How to Positively Cope with Being Emotionally Triggered

“The best way out is always through.”~ Robert Frost

Have you ever had the feeling that a comment has been passed or a statement has been said which triggers you? It might be a simple statement or comment for others, but for you it triggered you, in a negative way. It totally derailed your mood and suddenly you feel anxious, guilty, angry or sad but you don’t really know why it triggered you? Then as time passes and you reflect on the situation later, you realise how unnecessarily emotional your reaction was, and that leaves you even more confused about why you had such a strong emotional response?

Sounds familiar? Its not uncommon to feel triggered in this way, infact we all feel emotionally triggered at some point in our lives.

It’s okay to feel triggered, here is a positive guide to help you through those passing feelings.

To begin with let’s understand what an emotional trigger really is…

What does it actually mean to be emotionally triggered?

Feeling triggered is a feeling of being overwhelmed by a particular incident, person, or situation. Being triggered can cause intense emotional reactions such as fear, sadness, anger, and even physical reactions such as increased heart rate or feeling tense. It can also cause a person to temporarily lose control of their own emotions and become overwhelmed by the intensity of their feelings.

Triggers can be caused by a variety of things, such as memories of a traumatic event, a certain smell, or even a particular sound.

Often our triggers unconsciously remind us of past pain or trauma. When we were growing up, we all experienced pain or suffering that we couldn’t acknowledge or deal with properly at the time. So now as adults, we typically become triggered by experiences that are reminiscent of these old painful feelings.

Examples of Emotional Triggers:

  • You might panic when you are in a situation you have no control over because you have felt helpless for years.
  • You might get anxious when someone is not there for you because you may have had emotionally unavailable parents or partners.
  • You might get angry whenever you feel you are not being heard because you felt dismissed or ignored while you were growing up.
  • You might get angry when you think you are being told what to do because you felt controlled in the past.

It is important to be aware of our own triggers, as this can help us to be better prepared and more resilient when faced with difficult situations.

Why does an emotional trigger feel so intense?

When we experience an emotional trigger our body kicks off a complex process of self-protection that makes us ready for three possible actions: fight, flight or freeze. Our adrenaline spikes, and stress hormones like cortisol course throughout our bodies and brain.

Once these stress hormones are released, we often lose touch with our healthy coping skills and succumb to reacting rather than responding.

Now that we understand the what and the why of the emotional triggers let’s get into the recognizing part.

How to Recognize Emotional Triggers?

Recognizing our emotional triggers is a process that requires 3 steps.

Step 1: Notice an internal feeling change

It can be difficult to recognise what triggered us, especially when we are so busy reacting to it. That is because our heightened emotions and unruly nervous system can make it difficult to pinpoint what exactly stimulated such a strong emotional response. To recognize your trigger, think back and try to indentify the moment when you went from “feeling on” to “feeling not okay”. What actually upset you? Was it a comment from someone? Was it a news story? Was it a text from a friend? Was it picture you saw on social media?

Step 2: Label Your Feelings

Once you recognize what triggered you, the second step is to notice how you felt when you were triggered. Did you feel heightened sadness, anxiousness, were you scared, were you angry? To understand your feelings you need to notice the sensations in our body. Most of our emotional experiences start in the body before moving into our conscious awareness.

Here are a few bodily signals of emotions running through your body:

  • A heaviness in your chest or a lump in your throat is Sadness in the body.
  • Clenching your fists or grinding your theeth is Anger within the body.
  • Feeling breathless, cold or shaky in Fear in the body.
  • Wanting to cover your face or feeling a pit in your stomach is Shame in the body.

Step 3: Really Understanding the Trigger

When you can get to the root of your triggers you start understanding them in whole new light.Begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  • When in the past have I experienced something similar before?
  • What is this reminding of? Are the feelings familiar?
  • What thoughts are coming to surface with these emotions?
  • Was there a specific event from my childhood that brought up similar emotions?

Really understanding your emotional triggers is a gentle skill that takes practice and is sometimes best done with the help of a therapist. Remember to be kind and patient with yourself as understanding your triggers will be easier if you approach them with kindness, gentleness, curiosity and self-compassion rather than harsh judgement.

