How to Identify Mental Health Triggers

As a psychologist to be, I’ve always said, the first step in treating a problem, is recognising the problem and if you can recognise and identify the area of your life that contains negativity, unhappiness or fear, then that means that you are one step closer to conquering that negativity. The moment I identified my own negative triggers, was the moment, I was able to start to understand a little bit more about why I was experiencing such dark and negative feelings. With being able to do this, I was then able to find ways to challenge negative thoughts that came with the negative feelings and thus the negative behaviour. It’s a work in progress, but I definitely think that initial precursor of figuring the negative things in ones life, help to put a person one step closer to leading a happier, strengthening and more positive one. Today I’m going to talk to you about 3 ways in which you can start to identify these negative triggers using a technique used in therapy, called ‘The Antecedent’.

What is ‘The Antecedent?’

In psychological and behavioural therapy, a lot of exploration on negative behaviour or a bodily/ emotional response, is based on the antecedent. The antecedent is essentially, the before or precursor to a breakdown, relapse or bad behaviour. In the case of this article, the antecedent is getting you (the reader) to think about all factors that may have occurred prior to the display of a set of symptoms relating to your mental health. And today, I am going to briefly discuss three ways in which you can identify the antecedent to the triggers of your mental health.


Ask yourself what you were doing at the time when you began to experience a particular mental health symptom. What was happening before you experienced your low mood or feelings of anxiety?

Were you reading a particularly depressive novel? Perhaps you were driving yourself to work in the pouring rain? It could even be as mundane as fixing yourself a snack, before bedtime. For me, I know I often experience sweaty palms and a racing heartbeat, after doing something as normal as walking down to my local underground station. It may not seem like anything, but my anxiety of crowded and cramped spaces, does not necessarily always start when I’m in it, it often starts building way before. It’s important for you to note down anything that you were doing that you may be able to associate with your symptoms, no matter how minor or insignificant you think they may be. Identifying these smaller things will bring you one step closer to identifying your triggers.


Establishing where you were when you started experiencing symptoms is equally as important to what you were doing. Ponder upon where you may have been when you were suddenly hit with that feeling of heart-crushing lows. Think about whether you were in your room listening to music or at a social gathering when you suddenly feel you voice start to shake and you develop the urge   to flee. There is a chance that a lot of your negative thoughts and feelings are a result of where you may have been that day. Identifying ‘The Where’ should be a lot easier to isolate to the ‘what’ and the ‘who’ as we often tend to avoid places we develop negative associations to. So have a think about places you probably used to enjoy going to, but now have started to avoid them altogether.


I’m sure you will all agree with me in saying that humans can be so damn infuriating at times. A lot of the time, it is often the people that we are closest to, who cause us the most pain.

I made a decision to limit and cut out the time I spent with people who I believed were having a significantly negative effect on my mood and mental health. It’s a hard thing to do and a lot of the time, very damn near impossible, but as I said earlier, recognising who is your trigger and who is adding nothing but negativity and pain to your life is the first step to recovery. Hang in there, be strong. Surround yourself with happy, positive people, who are cheering for you and not against you!

Mental health triggers are often situational. It’s about where you were, what you were doing and who you were doing it with at the time of it’s occurrence. Using the above three questions, is an effective and simple way to start to identify the antecedent to your behavioural, bodily and emotional responses to a situation and thus figure out what could be triggering your mental health symptoms. Now I say this, as if it’s the easiest thing in the world – it’s not and I would always advise that you have a psychologist/counsellor to support you with any mental health issues you may be experiencing. However being able to establish your antecedent, using the three questions above will provide you with a way to at least start to unravel a little of the meaning behind your symptoms and hopefully find ways of coping with them.

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  • Rene

    Amazing post! Thanks for writing it, Heather!