The Quick & Easy Guide to “Triggers” and “Safe Spaces”

Trigger Warnings: normally associated with people who have gone through some form of trauma. This includes, but is not limited to: assault, stalking victim, gun violence, genocide, witness of a horrific event, medical trauma, death of a loved one, among other things.

When someone is “triggered” this means that whatever is going on around them, is inducing a panic and/or anxiety attack. Yes, there’s a difference. With panic attacks, they come unexpected. You could be walking down the street, see a dog and it starts to bark. If you have had a terrible experience with dogs in the past (been attacked, been scarred as an infant, etc.), this can trigger a powerful fear response (pupils dilate, body trembles, your body goes into a “flight vs fight” mode, hairs stand on end, stiffness in certain joints, things like this). With anxiety attacks, you expect them to happen. This would happen in an event where you could not avoid something, but you absolutely dread it happening. Say you have a meeting with someone in the professional world that you absolutely do not like and/or have had a very negative experience with, every time you’ve seen this person. Your body experiences the same symptoms of a panic attack, but this is in response to an event you know you can’t get yourself out of.

So what specifically are panic/anxiety attacks? They are your body’s way of going “OH CRAP!” in response to some kind of stimuli. They can be as “light” as feeling your heart beat faster, your breath getting shorter and quicker, and feeling your hands get clammy. The worst case scenario could lead to: stroke, heart attack, and possibly death.

So what are the goals of a trigger warning? They are a courtesy notice that what you’re about to talk about might trigger a panic attack (or anxiety attack) for certain individuals, due to the graphic nature of the writing. It was NEVER meant as a tool for “censorship”. Rather, it was a respectful tactic to give a warning of, “Hey, I’m about to talk about something graphic. If you’re sensitive to this topic, read on with caution!”. It’s impossible to account for all possible triggers, but there are common ones, like the ones listed above.

Now onto safe spaces!

Safe Spaces: a space where individuals who have gone through different life experiences (often traumatic), where they can feel comfortable speaking about what’s on their mind, without fear that what they say is going to be gossiped about, outside of the space they are in.

They are a therapeutic technique, often used in group therapy and solo therapy sessions, to help clients feel more at ease. For example: if I was talking with a group of close friends, and I was about to say something that might be sensitive in nature (a secret, confession about a dark time in my past, etc.), I would want to be able to trust me friends to be able to keep it JUST between us (where they would need explicit verbal permission from me, to speak about this subject to other people). In this way, I have created my own version of a ‘safe space’ among my peers.

The terms “trigger warning” and “safe space” are meant to be used when dealing with sensitive subjects. They were never about “censorship” or “just a place for sensitive people.” They are about have basic human decency for your fellow man, and to allow them to feel comfortable with dealing with whatever is on their mind.

When you make asshole comments like “Go cry in your safespace” (or some bullshit similar), you are telling someone with anxiety that you are not a safe person to discuss their troubles with. You are telling them, that their mental health problems are something to mock and laugh at, and to not be taken seriously.

I’m a queer adopted healthcare worker who writers in their spare time. I have a MPH degree.