Grief triggers are those reminders, often unexpected, that in an instant can cause a wave of grief to wash over you or even knock you down. You become distracted from what you were doing and find yourself in pain.

A grief trigger can be anything that brings up memories related to your loss. They may be obvious and easy to anticipate – like a birthday or a holiday – or they may surprise you – like spotting someone who looks like your loved one in a crowd. A grief trigger might be tied to an obvious memory or emotion or it may be something that flashes into consciousness and merely leaves you with a sense of sadness and yearning.

Knowing these triggers are out there can cause anxiety. You might fear being blindsided by reminders of your loved one, their death and their absence. Some grievers will respond by trying to eliminate and avoid reminders such as objects, people and places. While others will try and battle their way through, growing less and less embarrassed by each public outburst of emotion.

Avoidance as a tactic to limit encountering grief triggers can seem helpful. However, when it interferes with your regular day to day functioning, you may need to work on tolerating the possibility of encountering a trigger. Developing coping strategies can help you to adapt.

Coping strategies can include things like having an escape plan or a “safe” person to call when it happens. Planning ahead when you know you will be somewhere that triggers happen for you can be very helpful in managing them and reducing their impact.

In spite of the anxiety that grief triggers can cause, over time, as you progress along your grief journey they can mellow into a positive experience, a reminder of your loved one.