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Trigger warnings are needed in today's online world. What are they and why do they matter? Dr. Lisa Strohman takes a look at them.

It’s nearly impossible to control what pops up in any social media feed. People have good days, they have bad days, they have experiences … and they all share them to their online world.

Unfortunately, the act of sharing (or in many cases oversharing) on social media can result in people being triggered.

A trigger is something that causes a person to relive a past trauma again.

Trigger warnings are needed in today's online world. What are they and why do they matter? Dr. Lisa Strohman takes a look at them.

There are three ways a person can be triggered:

  • Primary trigger – someone is triggered by a real life event
  • Secondary trigger – a person is triggered by something they see online
  • Tertiary trigger – an individual hears about an event from someone else and relates this to what has happened to them

What are trigger warnings?

These are specific warnings that aim to let people know that the content in a post may cause “intense physiological and psychological symptoms for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders.”

They are often included with content centering around suicide, self-harm, sexual assault and other traumatic events.

Even though there has been research conducted that says they aren’t helpful, I feel strongly that we need to keep using them. I believe that if someone sees there is a trigger warning on a post, it allows them to take a step back and pause or pass over the content.

What happens if someone is triggered?

When someone says they are triggered, it means they are re-experiencing feelings associated with an original trauma that took place. Even if a person has already processed or worked through a trauma, reading or seeing something which they associate with the original experience can trigger them.

When a person is triggered, it brings up anxiety, depression or other psychological distress symptoms that were unique to the original trauma.

How can someone avoid being triggered?

When someone is triggered, it typically indicates the individual has not fully processed the original incident completely. To process a trauma, a person needs to talk to a mental health professional and work through how — and why — they’re still vulnerable to the content being shared.

It also helps to talk about being triggered with someone a person trusts. Simply speaking about why the trigger is upsetting helps to reduce psychological distress and allows processing to take place. I suggest if a person isn’t able to talk to a mental health expert (which is always the first option to help), they should speak with someone whom they feel safe with.

How can you help people avoid triggers

The most valuable way to ensure people who follow you aren’t triggered is to be an educated consumer and have compassion when you’re sharing information.

If you choose to post something which you think (and, please take a moment to think before you post anything) could cause someone to experience distress, err on the side of caution and include “Trigger Warning” at the start of your post so people know to keep scrolling.

If you have a photo which could cause distress, include at least four other photos so it isn’t shown as one of the main photos in a post.

How you can avoid being triggered

Remember, what we consume online does influence and impact our mood.

It’s always important to protect yourself online, since there is a chance others won’t even think about the impact of their words or images.

To avoid being triggered, limit who you follow and only follow those who you trust to post positive content. You can also limit the amount of time you spend on social media; the less you spend, the less likely you are to see something that is upsetting.

And, of course, if someone notes their content is triggering, my best advice is to skip it.

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