a woman holds her hands over her face after being stressed from triggers

How to Cope with Triggers

Triggers make you feel uncomfortable and elicit a negative feeling from something that happened in the past. Something deeper.

Learning how to cope with triggers when they occur is critical to keeping your body in a calm state. Don’t shut them down right away with the sugar, the alcohol, or overworking. There are healthy solutions. Once you develop them, it gets easier to figure out what can set you off. I know they did for me!

Most of us have felt triggers. Unfortunately, they take over quicker than we have time to recognize and stop the strong negative emotion. But there’s good news! If we slow down, we can develop the ability to pause and ultimately stop the triggers and invite the glimmers. Learn more about glimmers – finding the awe in small moments in my blog post.

What is a Trigger?

A trigger is something that happens to all of us that causes an unwanted feeling. It puts our body into a ‘fight or flight’ response. Our body and mind are preparing for a stressful situation. It’s a welcome reaction if a tiger is headed towards us or our home is on fire. Our body shuts down the non-essential tasks like digesting food or emptying the bladder. The lungs and muscles are ready to jump into action with deep breathing and moving quickly. Thank goodness for this quick response we don’t have to think about! The body just knows.

However, it is very unhealthy if our body is triggered many times throughout the day with a perceived threat that is not truly putting us in danger. Exactly what a trigger does. The present trigger can appear harmless to most, but for us, it may remind us of something similar to a childhood memory that frightened us many years ago.

brown and black tiger on focus photography feels like a trigger

A trigger may be as simple as getting a phone call from someone who upset us in the past. We can sense the heaviness in our chest the moment we see the person’s name appear. An upsetting event probably occurred and hasn’t gotten resolved. Or we hear a song that reminds us of a sad event, maybe a funeral and the loss of a loved one. Or our boss walks into our office after we heard a rumor that impending layoffs are coming at our company. We are triggered and panic sets in.

A Trigger is Different for Everyone

It’s important to recognize that a trigger for one person may not be a trigger for someone else. For example, a circumstance that happened when you were a child may bring about a negative feeling. Something as simple as a phrase an angry teacher said to reprimand the class. You hear that phrase or a similar one from a co-worker and you are instantly that young scared child. It’s unnecessary stress on the body that propels you into discomfort.

We cannot get rid of all triggers, but there are three things that can help. One, stop when you feel triggered. It takes practice. Second, learn how to tap into the vagus nerve to alleviate stress and anxiety. And lastly, find more glimmers.

Help When You Feel Triggered

and breathe neon sign to feel less triggered

One solution when triggered unnecessarily is to stop and ask yourself if this is a real threat. The answer is usually clear. This particular situation is no longer the danger. It may just remind you of something upsetting that no longer exists. Ways to pause and stop the cycle: Take a deep breath, go for a walk, or practice the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Every time you are about to freak out (even if it’s just inside), focus on 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and one thing you can taste.

Essentially we are interrupting the reaction. The body is happy to stay in a calm state. And the person you are triggered by is not left confused about your over-reaction. This was a very helpful exercise for one client in particular who wanted people ‘to read her mind’, which she now recognizes. It wasn’t fair to her or the person she felt triggered by.

We can create space for more glimmers and less triggers. Pause and notice the people, places, things or activities that calm your nervous system. Tap into the vagus nerve by deep breathing, doing a cold water splash or petting a dog.

The more we train our brain to pause when we feel triggered, the less we will feel overwhelmed and thrown into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Your body and mind will thank you. If you want to slow down and stress less so you can get on with getting healthier in midlife, reach out to me to learn how I can help!

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