How To Manage Your Triggers And Thrive
Your boss says, “Hey, can you stop by my office to chat sometime today?” The comment sounds innocent, even friendly, but in your mind, alarm bells start ringing. Your heart thuds like a church bell chiming a funeral dirge, and your palms drip like you just washed at a sink with no paper towels.
In these situations, the way you react can determine the outcome of the encounter. Maybe your supervisor wants to discuss a possible promotion — but you’ll never know if you dash from the office in tears. Here’s how to manage your triggers and thrive.
1. Identify Your Triggers
Triggers occur due to past pain and suffering that you couldn’t acknowledge or deal with sufficiently at the time. If a past job loss led to prolonged poverty, even homelessness, it’s understandable why you panic when your current boss wants to see you. Your brain takes a synaptic trip down memory lane, and even if you don’t consciously recall the specific horrors you endured, your body remembers — and floods you a tsunami of similar emotions.
Mindfulness is the key to identifying your triggers. Learn to stop and check-in with yourself physiologically. When you notice things like a racing heartbeat, clenched jaw and uncontrollable sweating, ask yourself what just happened to evoke that response. Then, reflect on why you might feel that way — what similar past situation left you with scars?
2. HALT Right There
Some triggers remain nearly constant from person to person. Almost everyone gives into bad behavior more readily when they feel hungry, angry, lonely or tired. However, recognizing the underlying sensation is the first step toward making better choices. If you are hungry, eat something, or if you feel tired, lie down. If anger clouds your judgment, go for a walk or a run — anything but act on that emotion. Try to remedy loneliness by getting involved in a healthy activity, like attending a support group meeting or researching volunteer opportunities where you can connect with others.
3. Identify Safe Spaces
When something triggers you in public, it’s bad enough — when it happens in the workplace, it can derail your career. If you know or suspect that you have a mental disorder, identify a safe space as one of the first things you do on the job. It could be your car or a solitary bathroom stall where you can cry in peace.
Wherever it is, make sure you can get away from the eyes of others. Unfortunately, stigma still exists, and you don’t want to give the impression that you aren’t tough enough to hack your workplace demands without getting emotional.
4. Walk Away
Your emotions are real and valid. You have every right to express them — but not anytime or anywhere. Sometimes, you have to take a step back to gain perspective before responding. Doing so in the heat of passion can prove disastrous.
For example, maybe your boss wanted to discuss a workplace conflict you have with a colleague. You might be “right” about whatever the issue is — but you also have to decide if it’s worth it to stand your ground. Your employer might value interoffice harmony more than your insight, and if so, sticking to your guns could get you labeled as disagreeable, not a reputation you want to cultivate.
5. Cultivate a Positive Circle
The folks you associate with do influence your behavior. If your past trauma sends your brain down the negativity path each time that you feel triggered, spending time with individuals who echo that perspective, however validating it may feel, only reinforces unwise reactions.
Instead, try to cultivate a circle of positive friends. When things seem like they’re going south, they can help you get a perspective on your situation and focus on solutions, not catastrophes.
Your emotions can hijack you. The human nervous system evolved to deal with threats like angry mama bears that you needed an adrenaline and cortisol surge to escape. You still experience the same physiological reactions, but you internalize them and damage your health when you can’t release them in some way.
Exercise helps you to process that fight-or-flight energy and get your hormone levels under control. It’s one reason why taking a walk is a useful strategy when you feel like you’re about to snap.
7. Go to a Meeting
COVID-19 did bring some positive changes. You can now find more online support group meetings than ever — you don’t necessarily have to get dressed and hit the church basement.
Such groups aren’t only for those who struggle with substance abuse. You can find meetings for people with a wide range of mental or physical health disorders. Some organizations serve those who have experienced specific traumas, like the loss of a child.
It might sound counterintuitive if you feel like you can barely hold yourself together some days. However, performing acts of kindness for others is one of the best ways to help yourself recover from past trauma.
Why? When you help others, you prove that your actions make a positive difference in the world. Many traumatic experiences leave scars because they make you feel helpless — volunteering restores your sense of power.
Figuring out why you behave the way you do isn’t something you achieve overnight. Traumas can build up over a lifetime, each one creating new conditioned response patterns. Meditation is one way not only to identify what compels you to act as you do but also to change your behavior. Once you master techniques like mindfulness body scans, you can use them anytime, anywhere, to get a grip.
Manage Your Triggers and Thrive With These 9 Tips
Your emotional buttons occur because of conditioned responses to past stressful events, but letting them dictate your behavior can result in future trauma. Learn how to manage your triggers and thrive with the nine tips above.
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