How to Recognize & Deal With Emotional Triggers

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Learn to use emotional triggers as an opportunity to connect more deeply with your feelings and you'll return to a calm state more quickly.

The news. Family. Work. Stress. Life. Many things can trigger a response that knocks you out of being centered and calm and sends you tumbling into an unpleasant emotion like anger, jealousy, or even sadness.

It doesn't matter how often you meditate or how long you can hold a headstand, we are all triggered by something, sometime. It's a part of life.

The question is, are you able to recognize when you feel triggered and then access tools for working with these emotions?

“Emotional triggering is, at root, a survival response,” writes life coach Martha Beck. “Our brains create powerful associations between things that hurt us, and whatever happened to be occurring when we got hurt. Once you've been hit by lightning, even though you know that the odds of it happening again are astronomically low, the touch of a single raindrop may send you running for cover.”

The first step to understand and deal with triggers is to simply notice them.

Do you feel anxious when you have a meeting with your boss? Does spending time with your parents elicit old feelings and patterns from childhood? When a certain person walks in the room do you tense up and avoid their gaze?

Once you see when you are being triggered, you can find ways to deal with it. You can choose to avoid certain situations if possible, or you can find ways to deal with the emotions when they arise.

Spiritual teacher Panache Desai says that one of the most powerful things we can do when we're triggered is to learn how to come back to being peaceful. He recommends you slow down, take a breath, and allow yourself to identify what you are feeling. Give yourself time to acknowledge the feelings, and keep breathing.

By taking time to notice and allow the feelings, you may find you can release yourself from the habitual responses and reactions you have to those feelings.

“As you grow more practiced in noticing your triggers, offering yourself kindness, and remembering that the power to heal your life is always available in the present moment, the situations that once set you off lose their explosive potential,” Beck writes. “In fact, triggering situations may become as positive as they once were negative.”

It can also help to talk to a trusted friend or use a self-soothing technique that helps you ride the wave of emotion to its end. Take a walk outside, drink a hot cup of tea, spend time with a pet, play a sport, talk to yourself as if you were encouraging a friend, take a bath, or spend time in prayer or meditation.

Whatever you choose, know that you have the power in any moment to feel the emotions that have been triggered and get yourself back to a centered place.