Managing Our Triggers | 8.10.2021

What are your triggers? Have you ever responded with anger by yelling or being short with someone and then feel terrible or guilty because you have no idea what just happened? If so, chances are you were triggered by something. 

We all have stressors in our lives. What turns a stressor into a trigger is the level of your reaction. When you overreact to something or someone, it is generally because of an internal trigger. They are created by emotional events in your past that have meaning to you and are often subconscious.  

Our brain stores circumstances we have lived through, which become our stories. It also stores lessons learned, which are our beliefs, and it applies meaning to circumstances, which create our feelings. Then, when something happens in the present moment that feels similar to the past event, it’s overwhelming. Our brain sends a cascade of chemicals throughout our body creating a fight or flight reaction. 

As long as you are unaware you are being triggered, your responses remain outside your conscious control and may result in damaged relationships or lost jobs.

The good news is once you become aware of your hot buttons or triggers then you are able to understand and shift to create a different response. It’s important to note when you are hungry, angry, lonely, tired, bored or scared, you are more vulnerable to being triggered. 

Here are some helpful steps to manage your triggers:

  • Identify and notice your triggers: Identify and write down a list of people, things and events that bring about a deep emotional response within you.  If we have a certain level of awareness, we will then notice a change in our body somewhere. For example, we might have some tightness in the chest, lump in the throat, stir in the stomach, sweaty palms or racing heart. Our bodies can be the first signal or communication that we are being triggered. We might not like what we are hearing, seeing or experiencing. 
  • Pause and breathe: Once you recognize you are getting triggered, take the opportunity to pause and simply breathe. This gives you some separation from the trigger and allows you to recognize it and not immediately react. 
  • Explore the trigger: When you have time, sit down and ask yourself some key questions like the following:
    • What exactly started the trigger (words, actions, experience, smell, tone of voice)?
    • What is it about that situation or person that triggers me?
    • What is my story about it?
    • Have I ever been triggered by this or something similar in the past?
    • Where might the pattern come from?

So, the next time you overreact, stop, breathe and become aware of your triggers.  You can work through and conquer them.

-Kristen D Boice M.A., LMFT, EMDR Trained

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