Health is NOT the definitional absence of distress. Let me repeat, health is NOT the absence of distress.

Health is an adequate and productive response to distress when we are faced with it. An adequate response may differ for different people. For some, confronting the problem head-on is the best solution. For others, looking for ways to cope internally and make sense of the external is the way to go.

But shielding ourselves and closing our eyes is not the answer, at least for most of us.

When the college campus culture favors placing trigger warning before any content that can be deemed distressing, it is sending two messages.

One, that we cannot regulate our responses. Exposure to uncomfortable material is objectively harmful and we are incapable of reacting in any proper way to difficult material so it is better to remove all exposure, we are essentially hearing. Which implies that there is no proper way, because if there were, wouldn’t we be using it?

Two, that is it better to spare our emotional comfort than embrace head-on the challenges in our world. Yes, I am sorry to say that if we are to combat genocide and sex trafficking, we have to learn about these subjects. I know it is “distressing” to us to learn about them, but life is certainly more distressing for the individuals in the world who are actually suffering from these issues. Hence, this is partially a matter of ethics as well.

I would like to add a disclaimer: This post does not apply to anyone with diagnosed PTSD, where certain topics can actually trigger unpleasant and traumatic feelings. In those cases, individuals should stay away from these topics and gradually, taking as much time as they need, wean themselves into normal exposure those parts of life which trigger them as per their exposure therapy or other types of therapies.

But for the rest of us, creating a culture of trigger sensitivity is a bit of a stretch.

Alternatively, here some ways to respond to this phenomenon in a Heart-Minding way:

  1. Channel the distress felt in response to difficult topics into a desire to take action to fight the issue.
  2. Explore the topics’ triggering aspects in order to learn more about it and empathize with those who are affected by the issue.
  3. By painting a topic through the trigger-lens, we cut it off from the possibility of being viewed in a different way. Instead, we can try to approach the topic from multiple sides and uncover aspects of it that we may have overlooked.
  4. Focus our attention towards helping those who are truly triggered by the topic as a result of PTSD.
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