Grief triggers are abrupt reminders that your loved one has died that elicit significant emotional responses in you. Dealing with grief triggers might occur as a consequence of suddenly experiencing events that remind you of a deceased loved one.

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These reminders elicit strong emotions that may take you back into your grief. You may experience a sudden burst of crying, anger, rage, confusion, or deep sorrow, among other more common emotional expressions associated with grief.

When taken aback by something as strong or as emotional as a grief trigger, you may be wondering… “What just happened? I thought I was over this.”

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How do people manage grief triggers? What are they, anyway?

Recognizing Your Grief Triggers: The Step By Step Guide
Recognizing Your Grief Triggers: The Step-By-Step Guide

What Exactly Is A Grief Trigger?

Grieving triggers are any events that cause you to revert to your grief state unexpectedly.

Usually, it is accompanied by sudden and severe sensations of discomfort, agony, and grief.

Milestone events such as birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are some of the most prevalent triggers.

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Although you may expect that these days would be extremely difficult for you, your reaction to them may not completely appear until such a triggering event occurs.

Other sorts of grief triggers may come as a surprise to you. You may be going about your daily routine, enjoying a fine day, then suddenly and unexpectedly, grief strikes and overwhelms you.

Although anything can act as a grief trigger, several frequent instances are included below.

Examples of grief triggers

  • Milestones. Invitations to weddings or graduations often trigger emotional grief responses. These types of life milestones are some of the most common times when you’ll experience sadness over your loss even when you thought you had your grief under control.
  • Special occasions. Holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, and other special days throughout the year cause significant pain when you’ve lost a loved one. These are constant reminders that’ll likely trigger some semblance of grief for some time to come.
  • Favorite song. A particular song dedicated to you by your loved one who’s died may continue to trigger a certain level of grief regardless of how many years have passed since their death. 
  • Smells or sounds. The scent of a particular fragrance or the sounds of children playing may cause you to revert to feeling grief over your loss. Certain sounds and smells that take you back are that of your loved one’s signature scent, a favorite brand of cigar, or children laughing and playing at a distance.
  • Lost opportunities. Bring Your Child to Work Day, father/daughter or mother/son dances, vacations – these all tend to call attention to your loss. If your spouse or child has died, in particular, you may find that these events bring your loss to the forefront. 
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Recognizing Your Grief Triggers: The Step By Step Guide
Recognizing Your Grief Triggers: The Step By Step Guide

Steps for Recognizing Your Grief Triggers

After losing a loved one, your life and your reality will never be the same.  It may take some time for you to process and accept that your loved one is no longer here.

Once the fact sets in, your grief can take on an entirely new direction. 

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You’ll start to notice that certain things set off your grief responses without immediately realizing why you’re feeling the way you do.

The following steps will help you recognize when what you’re feeling is attributed to your grief.  

You’ll need to develop some coping skills since grief triggers can suddenly and unexpectedly elicit any or all of the following emotions:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Crying
  • Guilt
  • Lack of motivation
  • Loneliness

1. Mark Your Calendar

One of the simplest things that you can do to help you recognize when a grief trigger is approaching is to mark all special days on your calendar.

You may not need a reminder of these dates and holidays, but planning for them by keeping them on your calendar may help you better cope when the day arrives. 

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If you’re not yet ready to face a year’s worth of special days, ask a close friend or loved one to help you with marking these occasions. 

2. Identify The Trigger

Whenever grief strikes out of the blue, and you’re wondering why you’re suddenly overwhelmed with grief, take note of what’s happening to make you feel that way.

Usually, it’s something that may have caused you to remember an obscure detail of your loved one, such as a hidden mole or uneven toes.

Once you become aware of some of your triggers, you’ll be better able to deflect the onset of grief at inopportune times. 

3. Accept Your Feelings

Trying to hide how you feel from yourself and others only prolong the grief process.

Acceptance of your loss, your feelings, and your emotions will help you understand when these emotions come up seemingly out of nowhere. It’s all part of the grief reaction to loss.

