In high school, while having a lively group conversation in the school cafeteria, one friend kept shaking his Coke with extra ice. The constant shaking of the ice triggered me. Clinking ice against a glass always irritated me, but I had no reason to explain why it did. My friend shook his glass throughout his entire conversation at length, and BOOM, before I knew it, the friendly cafeteria became my childhood bedroom. I no longer stood in the cafeteria; I stood in my old bedroom. 

In the darkness, I could hear a glass with ice clicking the side of it in tempo with their step, slowly walking in my direction. I saw my bed, and then I was in that very bed, and my heart began to beat so loudly that it seemed the clinking of the ice was competing with my heartbeat. In the stillness of the dark, the clinking ice grew closer like a bell. It eventually superseded the sound of my racing heartbeat. Frozen from fear, my body had no feeling in it. Physically it was impossible to move a limb. The only sense that functioned was the ability to smell and hear. The rest of me shut down. Literally, I was frozen in fear by the time the clinking glass in the darkness had approached my bedside.

This was the first time I remember experiencing an emotional trigger. I didn’t know in full what was happening at that moment, but the gripping feeling of fear was undeniable. This one sound began the opening up of a childhood my mind had so carefully hidden from me. It was only later, through reflection and processing with the help of a therapist, that I began to fully understand the power of emotional triggers.

What Are Emotional Triggers?

Emotional triggers are specific stimuli—such as situations, thoughts, or feelings—that elicit strong emotional reactions. For trauma survivors and those focused on emotional wellness and mental health, managing these triggers is crucial for overall well-being. Understanding and effectively managing emotional triggers can lead to improved mental health, reduced stress, and a higher quality of life.

Identifying Triggers

Self-awareness is the first step in managing emotional triggers. Here are some practical tips for identifying your triggers:

  • Reflect on Past Reactions: Think about instances when you had strong emotional responses. What were the common elements in those situations?
  • Keep a Journal: Document your emotional reactions, noting the context and any patterns you observe.
  • Seek Feedback: Sometimes, those close to you can provide insights into your triggers that you might not recognize.

While the clinking of ice cubes was the first trigger I recall experiencing, I later became aware of others. The sound of a whip or the clanking of taking off your belt also became sounds that I realized triggered me. I have found myself squinting or ducking, thinking I may get struck by a belt. In addition to triggering sounds, I realized that I preferred to sit or stand facing the entrance of a room and felt uneasy if I sat with my back toward the door. I was aware of where all exits were in case of an emergency. This hypervigilance and desire to know how to escape stemmed from childhood trauma. If a person is aggressive in nature or controlling, I run or become the aggressor, which is textbook PTSD. It’s the flight, fight, freeze, or fawn response. My father was aggressive, passive-aggressive, manipulative, and narcissistic, and it has greatly impacted how I handle others with similar behaviors. While these are a few of the strongest triggers that I’ve come to recognize over time, these are just a few examples to help you reflect on what may be possible triggers in your own life.

Triggers from trauma are different for every individual. It depends on the setting for that person. It depends on the intensity of the trauma. I’m going to give you a fabricated scenario to get a better understanding of a trigger. It’s not as extreme as what I experienced, but trauma can look like this. 

Your partner likes to scrape their cutlery on their plate loudly while they eat. While eating, they talk with their mouth full, and food flies constantly out of their mouth and often lands on you, or bits of their food fly into your drink. During this time, they berate and criticize you the entire time with expressions of contempt, rolling their eyes, tapping their silverware on the table to emphasize something, and snarling from the side in contempt at you.

From this traumatic scenario, we can abstract several possible triggers that one may suffer from. Possible triggers could be scraping plates or the benign act of scraping the waste of a plate to wash the dish, chewing with your mouth open, a facial expression of contempt, and clinking on a table. 

Bear with me; this is going somewhere. In this scenario, the person may later not relate that these factors may play a role in their decision-making or may have outbursts when experiencing them in the future. Perhaps they cover the top of their drink while others talk in fear that food may fly into their cup. Perhaps they automatically do not like people who have a lot of facial expressions. They may develop an eating disorder from the repulsion of the way their partner ate. If another person reminds them of their partner, they may act just like them in order to defend themselves. They might feel anger at anyone who taps a cup, silverware, or their wedding ring on the table, but they have no idea why.

There are so many more possible triggers in this scenario. The reality is that we often do not know why things “bug” us, but they often relate to a past scenario, one we do not remember. Triggers from trauma can be mild or so intense that they take us right back to the point of trauma. 

We are all fragile humans, and when we experience the battles of life, we develop triggers. If you find something that enrages you, or if you overreact emotionally or verbally to someone or something, search within you for the why. Why do I become so unglued by this one thing?

Grounding Techniques

Grounding techniques help bring you back to the present moment, reducing the intensity of emotional reactions. Here are some effective methods:

  • Deep Breathing: Focus on your breath, inhaling slowly and deeply, then exhaling fully. Repeat several times.
  • Mindfulness: Pay attention to your surroundings. Notice the colors, sounds, and textures around you.
  • Sensory Focus: Engage your senses by holding an object and focusing on its texture and temperature. For grounding in public places, I will rub my hands on anything textured that I am wearing, the seat of my chair, or covertly slip off a shoe and rub my toes onto the surface of the floor, recognizing the coolness and envisioning that the ground is holding me steady and in place.

Step-by-Step Guide for Deep Breathing:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  2. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose for a count of four.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of four.
  4. Exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of six.
  5. Repeat the process for several minutes.

