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Published on July 23, 2021

How to Face Emotional Triggers: A 5-Step Process

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How to Face Emotional Triggers: A 5-Step Process

Facing your emotional triggers can be excruciatingly uncomfortable. Depending on how aware you are in the moment of being triggered, it can feel like you’re once again Charlie Brown being denied the chance by Lucy to kick the football. “I can’t believe I fell for it again,” you might think.

However, being triggered or having your “buttons pushed” can actually be a wonderful opportunity for healing, growth, and gaining a deeper sense of who you are.

This article will cover what triggers are, what we stand to learn from the experience of facing our emotional triggers, how to shift your emotional response, and integrate what you learn for sustainable change. Five steps will be given for facing emotional triggers the next time it happens.

What Is an “Emotional Trigger?”

We get triggered when something is said or done that “triggers” an uncomfortable reaction.[1]

Let’s say someone receives a text from a friend breaking plans they had made. Our “hero” of this story had been looking forward to spending time with the friend. In an instant, the hero interprets the text message and the reason for the plan cancellation.

There are many “stories” that can be created to “explain” what’s happening, ranging from “something important must have come up for them at the last minute,” to “they don’t like me anymore.” Depending on the nature of this relationship, past experiences of this scenario’s hero, and how well this person can accept what happens without assigning judgment, a trigger may be possible.

For the sake of this article, let’s say that this person is triggered by the text. Certain thoughts are triggered (“my friend doesn’t like me as much as I like them”).[2] Pretty soon, some intense emotions come up like disappointment, anger, or maybe shame. Those feelings will come with physical sensations like a tightening of the chest or a dropping sensation in the belly.

When anyone has those thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations, it’s really uncomfortable!

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At this point, the hero of our story could spend the next several hours (days?) stuck in this thought-emotion-physical response loop—unless there is a shift!

One of the reasons we can land in a long-lasting trigger cycle is that we are actually resisting the experience! It’s understandable. Who wants to think and feel that for any amount of time? But when we can actually pause inside of the trigger and experience it fully, that’s the doorway to really understanding what’s really underneath it all.

It’s completely understandable that we have these button-pushing moments, but we’re always at choice when it comes to continuing our patterns or starting to question and eventually changing them.

Why We Get Triggered

The thing that triggers us isn’t nearly as important as looking at how our button was pushed in the first place. Believe it or not, the button is there for a reason! The trigger tries to protect us from going through a painful experience we’ve likely encountered earlier in our lives.

Triggers also alert us when a personal boundary has been crossed. We all have boundaries that consist of our beliefs, values, and ideas of how we want to be treated. It’s important to recognize that the person who pushed the button often has no idea the button was there, and they likely didn’t do it on purpose. (If they did do it on purpose, that’s a different article entirely!)

Reacting strongly in triggering situations is a lot like “shooting the messenger.” Instead of placing blame on the poor chap who inadvertently stepped on your toes, it’s time to push a different button—a pause button—and investigate what’s really happening.

5-Step Process to Facing Emotional Triggers

Remember, being triggered is a wonderful opportunity to uncover a wound from your past and tend to it. It can be a chance to move on from something else in your life that’s holding you back, and it can save your relationships.

So, here are some steps for dealing with moments when you face emotional triggers.

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Step 1: Notice the Trigger

As mentioned earlier, one of the first things we tend to do when triggered is to resist the trigger and try to make it go away as soon as possible. As they say, what we resist persists, and we end up causing ourselves to suffer longer and more intensely than if we just let the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations arise.

This is painful but not permanent.

Step 2: Stay With Your Feelings

Try to name the emotions coming up for you. Without trying to change or stop them, allow your emotional response to grow as much as possible. Notice the location of these emotions in your body. Where does your body feel the tension? Where are you most uncomfortable?

You may find that after a minute or so, this sensation will ease on its own.

Step 3: Ask Yourself These Questions

Now that the emotional and physical response is less intense, it’s time to get to know and understand the trigger.