And now comes the best part…

4 Positive Ways to Calm Yourself when you’re emotionally triggered?

1} Take a Step Back

It very difficult to be objective when we’re emotionally triggered. So remember that it is OK to take a step back for a moment to let yourself calm down. Stop whatever you are doing… if that means ending a conversation, putting your phone down or walking away from your computer. Whatever you need to do, do it to refocus and rebalance yourself.

2} Take Deep Breaths

When it starts feeling like your emotions are about to go on a roller coaster ride take a few seconds to slow down and breathe to calm your body. Deep breaths are your body-brain’s natural way to release stress, tension and reset your emotional state. When we exhale for longer than we inhale, the vagus nerve (the one that transfers messages from the brain to the body) sends a signal to ‘shut off’ the sympathetic nervous system (the one responsible for thr fight or flight response) and ‘turn on’ the parasympathetic nervous system (the one responsible for rest and digest).

3} Take a Mindful Nature Walk

Get your body moving consciously. Try going for a short mindful walk in nature. You simply need to notice the sensations of walking – the sights, the sounds and all the feelings of each step. When you feel like your thoughts are wandering, gently return your attention to each step you are taking and remember to breathe. Mindful Nature walks are a great way to slow down and focus on the present moment. It is also an excellent emotional balancing tool for when we feel triggered/overwhelmed.

4} Write in Your Journal

I personally love and recommend this step no matter what stage of your emotional journey you are on. And especially when we feel emotionally triggered, our thoughts can go down a negative abyss in our head, so journaling can be useful to give them a place to go. Journaling helps to release stuck emotions and make sense of our thoughts and feelings. So just write whatever comes to mind – there is no right or wrong way to journal! Just put pen to paper and let your thoughts unscramble themselves.

You Gotta Feel it to Heal it

There is this saying, you’ve gotta feel it to heal it, that my spiritual mentor always used to remind me of. It simply means to be gentle with yourself and try to stay as non-judgemental as possible about all(negative or positive) your feelings. Give yourself empathy and compassion for whatever painful feelings that come up and remind yourself that it’s not a bad thing to have extreme reactions to things.

Often our emotional triggers are warning signs we need to dig deeper. They give us an opportunity to do some more grieving or to heal some things from the past that need to be dealt with, which we might have brushed under the carpet for all those years.

❓💭What are the ways in which you cope with emotional triggers? Share your thoughts in the comments. Let’s support each other💗

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9 thoughts on “How to Positively Cope with Being Emotionally Triggered

  1. This was interesting Zeenat – yesterday I heard someone on the phone who clearly had been triggered and could hardly control himself. Not talking to me but to another. I was curious about how someone in a business situation could lost control in the way he did. And now I have more clarity thanks to you!

    1. Elle, human beings are complicated to say the least. And the bigger complications come from now knowing our own triggers. When we know what triggers us atleast there is some hope to be in control of our reaction. Or like the guy on the phone at work…you blow your top. We each learn at our own pace. ❤

  2. Zeenat, I never connected an emotional triggers with the FFF stress response system before but that makes so much sense. Of course, I get triggered like anyone else so these are useful tips for me too. Daily meditation has helped me gradually become less emotionally reactive.

    1. Sandra, I think when we go on this journey of self discovery and personal growth, we get better and better at being less reactive to the triggers. But like you mentioned meditation helped you, there are so many tools that can help. Whatever works must be adopted. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here ❤

  3. Becoming aware of when you get triggered is the first essential step. Then all your suggestions accomplish moving you from your emotional, limbic brain to the intelligent, higher-thinking brain. I have learned to do this (most of the time). It makes a HUGE positive difference. Thanks for the info.

    1. I agree Debbie. In knowing what triggers us we have surely started on the right track of controlling our reactions to them. Sometimes, while in the eye of the storm it can evade us, but more mindful living helps to gently shift our mind to the intelligent side. Thank you for stopping by ❤ 🙂

  4. Pingback: 9 Essential Self-Care Tips to Take Better Care of Yourself – *Positive Provocations*

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