Home » Ask the Therapist » Engrained Symptoms Being Triggered Involuntarily

Engrained Symptoms Being Triggered Involuntarily

Asked by on with 1 answer:

From Canada: First, I’ve always had a ton of stress, depression, and anxiety from being raised by dysfunctional parents (which persists), along with other things. However, newer issues have really started taking there toll on me when I suffered an injury to my neck.

This neck injury (atlas and upper neck instability) actually caused overwhelming symptoms by basically constantly overactivating my sympathetic nervous system, and also impeding blood flow to my brain. These symptoms were things such as dizziness, disorientation, brain fog, cognitive decline, short term memory loss, anxiety, bone aches, forgetting word meanings, and many less common and much weirder ones.

At the time I was working hard at a fairly intellectually demanding job. Of course, when you have to use your brain and you can’t think properly, you start to become stressed and anxious even more.

Eventually, with time, the physical problems with my neck started to improve, and I noticed that the symptoms described above started to come and go (they were 24/7 constant before). I started to notice that these symptoms would reduce if I just watched tv or didn’t really use my brain at all. However, the second I started working again and/or using my brain all of the symptoms described above (anxiety, cognitive decline, brain fog, memory issues, bone aches, etc) returned.

My logic is that all of these symptoms have become ingrained at this point and my body can’t really completely let go of them (despite the physical problem to my neck, in many scenarios, not being the direct cause anymore).

In the past I had attached so much stress to working (because I couldn’t do it properly) that it now acts as a stress “trigger” that activates all of these symptoms again.

I’ve tested this over and over again. And without fail, the second I start working I get symptoms, and the second I stop working, stop thinking, and watch tv, everything (eventually) returns to normal.

I have a huge project that I need to work on. And it’s what I was primarily working and stressing on when my neck was bad and the symptoms were constant. I seem to have particularly attached so much stress to this specific project in the past that it literally induces all of these symptoms in just minutes of beginning to work on it. So much so that I can’t even construct a single proper sentence. Though, again, it goes away when I do something else that doesn’t require much thinking.

The problem is I have a finite amount of time to complete this project and can’t wait for my body to naturally let go of it as being a trigger.

I’ve tried meditation, a month break from all work, I eat healthy, etc, but it hasn’t helped. When I go back to the work/project (work from home, no environmental difference) the symptoms come back…

My local family doctor is not very helpful and will not listen to all of this. Instead will just try to put me on whatever general anti-anxiety/depressant is currently trending.

What I am wondering is, if you can inform me of a way to get rid of this problem (whether that be a specific therapy, pharmaceutical, supplement, etc), to “break” the stress trigger/engrained issue here so I can stop getting these symptoms from my project that I desperately need to work on?

Engrained Symptoms Being Triggered Involuntarily

Answered by on -


I am immediately struck by two things: First the chronicity of the situation and your ability to cope with physical and emotional pain. I admire your grit in managing the struggle and seeking a solution. Secondly, I can’t help but noticing the clarity and complexity of articulation in your email. If this is the kind of quality you can produce when you are not up to par, then your coping strategies may be working better than you think.

I have two suggestions. The first is a very specific type of meditation known as Tonglen. It is designed to help you manage the stress directly. My guess is the meditation you were doing was more generalized — which is always a good strategy — but you may find this one a bit more targeted.

Secondly I would seek out a therapist trained in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This form of therapy is typically very effective when there is a specific activator, such as your thinking or working, which can be targeted more precisely.

Write us back and let us know how it goes.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

Engrained Symptoms Being Triggered Involuntarily

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2018). Engrained Symptoms Being Triggered Involuntarily. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 23 Apr 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.