How to Keep Triggers from Highjacking Your Emotions

leadership development | Seattle | Speak Genesis

Share This Post

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on email

Let’s face it, never has there been a period of time in America that’s this highly charged.

First the pandemic, followed by the outrage over the death of George Floyd. Many are angry, frustrated, fearful, uncertain, restless, or any combination of these.

Managing your emotions now is more important than ever for your health and emotional well-being.

It’s fair to assume that we’ve all been triggered. The goal is not to react in that moment, and instead to respond when you’re calm.

Triggers lower your IQ, EQ, and leaves you incapable of intelligent thought. If you react you’ll probably regret it.

Here’s how to manage your triggers.  

Two examples of triggers- feel free to insert your own

You’re talking to a good friend who has very different political beliefs.  She says something you believe to be utterly false. You feel your blood pressure rising and anger brewing. 

You’ve spent countless hours researching and analyzing and believe your findings to be highly significant. A colleague gently points out that some additional assumptions could’ve been included and might provide greater insight. You feel your jaw clenching, muscles tightening, and the stomach-churning. 

These are two examples of triggers, and here’s why you shouldn’t react in that moment.

Our brains when we're triggered

Our brains have three levels-

  • Reptilian– controls the body’s vital functions such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature.
  • Limbic– records memories of both positive and negative experiences. It controls our emotions and value judgments, which are often subconscious.
  • Neocortex– is the highest level of the brain capable of complex thought, reasoning, planning, attention, and impulse control.

When you’re triggered, the following occurs: 

  • the reptilian brain is ruling your actions and reactions
  • you don’t have access to your higher thinking neocortex
  • you have both lower IQ and EQ 
  • you’re incapable of intelligent thought
  • you engage in behaviors you later regret
  • you react instead of respond

1. Recognizing the physical signals of a trigger

Physical expressions of emotions include a change in your breathing rate, blood flow, flushing or growing pale, clenching of your jaw, tightening of muscles, and uneasiness in the stomach’s pit.
These physical reactions represent a pattern that you can identify as a feeling. Once you recognize that you’re experiencing an intense feeling, stop and ask yourself what you’re feeling and why. Don’t be self-critical; explore the emotion without judgment. You must understand your feelings to grow.

2. Give yourself time so that you can respond and not react.

The last thing you want to do when you’re incapable of rational thought is to allow your reptilian brain to run the show and react. A reaction is typically quick, tense, and aggressive. Worse, a reaction provokes more reactions, perpetuating hateful discourse. A response is calm, well thought out, and nonthreatening.

 When time allows, do the following:

  • Find some quiet space for reflection-take a walk.
  • Assume that the person who triggered you was well-intentioned – they probably had no idea they were stepping on a landmine.
  • Shift your emotional state- sit down, clear your mind of all thoughts, and focus on how you want to feel at this moment (for example, peaceful), each time you breathe in thinking of that word

Once you’ve de-escalated, you can now choose how you’ll respond thoughtfully and rationally; this keeps your credibility fully intact.

3. Understanding the emotion which set off the trigger

To understand why you were triggered and prevent future occurrences, you must identify the underlying feeling. Here are some common emotional needs. When you believe these needs are threatened or aren’t being met, you can be triggered.

  • acceptance
  • values/justice
  • respect
  • be liked
  • be right
  • be in control
  • be needed
  • attention
  • order
  • be understood
  • be treated fairly
  • consistency
  • order
  • balance
  • safety
  • feel included
  • autonomy
  • freedom
  • peacefulness
  • independence
  • comfort

In the meeting example above, you may have an underlying need for respect. Once you’ve identified the need, you can now explore the why. 

4. Understanding why you react when this need is threatened

Understanding why this is a trigger allows you to understand yourself better, and gain control of your emotions.

You’ve identified respect as the emotional need that you felt was threatened. Now for the why. A counselor can be a skillful facilitator in this understanding. You can also use journaling for self-discovery. Write each time you’re triggered, what was said or done, how you felt, the underlying identified feeling, and the why.

Continuing with the example, perhaps your spouse has grown in her career more quickly than you. Your rational mind knows this isn’t a contest, and her growth doesn’t diminish your own. Still, you can’t help but feel a bit resentful. Your work with a counselor has revealed that the root cause of your need for respect is insecurity. Working on insecurity has all but eliminated your respect trigger; This feels great!

You can gain control over your triggers by recognizing the physical signals, giving yourself time and space, identifying the underlying feeling, and understanding why. You’ll then have the choice to respond exactly as you’d like, as opposed to reacting in a way you’ll regret.

As you learn to control your triggers and grow your EQ, you’ll find more significant career opportunities, happiness, and satisfaction at work and in life.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Are you ready to Ignite Your Career?

Sign up today for your weekly power speaking tips!

More To Explore

leadership development | leadership coach | Seattle
Leadership Development

Surprising Upsides of COVID When Your Boss Is Horrible

There are upsides to COVID, especially if you have a horrible boss that enjoys creating havoc. This ‘toxic manager’ creates toxic work environments that have nothing to do with the pandemic.    As a leadership development and career coach, I’ve worked with many clients with toxic managers, and know this landscape well. All names in this article

Leadership Development

Workplace Bullying Affects Millions of U.S. Employees

A staggering 90% of workers experience bullying, either as the target or the witness.   The Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as, “repeated mistreatment of an employee by one or more employees; abusive conduct that is: threatening, humiliating, or intimidating; work sabotage; or verbal abuse.” Bullying, at it’s core, is about power.  When people feel threatened

Scroll to Top
public speaking | Speak Genesis

Enter to win two leadership development coaching sessions with a professional coach. (valued of $300-$1,000)
Why not take your career to the next level?