When we feel triggered it can be so easy to react rather than respond. Yes, there’s a big difference there. Even though it may not feel like it, in that moment of heightened emotions we always have a choice. We step into the space of having a choice when we intentionally build in a PAUSE after we are triggered, rather than being on auto-pilot and making choices that won’t leave us feeling good in the end.
Oh, you know what I’m talking about…..mindlessly scarfing down a chocolate bar, hurriedly pouring yourself a glass of wine, scrolling through social media for hours on end, or yelling at your loved ones. When we choose to react from a place of fear, anger, or protection, we don’t typically end up feeling proud of those choices. In fact, they often make us feel even worse than we did before. It’s a vicious cycle and the first thing we need to break this awful cycle is awareness.
Triggers come up a lot with my clients and some of the common themes are being triggered by other people (often the people closest to us too!), by something that happened at work, or feelings such as boredom, loneliness, anxiety, overwhelm, or stress to name just a few. It’s not easy to deal with triggers especially the ones that run deep and hit core wounds, but with a bit of awareness, self-compassion and grace, and intention, we can create new patterns and make choices that are aligned with our values and that will make us proud.
Here are a few tips on dealing with our triggers:
- Become aware of your triggers. No, we don’t always know what’s going to trigger us but often there are patterns and trends that we can pick up on. Awareness is the first step before any change can happen, so create a list of all of those things that trigger you throughout your week.
- Become aware of your patterns. Once you’re aware of your triggers, what actions do you normally take after being triggered? How are you attempting to soothe yourself at that moment? Becoming aware of how you’re reacting to the triggers helps you know if you want to change that pattern or not. So maybe when you’re feeling lonely you reach for your phone to scroll. Some other ways we numb or distract are turning to the refrigerator, pouring a glass of wine (or two!), scrolling on social media (that’s me!), shopping, taking it out on your loved ones, watching endless hours of Netflix, etc. It’s important to do this exercise with compassion and free of judgment as we ALL have triggers and have our own (sometimes unhelpful) ways we cope with them.
- Create new patterns. Often people I work with want to create new patterns with their triggers. They have realized that their reaction isn’t helping them and they hope to deal with it in a healthy and nourishing way that makes them proud at the end of the day. So rather than grabbing a bag of potato chips after you get yelled at by your boss, perhaps you go for a quick 10-minute walk around the block (proven that’s all you need to boost your mood), grab your journal and unpack the trigger, and the emotions that are coming up, soothe and comfort yourself while practicing self-compassion, or practice breathing deeply to activate your parasympathetic nervous system (for relaxing, resting, and calming down). There are ALWAYS choices in that moment of the “pause” that is supportive of your health and well-being.
It takes lots of time and practice to build in new patterns, especially in those moments of being triggered (believe me…I’m all too familiar with this vicious cycle!). When experimenting with creating new choices/behaviors, know that change doesn’t happen overnight, and aiming for progress rather than perfection is super helpful. Pretty soon the new behaviors will stick (with lots and LOTS of practice…oh, and plenty of slips) and will soon be your go-to in those moments of feeling triggered!
What are some of your favorite ways to soothe yourself when feeling triggered?