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In time, it’ll become second nature to feel, accept, and let go of these waves of grief.  

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Like the ebb and flow of the ocean waves, when expected, you anticipate the next one and brace yourself for it. 

4. Find Your Special Place

Grief triggers usually come about unexpectedly. You may not be able to plan for each instance, but you can ensure that you have a safe place to go to be alone.

Finding a special place where you can grieve in private will help you gain better control of each time grief rears its head. 

A particular space for grieving alone and away from it all can be a closet in your home, an outdoor space, or even your vehicle.

Recognizing Your Grief Triggers: The Step By Step Guide
Recognizing Your Grief Triggers: The Step By Step Guide

5. Learn About Grief

Reading books on grief will help you understand not only what grief is and how it affects you, but you’ll also learn to recognize when unexpected grief pops up.

The more you read about the different types of grief there are, the usual reactions to it, and how the grieving process works, the quicker you’ll find your way through your grief. 

Before you know it, you’ll be able to reclaim your joy and happiness and move forward with your life in your new existence.

6. Practice Positive Self-talk

When you’ve become aware that your grief’s been triggered, change your internal dialogue in how you respond to your feelings and emotions.

Negative self-talk can hurt the way you work through your grief. Practice instead having gratitude despite your losses, being hopeful for the future, and accepting the death of your loved one. 

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Positive self-talk includes being loving and kind to yourself instead of talking down on yourself, blaming yourself, or feeling guilty over the death of your loved one. 

7. Anticipate And Minimize

Learning to anticipate your grief triggers beyond calendar dates and other special days involves learning about different ways that you may be reminded of your loss.

For example, expect that when you walk through most department stores at the mall, you’ll likely walk through the fragrance section on your way to wherever it is going.

A familiar scent may hit you as you make your way through the store triggering your memory and emotions.

Find workarounds to avoid these sections of the store or mall that will recall painful memories. You can anticipate and minimize your grief triggers by strategically planning as you go about your daily activities. 

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8. Stay On Course

Grief triggers don’t define the course of your grief process. They are temporary emotional setbacks that can quickly come and go.

When you experience overwhelming grief sensations when you thought you were getting past your grief, it can be unsettling. Don’t allow these episodes to derail your progress. 

Staying on the course on your path to grief recovery may seem challenging at times like these, but setbacks don’t need to hold you back. 

9. Gauge Your Reactions

Just as no two people will ever grieve the same way, no two people will identically experience grief triggers.

Try and avoid comparing your grief to others. Even if you’ve both suffered the same loss at the same time, understand that your reactions are yours alone. 

Don’t compare the way you’re grieving to the way others are taking to their losses. You don’t know how someone’s feeling on the inside or how their grief is affecting them. 

10. Feeling Anxious

Feelings of fear and anxiety are often the precursors to a bout of unexpected grief. Take a step back from what’s causing these emotional reactions so that you’re able to assess what’s going on.

Once you recognize the source, either move through your grief or walk away from the situation.

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When grief anxiety is triggered, it’s usually a sign that you’ve found yourself in an uncomfortable position. 

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FAQ

What Does It Mean To Recognize Your Grief Triggers?

Grief triggers are those unexpected reminders that, in an instant, might cause a flood of grief to rush over you or knock you down. You become sidetracked from what you were doing and end yourself in discomfort. A grief trigger is something that brings up recollections of your loss.

What Are Some Grief Triggers?

A grief trigger is something that evokes recollections of a loss. Triggers might be clear and simple to foresee, such as a birthday or a holiday, or they can be unexpected, such as finding someone who resembles your loved one in a crowd.

Which Emotion Is Triggered By Grief?

Difficult feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, and behaviors are all common mourning reactions. Feelings. People who have suffered a loss may experience a variety of emotions. Shock, numbness, sadness, denial, despair, anxiety, wrath, remorse, loneliness, melancholy, helplessness, relief, and desire are all examples.

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