Managing emotional triggers
Triggers are stimulus that reshape our thoughts and actions. The environment is the most potent triggering mechanism in our lives. While we cannot control our environments, we can choose how we respond to the environment and what triggers us in it. Whether it is the colleague at work who continuously talks over the top of you or the person who cuts in the line at the supermarket, becoming familiar with your "trigger repertoire" is one of the first steps to emotional management. Awareness is key!
Here are five tips designed to help you mange your reactivity and lessen the impact of your triggers on yourself and others:
- Accept Responsibility: Investigate and identify the trigger. How do you feel, what sits underneath this feeling? Give yourself the opportunity to feel differently if you need to. This will also give you more clarity on what you need to do next to act wisely, or what you need to ask for to change your circumstances.
- Recognise that you are having an emotional reaction as soon as it begins to appear in your body: Be aware of your breathing and take a deep breath and count to 5 on each breath, breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Do a body scan and check for any muscles in your body that are tight. Do you feel pain in your gut or pressure in your chest? Stop and ask yourself, have you had these feelings before and why. Don’t judge or fear your emotions, if you don’t recognise your feelings, use your breathing to regulate how you feel and re-centre yourself.
- Determine what triggered the emotion: The strengths that have helped in life are also your greatest emotional triggers when you feel that one of them are not being honoured, whether it be by yourself or by someone else. When your brain perceives that someone has taken or plans to take one of these important things away from you or that your needs are not being meet, your emotions are triggered.
- Choose how to manage your emotions: Setting a limit on your triggers doesn’t mean we need to set limits on our feelings. When you are able to quickly identify when an emotion is triggered you are then more able to choose what to say or do next. Question your reaction and decide to either ask for your needs to be met or let the need go for now.
- Practice mindfulness techniques: There are huge benefits to practicing your mindfulness techniques at any time, especially when you first notice that a trigger is causing a response. Helpful mindfulness techniques can include:
- Defusion – to help cope with stress or pain, distancing yourself from your trigger and letting go of unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, memories and other cognitions.
- Acceptance - making room for painful feelings, urges, sensations, and allowing them to come and go without a struggle. This can also aid to manage depression and/or anxiety. Contact with the present moment - engaging fully with our here and now experience, with an attitude of openness and curiosity, this will improve our emotional stability.
- Spacious awareness - accessing a spacious sense of self - the observing self: a tool to save ourselves with our self-conscious mind of thoughts and feelings as passing experiences but not identified with them.