust. Learn to recognize your triggers and combat unhealthy thoughts. Stay active, eat well, and remember that you’re never alone.

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