Updated: Dec 8, 2020
My daughter used to say, "I'm triggered" when she felt a pang of anxiety based on an external source. We would laugh it off at the moment but I knew what she meant and knew that it needed to be addressed. I knew what was happening in her nervous system, brain and how she was feeling.
A trigger is a sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, place, object or person that sets off an emotional flashback. It can be negative or positive. It's usually something so innocuous that it's not seen by others and can be seemingly harmless.
When a trigger occurs we get a surge of cortisone and adrenaline. Some triggers can affect us for hours, days, weeks or even years finding us on alert.
Our brain processes millions bits of information in our subconscious. We have a lot of triggers that are below our consciousness making us vulnerable. If we've been very traumatized our reaction to certain triggers can affect our health and quality of life. We might feel like we're losing our minds if they continue to take over our lives.
A trigger that tells us that there's an unhealed part of ourselves. Something that we suffered and have yet to reconcile. Hearing a song, passing a special place and/or smelling a familiar scent.
Here's the litmus test of healing. If we have completely healed, we are not moved in one direction or another when a reminder of the past is placed in front of us. We also do not seek reminders to help us relive that memory and pain. So the quest is to see the emotion BEHIND the trigger instead of addressing only the trigger.
How To Manage Your Triggers
The first step is to accept responsibility for your reactions. Take your power back.
We may not even be aware that we are blaming the outside world, this includes our past and others, for what we feel. The outside world acts like a trigger. The triggers act like mirrors for what is already brewing inside of ourselves.
Let me say this again. Our reactions were already inside of us BEFORE the person or circumstance ever existed.
Once the trigger has brought that emotion to the surface it has done its job. Now the task is to clearly see what is inside of us. That's where the healing begins. It's arguably the toughest part of this whole process. It's easier to blame and try to change the outside world instead of manage and see the pain inside of ourselves.
The second step is to recognize that you are having an emotional reaction as soon as it begins to appear in your body.
It's not uncommon to be unaware of what we feel emotionally in our body. Paying attention to how it feels and where it resides inside of us starts taking us away from staying stuck on the trigger, externalizing, blaming shifting or avoiding our internal signals.
The following list includes some of the most common emotional needs. When they are not met or we think they are not being met we react emotionally.
acceptance respect be liked be understood be needed be valued be in control
be right be treated fairly comfort freedom peacefulness balance consistency order predictability love safety feel included autonomy fun new challenges independence
Choose three needs from the list that most often set off your emotions when you don’t get them met. Be honest with yourself. Which three needs, when not met, will likely trigger a reaction in you?
Third step is to determine what triggered the emotion especially if it is related to fear, anger, or sadness.
Resist the urge to blame a person, event or circumstance. Instead state, "that happened and I feel this."
Example: "Shelly didn't talk to me at lunch. I feel unliked or not included."
That's very different than: "Shelly didn't talk to me at lunch. Well I'm not going to talk to her first. How dare she snub me."
The fourth step is to choose what you want to feel and what you want to do.
It's a simple concept. We have go-to emotions when our needs are not met and get caught up in them. Our goal is to cultivate an empowering emotion.
Example: Shelly didn't talk to me at lunch. I feel left out. I don't like this feeling but it's not Shelly's job to make me feel included. I was OK with the much needed peace at lunch.
The fifth step is to actively shift your emotional state.
You can practice this step at any time, even when you first notice a reaction to help you think through your triggers and responses. When you determine what you want to do next, shift into the emotion that will help you get the best results.
Relax – breathe slowly and release the tension in your body.
Detach – clear your mind of all thoughts. Witness this as it happening to a third person.
Center – drop your awareness to the center of your body just below your navel.
Focus – choose one keyword that represents how you want to feel in this moment. Breathe in the word and allow yourself to feel the shift.
You are like Dorothy in the Wizard 0f Oz. Completely capable of redirecting your thoughts and finding your "hOMe" inside yourself.
All my love,
Vikky - 500-hr Registered Yoga Teacher, 200-Hr Registered Yoga School, Yoga Alliance YACEP
Follow me on Instagram @vikkySantanaYoga