Health Advocate Blog

Know your triggers

When exposed to certain conversations, events or situations, many people experience “emotional triggers” that may remind them of something upsetting in their past. These triggers can spark strong emotional and physical feelings that may prompt people to respond or react in unhealthy ways, feeling tense, anxious, panicky, sad or angry, or having the urge to withdraw or lash out.  Getting to know your triggers can help you learn better, healthier ways to respond. Try these suggestions:

Tune into your body’s responses. Did a situation or a remark from someone make your stomach or chest tighten or cause your mind to go blank? Before you respond, take a moment to step away, count to ten, and take a few deep, slow breaths. Calming your system in this way can help you reset to form a healthier response. For example, upon reflection, you may consider using “I feel” statements vs. using angry, accusatory “you” statements.

Write down your negative feelings instead of judging them or bottling them up. It’s not always easy to pinpoint what your triggers are.Writing down the details about an upsetting circumstance and how you felt can help you more readily identify your triggers, what’s behind them, and work through the best ways to respond when similar situations arise.

Silently name your uncomfortable emotions. Telling yourself, “I’m feeling very impatient right now,” for example, is another way to help tame triggering emotions so you’re not ruled by them.

Practice positive self-talk. Telling yourself phrases like “I can weather this situation” can help you regulate emotions and feel more in control.

Remember, you can actively shift your mental state! And you can choose how, or whether, you want to react or respond.

Talk to a counselor. This is especially helpful if you have experienced a traumatic situation, have PTSD and/or are unable to manage your triggers. Cognitive behavior therapy, medication and other methods can also be helpful.