The other morning, I woke up in a great mood. My husband and I were joking and laughing and talking about our plans for the day. I was in high spirits. We were making small talk as I poured a freshly brewed cup of coffee and sat down at my computer, eager to get to my “to do” list. I had been feeling particularly creative lately with a lot of fresh ideas coming to me. I was completely energized and ready to get to work.

In an instant, everything changed

Out of the blue, my husband made some random comment that hit me like a ton of bricks. His intent was not malicious, but the effect it had on me was intense. I felt my stomach tighten and I became nauseous. My throat started constricting and I could feel my face getting flushed. I was completely unable to start working on my first task. I wanted to run and hide. My mind began spinning stories about what he’d said and what it meant. I felt defensive and hurt. His comment had completely derailed me.

Maybe you have had this experience

You are steadily going about your day, getting things done, minding your own business and BAM! Out of nowhere you get hit with it. A song comes on the radio, you come across an email or you find something while going through a drawer or box and it stops you in your tracks.  Maybe, like my recent experience, it’s nothing more than a comment from your spouse, coworker or even a stranger. Your mood shifts from lightheartedness to a sinking sensation in an instant.  You might feel sick and panicked or as if someone has punched you in the stomach.

So what is happening here?

You, my friend, have been “triggered.” Because of the way we are biologically wired, being triggered shows up in the body first, even before our mind is able to consciously realize it. This is why it can be so common to overreact before we have time to assess the situation logically. Our brains are built to remember necessary aspects of past events and to make connections between our internal and external worlds in order to help ensure our survival for when a similar event occurs in the future. This happens automatically, and there isn’t much we can do to stop it in the moment.

What in the world can you do about it?

  1. Notice when you are being triggered. When something happens that sets off a response in your body, pay attention. Becoming aware of when it is happening is the first step to being able to manage the effects it will have on you.
  2. Take a few deep belly breaths and say to yourself, “I am safe, I am okay, right now, in this moment.”
  3. Analyze the physical response you are having. Take notice of where it is showing up in your body. Spend a little time really feeling into it. What does it feel like? What is it doing? Spinning? Contracting? Sinking? If possible, see if you can find words to describe it. Make sure you continue to breathe while doing this step and allow the feelings to exist without judging them.
  4. Try to identify what memory or event is being triggered. Ask yourself what this situation and feelings are reminding you of. Can you specify a time in your past where you had a similar feeling or response? What was happening for you at that time? If you are not able to determine an exact event, that is perfectly fine, just stay focused on what you’re feeling right in that moment.
  5. Check in with your mind. Write down your thoughts and see if you can categorize them. If you are able to relate back to an event or time in your life, consider the thoughts you have about that event. If triggered by someone’s comment, ask yourself, “What am I making this mean?” Words have no real power on their own; it’s the thoughts we have about the words, and the meaning we give them that cause us to suffer or react.
  6. Journal. Often, we can identify an event or situation that our feelings relate back to. If not, work with what is coming up for you in the moment. Are you worrying? Self-criticizing? Feeling like a victim? Journaling is a great way to bring these thoughts to the surface.
  7. Question your thoughts. If you are able to identify the thoughts that are causing you the pain, question them. Ask yourself if they are really true or valid? See if you can come up with something that feels better to replace harsh or judgmental thoughts you find you are having about yourself or the situation.

In the case of my situation this weekend, I was able to quickly recognize that I felt very offended. I asked myself, “What am I making his comment mean?” For me, it felt like he was saying that I don’t make the right choices and that I am not a good parent. Using the steps I outlined above, I was able to relate this back to a set of past circumstances in which I had felt judged about my parenting skills, and with a little work, I processed my feelings about that event. This allowed me to stop the triggered response from ruining the rest of my morning, or quite possibly, my entire day.

Are you aware of when you are being triggered? Do you let it ruin your day?

I would love to hear your comments!

P.S. Recognizing and processing emotions around your triggers can sometimes feel tricky. If this is an area where you get stuck, I can help. Check out my website here to see how we can work together.

You can also schedule a 30 minute, complimentary Discovery Session here