Dismantling mental health triggers often involves a little detective work. Although awareness of “being triggered” can be very obvious, for many people, figuring out specific triggers can be a puzzle. Solving the puzzle requires developing a capacity to seek to know ourselves better, then noticing and tracking backward chronologically to begin to locate exact triggering events, experiences, and sensations.
The bullet journal model of capturing main points without much writing works perfectly for this worksheet. Long-format journaling can have major mental health benefits, but to locate patterns and themes in your everyday experience, a pared-down form of long-format journalling (shown by research to be helpful in trauma recovery) helps create a personal data set that can be more easily reviewed and organized, towards the goal of locating triggers.
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. (Read more about what a trigger is via my illustrated series on the difference between a trauma or anxiety trigger and being Very Upset).
“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. A trauma-informed therapist can help guide you in the work of identifying patterns to process triggers and heal. This worksheet may, with the help of a professional, help you get the information you need to locate patterns months or years earlier.
Your therapist probably won’t be able to read long-format journal entries regularly. However, a collection of worksheets comprising a “database” of triggering events, times, and experiences that can be quickly reviewed together in session is a simple way to effectively communicate with your therapist or medical provider a picture of how triggers are impacting your life so that they can adjust treatment or medications appropriately.
How to Access
This worksheet is available to download as a set (which instructions, sample pages, and two formats of blank worksheets):
Because this worksheet represents a considerable investment of my time and research, the print-ready worksheet is not a free resource. However, feel free to use the resources on this page to create your own version of a journal layout that helps track your experiences!
How Not to Use this Worksheet
This worksheet is an educational resource and is not a replacement for mental health services. If you are already highly aware of events, sensations, or experiences that are triggering to you, this worksheet is not likely to be a helpful practice. If you do not have the support of emotionally supportive individuals and/or a mental health professional, journalling about triggers may not be a helpful practice.
This worksheet should not be used to identify triggers to avoid those triggers. (This is a behavior that can contribute to trauma-centrality, which research suggests may slow recovery).
This educational resource is designed for people who are unaware of which events, sensations, experiences, etc., trigger them and who have adequate support to begin exploring the topic. Alongside mental health treatment, this worksheet can be used to identify triggers to engage them, process them, and heal.
Learning About Triggers
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 encountering another trigger might create within the same person a feeling of numbness and lethargy.
Learning to name these feeling states is the first step, and adding color-coding to your worksheets can help you start figuring out your own brain’s system of responding.
How to Use This Worksheet:
Each time you become aware that you are “triggered,” fill out a box on the worksheet.
Time & Date
Record the date and time.
If you aren’t sure what happened to leave you feeling triggered, write down 6 things that happened in the hours before you noticed the feeling. If you think you might know what the trigger was, record that thing, plus five things that happened before/after. If you think you know what the event/stimuli was that triggered you, highlight it. Keep descriptions brief (long descriptions make it harder to recognize patterns quickly). If it helps, fill out the worksheet before or after writing a long-format journal entry about the experience.
Emotions and Sensations
Describe what you are feeling emotional (feeling words) or in your body (physical sensations). Listing “symptoms” may be another way to phrase this, but for the purpose of this educational worksheet, the emphasis is on information, and the cues (and clues) your experience may give to locating triggers. (Different triggers may have a very different impact on your mind and body and this knowledge is really helpful in recovery). It may be helpful to color code your feeling-words so that later you can use color to visually spot patterns and themes.
Don’t skip filling out the full month calendar at the beginning of your page(s) of your trigger tracking layout. This may help identify time-based triggers (i.e. Fridays, first of the month, etc). Circle or highlight dates for each day that you need to fill out a box on the worksheet. Sometimes triggers can be unusual- like weekends, Mondays, or certain types of weather (add a weather tracker in the NOTES section, if that feels needed).
Simply highlighting or underlining can help visually mark where you start to see patterns. Highlighting can also help make the information more meaningful at a glance – this is great if you plan to use the layout in conjunction with mental health 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.
Trigger Tracking Worksheets In The Wild
#triggertracker has surfaced on Instagram and I love checking out the creative ways people interpret this worksheet in their bullet journals. Here are a few examples below. Want to see your featured? Tag @lindsaybraman on your instagram post!
Pin the image below to save it for later:
Inspired by @lindsaybraman I‘ll keep a #triggertracker for my migraine in my #bujo for the first time. Let‘s see how this works out. At least it‘s a creative way to manage the pain. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #migraine #bulletjournal #bulletjournaling #handlettering #lolleletters #bulletjournalgermany #scribblesthatmatter