After my 3rd term in graduate school for a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, I got interested in Bullet Journaling as a time-saving way to adapt my habit of journaling to the grad-school time-crunch lifestyle. In one of the bullet journaling forums, a visitor posted about possible ways to track triggers and got zero responses- so I set out to take all that I’d learned in three terms of coursework on trauma, mindfulness, and in particular, the value of self-advocacy and create a bullet journal layout that could be adopted for individuals wishing to enter the aspect of engaging and dismantling mental health triggers that involves a little detective work in first noticing and then tracking backwards chronologically to begin to locate exact triggering events, experiences, and sensations.
That article has since been shared thousands of times, but it’s graphics-heavy and I’ve been wanting for awhile to revamp the layout for bullet journalers who take a simple, minimalist approach to their journal. (Which, let’s me honest, is most of us- myself included in my private daily journal)
One element that can make trauma triggers overwhelming to manage, particularly early in recovery, is that it takes time practicing self-awareness to learn to recognize and name that what you are experiencing is actually a trauma response. (PsychCentral has a great explanation of what a trigger is.) “Being triggered” can look and feel different for different individuals. This layout can help you build a growing awareness of what the experience of being triggered feels like in your body.
Journaling for Self-Advocacy
You are your best guide for recovery. If you get a great therapist and have the resources to meet long-term, a therapist can guide you through this work of identifying patterns in order to process triggers and cope, but doing this work on your own can help speed the process but helping you be more aware and helping your counselor see patterns months or years earlier.
Reading long-format journaling can often be a boundary issue for therapists because of the time involved, but a bullet journal style “database” of triggering events, times, and experiences that can be read at a glance is a simple way to effectively communicate with your therapist or medication provider a picture of how triggers are impacting your life, so they can adjust treatment or medications appropriately.
Did You Know…?
That different triggers can impact your mind in different ways? Often, people think: “triggered” = “upset”, but actually triggered can look very different depending on your body and how it responses to that particular trigger. One trigger might leave a person highly agitated and on alert, while another trigger might create in the same person a feeling of numbness and lethargy. Learning to name these feeling states is the first step, and listing them with a color-coding system in your bullet journal can help you start figuring out your own brain’s system of responding.
Circle or highlight dates when you fill out the layout. Sometimes triggers can be unusual- like weekends, Mondays, or certain types of weather (add a weather tracker if that feels needed)
Simply highlighting or underlining can help visually mark where you start to see patterns (and help make the information meaningful at a glance if you plan to use the layout in conjunction with appointments)
Even if you don’t see patterns immediately, keep at it. After a few pages, you may start to see themes. Remember that triggers can be different so you aren’t looking for just one pattern, but multiple patterns that can overlap or be completely opposite.