Some questions to ask include:

  • When, in my life, have I experienced something like this moment?
  • What do these feelings remind me of?
  • What thoughts come with these emotions?
  • When else have I had these thoughts?

Allow the memories to come. Remember our hero? Perhaps the trigger for them was related to a time when their best friend decided not to play with them anymore on the playground because the friend wanted to play basketball instead. That memory may not have been on the top of the hero’s mind. But with the space to acknowledge the current emotional/physical experience and by noticing the similarities, our hero can now face what happened in the past and do some healing work.

It’s very important in this step to acknowledge and validate any younger self. This can be done by saying things like:

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  • Of course, I felt that way back then!
  • It’s completely understandable that I would have felt ______________ and thought _________________.
  • And “no wonder I’m being triggered right now—I see the similarities!”

Step 4: Investigate the Boundary That Was Crossed

We all have boundaries. We need them. Boundaries are the limits and rules we develop for ourselves. They come from our values, beliefs, and preferences for how we want to be treated.

If you’re uncertain about boundaries in your life, this could lead to confusion over why or how you’re being triggered. One way to get to know your boundaries is to uncover your core values.

Boundaries can be damaged when they’re challenged, crossed, or disrespected. Imagine a personal boundary like an invisible wall. When a wall was disregarded or crossed in an old memory, a hole was put in your boundary. When we’re young, we might not have the tools yet to fix any holes put into our boundaries. Instead, we install an alarm system instead of fixing the hole.

Later, the alarm system lets us know when someone new gets too close to the hole or tries to get through. The alarm system—aka our trigger—tries to keep us safe. Regardless, the hole is still there. How long do you want to go in your life before fixing that hole? And how often do you want to let that alarm keep going off?

If you can see the hole and do the work to heal it, you probably won’t need the alarm anymore. Put another way, once you can locate the hole and understand how it got there, then you can turn off the alarm and start to fix the hole.

Step 5: Notice the Internal Shift

Once there’s an understanding that “now” isn’t “then” and vice versa, we can start to look at how we want to handle things this time.

Notice the shift that happens when there’s clarity around how the unhealed past is informing the yet-to-be-experienced present. The past is what helps us create interpretations and stories about triggering moments. But a deeper understanding of the past can also help us gain clarity around how the present is very different.

To notice this shift, you could try the following:

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  • Write down your observations and realizations in a journal.
  • Tell someone about your experience.
  • Draw/paint about it.
  • Talk to the person who triggered you (especially good if this isn’t your norm).
  • Don’t mention it to the person who triggered you (especially good if this isn’t your norm).

Let’s say that after going through all the five steps proposed above, the “hero” of our story decides to contemplate what is known about the friend. Our hero remembers the friend saying that their beloved pet was acting strangely. How likely was the sudden plan change related to that fact?

Then again, maybe our friend decides that it’s none of their business why the friend can’t hang out. They’ll get together when the time is right. The fifth step is about helping the mind/body/spirit recognize that some action was taken to repair the hole in the personal boundary.

Final Thoughts

There are times when people do push buttons on purpose because they know you and want to get you where it hurts. In this case, it might be easy to feel justified in lashing out. The question to ask yourself is, “what am I really looking to happen by lashing out and reacting?

Maybe you want that person to know how wrong they are for intentionally pushing your buttons. In this case, ask yourself, “how will lashing out at them help them understand that they are wrong?” Chances are, it won’t., and you will have wasted a lot of energy and made the hole in your boundary even bigger!

Reacting to people who intentionally push buttons actually gives them the power they’re craving. Instead, if you can stay present with yourself in those triggering moments and use the exercise I shared, it could be interesting to see how strengthening your personal boundaries could work for you.

In the case of someone intentionally pushing your buttons, the question becomes, “why would I want to be in a relationship with someone who does this?” And that is another topic for another time!

Tending to your own triggers, buttons, and where you get hooked, regardless of the other person’s intentions, is a practice of self-care and healing that you will hopefully give a try.

Featured photo credit: J’Waye Covington via unsplash.com

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Reference

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Tess Miller

Life transition coach who helps professionals who love what they do but aren't sure where it's going

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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