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What happens when you get emotionally triggered?

As a life coach, I have witnessed firsthand how powerful it is to understand emotional triggers to achieve personal growth and emotional wellbeing. What most people believe is that being “emotionally triggered” is only reserved for negative responses. Contrary to popular belief, we are actually also triggered when we experience extreme positive emotions. Harnessing the knowledge of this will greatly enhance your ability to handle situations and start living a life of joy - by choice and by design. Not learning or becoming aware of this does pose a danger of getting negatively triggered without being aware, until we suddenly realise that we’re in a dark pit of procrastination, overwhelm, self doubt, guilt, or even self hatred. Once we have caught onto the downward spiral it can sometimes be difficult to come back up, especially if we try to do this alone. In this post, I want to share with you what a trigger is, what actually happens when you get triggered, and how you can navigate these moments with love and resilience. 

What is an emotional trigger?

An emotional trigger can be anything - a memory, experience, event, object, people, or even a specific word or tone of voice - that sparks an emotional response. 

For example: going back to the place where you had your most memorable date with your partner will trigger feelings of joy or love; meeting someone who used to bully you may trigger negative responses; seeing an object that belonged to someone you love dearly will trigger a response - either happiness or sadness depending on the situation you remember them in. For me, I always cry when I have mango pancakes because it reminds me of my grandma who passed away many years ago because it’s something that we always used to share. Choice of words can also have an impact - I have met people who hate the word “focus” because it triggers them into feeling that they’ve been told off when they were at school, even though for me, the word “focus” means being present and providing undivided attention. 

These triggers are specific to you based on the way that you experienced it and the meaning you assigned to it in the moment of storing this memory. This will have been done subconsciously, therefore it can be difficult to fathom at times why certain memories bring on certain emotions. In addition, the intensity of the trigger will be brought on based on your current circumstances and the importance that you assigned to it. For example, if someone challenges you at work, on a good day when you’re feeling positive, you may interpret the event positively and see it as a great debate or understand that there is simply a differing viewpoint. However, if you are already feeling unwell or not in a good mood, the challenge from your colleague may trigger you into a downward spiral, and you may start noticing feelings of unworthiness, not enough, or self doubt, come up. 

How to handle negative triggers

In order to handle negative triggers effectively, I would recommend you use my P.A.S.S. method: 

  1. Presence - As soon as you realise you have been triggered, focus on getting present in your body. This will help you get into a calmer, more relaxed state. 

You can do this by taking deep breaths, noticing the details of 3 things around you (example: the feeling of the letter printed on your keyboard, the chip on the side of the table, the fabric of your sleeve against your skin). 

2. Awareness - In order to start making changes in life, you need to become aware of where you are to start with. Becoming aware of what your triggers are, when you get triggered, and how you respond to triggers will build the foundations on which you can take the next steps. 

You can do this by journaling, reflecting back on the last few times you’ve felt the same feeling - so you can start noticing the trends and patterns that you are experiencing. 

3. Strategy - Identify ways to help you handle each trigger. It may be that you need to take time off to process; maybe you need to talk things through with someone; maybe you need to meditate or journal; maybe you need to get creative and write/draw; maybe it is to counteract it with positive triggers. No matter what it may be, design ways in which you can proactively change your state of mind and enable you to come back out from the downward spiral. 

4. Structure - Creating a structure is important in order for you to effectively handle negative triggers, because it will not be the only time it comes up throughout your life. Having a plan of things you can do when you are triggered (either mentally or written) will make it easier for you to navigate the situation, rather than trying to come up with a plan when you are already triggered. This is something that you can develop and tweak further as you go along, but taking the time out to create the structure as soon as possible will help you remove yourself from the situation quicker and easier.

By using P.A.S.S., you will be able to process the negative emotions attached to the trigger in an easier and more structured way, and remember that this too, shall pass. 

However, please do remember that it is important to also seek help if you need it - from family, friends, coaches, or mental health professionals, especially if the triggers are serious. Leaving situations unmonitored can lead to a buildup of negative emotions and can have serious effects / consequences at a later stage. 

Utilising the power of positive triggers

As I mentioned before, there is great power in knowing that triggers can also be positive, because this is one of the most powerful tools you can use to design the happy life that you want to live. In a similar way to handling negative triggers, the foundation of using this power is to recognise what these positive triggers are. Once you have identified these events, memories, people, experiences, etc., you can start building these into your daily life. For example: if you know that dogs make you really happy, then ensure there is time scheduled in your calendar for walks in dog parks, pet stores, or get your own dog; if you know that a certain experience or location brings you joy, then schedule it in; if you know that self love practices enable you to feel unconditional love, then make time for it. These may seem obvious, but many people underestimate the power and importance of doing these things that trigger them positively on a daily basis. After all, whether you have had an amazing day or not will depend on how many instances of joy, contentment, happiness vs sadness, guilt, negativity you have had in the day. This then cumulates to weeks, months, years. When we consciously design our lifestyle to incorporate these on a daily basis, life becomes a much more joyful and fun experience. This is also a practice of self love. 

In conclusion, understanding what happens when you get triggered is the first step in mastering your emotional responses and leading a more empowered life. By recognising your triggers, understanding your emotional responses, and implementing strategies that work for you, you can navigate triggers with love and resilience, fostering personal growth and emotional well-being along the way.

As a life coach, I am here to support you on your journey to self-discovery and empowerment. Together, we can navigate triggers and unlock your full potential for a fulfilling and meaningful life.

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