Creating a Support Network

A strong support network can provide invaluable assistance when managing emotional triggers. Here’s how to build one:

  • Identify Supportive Individuals: Choose friends, family, or colleagues who understand your triggers and can offer empathy. 
  • Communicate Openly: Share your experiences and needs with your support network.
  • Stay Connected: Regularly check in with your support network, even when you’re not experiencing triggers.

Real-life Example

Gratefully my husband knows me inside and out like a best friend. He knows when I’m tired and more susceptible to feeling triggered. Being triggered is now seldom, but at one time, they were often. It was a learning process because I did not take the time to figure out what triggered me. Once I did, I shared them with my husband, and he could recognize what scenarios would trigger me sometime before I knew. If I was triggered in a conversation with someone else, he had a way of quickly summing up the discussion and suggesting that I say hello to someone else. Sometimes he would help me shift gears by getting a drink, resting the weight of his arm on my lap, or offering a wide grin with a sparkle in his eye that reminded me that I could emotionally step aside and we could laugh and emotionally process the situation later.

Self-Care Routine

Consistent self-care helps regulate emotions and reduces the impact of triggers. Here are some self-care practices to consider:

  • Physical Activity: Exercise releases endorphins, which can improve your mood.
  • Creative Outlets: Engage in hobbies that bring you joy and relaxation.
  • Relaxation Techniques: Practice yoga, meditation, or take long baths to unwind.

Example Self-Care Routine:

  • Morning: Start your day with a 10-minute meditation session.
  • Afternoon: Take a 30-minute walk or engage in a physical activity you enjoy.
  • Evening: Spend time on a creative hobby, such as drawing or playing a musical instrument.

Seeking Professional Help

If triggers are significantly impacting your daily life, professional help can provide additional strategies and tools. Here’s how to start:

  • Research Therapists: Look for therapists who specialize in trauma and emotional wellness.
  • Ask for Recommendations: Seek recommendations from your support network or primary care provider.
  • Consider Various Options: Explore different types of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

Real-life Example:

When writing my memoir, Under the Orange Blossoms, I began to experience very intense emotional triggers. One trigger was the darkness of night combined with laying in bed, a trigger that I had never previously experienced. When I became aware of this trigger, I searched for a trauma therapist to help me process what I was feeling. With the help of a trauma therapist, we used EMDR to therapeutically work through my emotions, which directly resulted in improved emotional regulation and a decrease in anxiety episodes that were related to the triggers.

Building Resilience

Building resilience helps you cope with stress in a healthy manner. Here are some strategies:

  • Regular Exercise: Physical activity strengthens both the body and mind.
  • Learning and Growth: Engage in activities that challenge you and foster personal growth.
  • Positive Relationships: Cultivate relationships that provide emotional support and encouragement.

Real-life Example:

Making time for regular exercise, learning new hobbies, and surrounding myself with people who I can trust have been essential in building resilience. Resilience is formed over time with the right support. This support may look different for everyone, but we all can benefit from building and strengthening resilience to help us through the hardships of life.

Next Steps

Start by identifying your personal triggers today. Reflect on past emotional responses to recognize patterns and take the first step towards managing your emotional triggers.

Immediate Actionable Steps:

  1. Identify Triggers: Reflect on past emotional responses to identify triggers linked to specific situations, thoughts, or feelings.
  2. Practice Grounding: Select and start practicing at least one grounding technique that resonates with you, integrating it into your daily routine.
  3. Reach Out: Contact at least one person in your support network, share your insights on triggers, and discuss ways they can support you.
  4. Self-Care Integration: Commit to integrating one new self-care practice into your daily or weekly routine, focusing on activities that bring you joy and relaxation.
  5. Seek Help: Consider seeking professional help if triggers are significantly impacting your daily life, and research local therapists or counseling services.

By taking these steps, you can begin to manage your emotional triggers and enhance your overall emotional wellness.

Conclusion

The foundation of managing emotional triggers is first identifying them. Question yourself and dig deep. Figuring out the why is the journey of bravery to growth and healing. If we cannot take the time to figure out why in how we react to the uncomfortable, no one else will. We then suffer within the confines of our minds and bottle our grief in our bodies. It’s an awful place to exist in. 

I encourage you to be brave and look at the why. Why do I react so strongly when this happens or this person does this? Think of it like a game of crossword. What do you feel (in one word) when a given situation happens? Challenge yourself to find the why, to heal from that traumatic trigger. 

Healing from traumatic triggers is the greatest win. Only you get to be at the forefront of your party to celebrate. The beauty in the win is being free from carrying the unknowing weight, finding alignment with who you truly are, and being healthy in mind and body. It is the ultimate way to align with your higher self. Managing and healing from emotional triggers is possible!

*Affiliate Disclosure: I do have affiliate links in this blog post. If you purchase something from my link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.  This comes at no cost to you but is paid by the company.  I do not take becoming an affiliate with any company lightly.  If I am, it’s because I believe in the company and their product. *Cindy(CindyTalks) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

2 Comments

  1. Your approach to identifying and understanding emotional triggers resonated deeply with me. It’s empowering to learn strategies that can help us navigate our emotions more effectively. Your words have encouraged me to be more mindful of my emotional responses and to take proactive steps towards my emotional well-being.

    Your blog post has not only educated me but also inspired me to continue on this journey of personal growth. Thank you, Cindy!

    1. Thank you so much, Dawne, for sharing. I’m so thankful that our blog has helped you. We hope to encourage and inspire others to grow in their unique journeys. Love and light to you!

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