How to Deal with Emotional Triggers
Most people know that feeling of intensity that comes with being emotionally triggered. When you're triggered, you perceive danger and your body goes into fight, flight, or freeze mode. This releases stress hormones to help you stay alert and safe. The intensity can escalate quickly with symptoms including a racing heart, clenched jaw, and negative impulsive thoughts. Your rational brain shuts down and your perception of reality becomes skewed.
When you're triggered, something is aggravating an emotional wound, fear, or insecurity that was already there. This makes you want to protect yourself and regain control by assigning blame and making the other person wrong. Sometimes blame is justified, especially if someone is being aggressive or disrespectful. That said, stewing in blame and resentment won't resolve the issue, and only reinforces the pain you're feeling. Even if the other person is in the wrong, you can choose to take the high road and focus on a solution instead.
One of the most powerful things you can do when you're triggered is to focus on calming yourself down. Take a few deep breaths into your diaphragm before you speak.
When you breathe, you interrupt the stress signal in your body. This helps you to open the doorway to gain command over your nervous system. You also reclaim your power and let go of trying to control a person or situation that cannot be controlled. Instead, you can redirect your focus to what you can control, such as slowing your breathing, connecting with your body and regaining composure. You can reassess the situation when you're grounded and thinking clearly.
Notice what triggers you. That is your teacher right now. When you resist these opportunities to grow, these triggers hide in the shadows and run your life from behind the scenes. Mindfulness can help you to respond to triggers with less reactivity.
Here's a 3-step mindfulness process for dealing with emotional triggers. This will help you shift into a state of embodiment, empowerment, and acceptance while building up your resilience over time.
Take 10-20 deep, slow breaths into your diaphragm, and press your feet into the ground. Put your hands on your chest and connect with your body. Listen to your heartbeat and continue to breathe until you feel calm.
Practice acceptance of what you can't control. Remember that you can't control other people and that you also don't like to be controlled by other people. Instead of focusing on the other person, think about what else you need to do to take care of yourself. Practice acceptance of being responsible for yourself.
Self-reflect by asking yourself the following questions. If you don't get an answer right away, give it time. Ask again, slowly, and listen longer. Write down your insights, and implement what you learned.
What can I learn from this experience?
What do I need to know right now?
What fear, pain, or insecurity is being activated? How can I address this?
What is objectively true about this situation?
Did I contribute to this in any way? What did they contribute?
What kind of person do I want to be in this situation?
When you're willing to extract this wisdom from your triggers and implement what you learn, you're no longer ruled by reactivity and fear. This enables you to grow as a person and increase your capacity to be grounded and respond with presence and grace in any situation.