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All of us have baggage we carry around with us, thanks to life experiences that resulted in disappointment or sorrow. These experiences leave their mark on our psyches and can affect us for years to come.
The problem is when we become stuck in the past and allow bad memories or other emotional triggers to throw us into a tailspin. So, how can we identify emotional triggers before they hit us like a Mac truck?
What Are Emotional Triggers?
Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t let anything get to us? But as humans equipped with a range of emotions, we are wired to respond to things that trigger us. Adding to the mystery of emotional workings, we may respond to a trigger differently from one day to the next.
How something affects us may change, depending on our state of mind that day, whether we are relaxed or stressed. Even being tired or hungry can impact the way we react to an emotional trigger.
So, what are emotional triggers? They are anything that elicits an intense emotional reaction, whether it is a memory, a situation, a person, or an event. Something about that thing, whatever it is, is associated with a negative or traumatic experience in the past.
What is Trauma?
Trauma can occur when we encounter an unexpected or shocking event. When we do, our body immediately initiates the “fight or flight” response as a result of fear or feeling threatened.
This chemical response happens when the brain sends the fear to signal through the central nervous system. As a result, a flood of adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol is released. These are stress hormones, which prompt us to react quickly to a threatening situation.
Traumatic events might include:
- Sexual abuse or rape.
- The sudden death of a loved one.
- Violent assault.
- Childhood sexual abuse, neglect, or physical assault.
- Serious injury or illness.
- Witness a violent event.
- Natural disasters.
- Combat trauma.
- Serious car accident.
- Witness to suicide or murder.
While most of us recover from the trauma in a timely manner, sometimes the effects of the event stick with us. This is called post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. PTSD is a prolonged response to a trauma that causes such symptoms as:
- Vivid dreams, memories, or flashbacks of the trauma.
- Hyper-arousal, or being on edge and quick to overreact.
- Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, shame, and fear.
- Avoidance of trauma-related places, people, or situations.
- Relationship problems.
- Substance abuse.
How to Identify Emotional Triggers
Not all emotional triggers are related to a trauma. Sometimes a trigger is being rejected by someone, unfair treatment, feeling unwanted, feeling manipulated, or confrontation. These triggers are more likely to be related to childhood issues, possibly caused by attachment disorder or difficult life experiences.
To better recognize your emotional triggers for what they are, here are some tips:
- Listen to your body. Take a moment and think about how your body is responding. Are you clenching your jaw or your fists? Are you breathing hard or feeling your heart racing? These are clues that you are being triggered.
- Take a pause. When you feel yourself reacting to a person or situation, take a beat to consider what set you off. When you see a pattern of similar situations that spur this emotional reaction, you are closer to overcoming it.
- Think about the root cause. Become aware of how the triggering event or person makes you feel. Do you feel like a child, frustrated, neglected, abandoned, or abused? These are clues that can help you get to the root cause of the triggers.
Sometimes the emotional reaction you have to something is well-earned. You may be the victim of emotional abuse. You might be in a relationship with a narcissist or a very controlling or nasty person. This might be a spouse/partner, boss, coworker, or family member. Their actions are directed at you in such a way that it is next to impossible to not react to the triggers.
5 Ways to Manage Emotional Triggers
There are some helpful techniques to help you better manage these emotional triggers when they occur. Here are 5 tips:
- Practice deep breathing. Because triggers can cause stress and anxiety levels to quickly rise, try some deep breathing exercises. Deep breathing can reduce your blood pressure and slow your heart rate, which keeps a lid on your response.
- Practice mindfulness. Take a moment to remind yourself that this frustrating encounter will pass. Accept the feelings it provokes without judgment and focus on the positive things around you at that moment instead.
- Excuse yourself. Try to resist lashing out in anger when you are triggered. Instead, calmly excuse yourself and go get a little space between you and the triggering issue or person.
- Take a walk. Recognize the signs of emotional distress after being triggered? Well, one of the best things you can do at that moment is to take a brisk walk. Walking helps raise endorphins and also chemicals that regulate stress.
- Keep a journal. Sometimes it helps to put down in writing just what you experienced that triggered you. By describing the event and your reaction to it, you gain some control over the situation. This helps reduce stress and also helps better prepare you for a future encounter.
When to Seek Help for Your Mental Health
You may be struggling with ongoing emotional triggers and can’t seem to self-manage the reaction to them. If so, you may benefit from targeted mental health treatment. A mental health treatment program can offer an intensive look at your history of trauma or PTSD. Expert therapists will then be able to provide a range of helpful therapies and activities to help you overcome this challenge in a safe, welcoming space.
Elevation Behavioral Health Can Help You Overcome Trauma
Elevation Behavioral Health offers premium residential mental health treatment for those who suffer from the effects of emotional triggers. If you are struggling with emotional triggers and want to learn how to better manage them, call us at (888) 522-1504.