Do your emotional reactions sometimes surprise you? Are your reactions to people or events over the top?
For example, you suddenly feel very sad or angry when someone says something to you, even when part of you realizes it’s out of proportion to what’s going on. Then afterwards, you look for an excuse to justify your behavior, even if the reason you settle on makes little or no sense.
If you find this happening, you are most likely experiencing an emotional trigger.
The problem with emotional triggers is, left unchecked, they can interfere with your mental and physical wellbeing and your personal and professional relationships.
Because emotional triggers can be so disempowering, this week let’s review what they are and how you can better understand and control them.
What Are Emotional Triggers?
According to the website HealthLine.com, “An emotional trigger is anything — including memories, experiences, or events — that sparks an intense emotional reaction, regardless of your current mood.”
This includes any topic that makes you feel uncomfortable and usually has more to do with your past than the present situation. They frequently point to aspects in your life you might feel frustrated or unsatisfied with.
Often, emotional triggers are associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which can result from anything from combat to a terrible relationship.
But they’re also a routine part of life for most adults.
For example, you may like your job and enjoy working with your boss. One day you find yourself angry at her and want to quit because she looked in your desk drawer without asking first.
That evening, when you take a moment to think about your response, you remember how you felt when your parents violated your privacy as a young boy or girl.
You almost quit your job because of something that happened to you as a child.
You just experience an emotional trigger. If you want to be happier and more successful, it is important that you learn how to heal these old sore spots, once and for all.
This is what we’re going to do now.
Let’s first look at some short-term strategies.
Six Short-Term Strategies for Dealing with Emotional Triggers
Triggers are commonplace reactions that we’re often not even aware of. They can wreak havoc both at home and at work.
You want to avoid any outbursts that could derail your career or relationships. When you feel an emotional trigger taking hold, use these easy-to-follow strategies to help keep it in check.
1. Slow down.
A trigger can set off your fight-or-flight response, which is your body’s reaction to a perceived threat. This response can cause you to react quickly because your reptilian brain is trying to protect you from danger.
Instead of reacting immediately, give yourself time to think things through. You can count to ten or take a walk around the block. Do whatever you need to slow your reaction.
2. Breathe deeply.
One way you can slow down is to breathe deeply. Deep breathing helps you soothe yourself and provides space to clarify your thinking.
As you breathe, inhale slowly through your nostrils and exhale slowly through your mouth. Try to breathe in and out for at least three seconds each. Lengthening your exhalations will help you relax.
3. Use distractions.
If, after you’ve breathed deeply for a few minutes, you’re still overwhelmed, focus your mind on something else until you feel you’re in a safe place. You can do this by repeating positive affirmations or mentally visualizing what you’re going to cook for dinner.
4. Communicate openly and directly.
If you feel someone is taking advantage of you, don’t suppress your feelings. Let them know how what they are doing or saying is affecting you.
This doesn’t mean you need to lash out. Instead, be assertive.
Advocate for your needs and enforce your boundaries. Simultaneously, show others the same consideration you want for yourself.
5. Rehearse your response.
Rehearsal is an excellent way of preparing for the triggers that come up regularly. This allows you to practice what you want to do in a neutral setting. You can practice while looking in a mirror or you can write out what you want to say.
6. Set limits.
As you learn to deal with your triggers, remember to treat yourself with patience and compassion. You may find that you need to avoid some situations while you’re working your way up to being able to handle them.
Longer-Term Strategies for Dealing with Emotional Triggers
Managing triggers is important, but to get a real handle on them, you need to dig deeper. This means addressing their root causes.
Here are some techniques you can use to get to and manage the source of the issue.
1. Make time daily for reflection.
Self-reflection helps improve your self-awareness. Set aside some time every day to sit down and observe your thoughts without making judgements.
After your reflection, write your observations in a journal.
2. Accept what you feel.
You need to acknowledge your feelings. This doesn’t mean that you must like what you’re feeling, just that you accept what you feel without trying to change it or fight it.
Let yourself acknowledge your difficult emotions without blaming yourself. Don’t try to push them aside or suppress them. Stay connected with how you’re feeling throughout the day.
3. Be okay with uncertainty.
Many triggers have their roots in feeling helpless. This might be because you feel responsible for things that are beyond your ability to deal with.
In life, you are going to run into things that are beyond your control. Instead of trying to fix these things, devote your energy to the areas in your life where you have control and can make positive changes.
4. Ask for support.
No one can improve in a vacuum. Sometimes we all can use help.
So, ask for it when you’re ready. Talk about your triggers with someone you trust.
Since your triggers involve your family and friends, let them know how they can help you better deal with them.
As you do, you’ll open yourself up to deeper relationships. These closer relationships can give you a sense of security that makes triggers less intense.
5. Show respect.
If someone shows signs of being triggered, be respectful. Describing them as being triggered may feel insulting. They might also view it as a way for you to dismiss their experiences.
Instead, validate their feelings. This creates a healthier environment for everyone.
6. Consider counseling.
If you think you need more help, speak with a mental health professional. Therapy is an excellent method of helping you gain greater insights into your behavior. It can also teach you valuable coping skills.
If you’re not sure who to contact, ask your doctor for a referral or contact organizations like the American Psychological Association.
Use These Tips to Get a Handle on Your Emotional Triggers
It doesn’t matter what your triggers are or how long they have been affecting you, you can develop the skills you need to manage them. Use these tips to empower yourself by getting a handle on your emotional triggers.
In no time at all, you’ll be feeling better and have a healthier outlook on life.