Master your emotional triggers
No matter how many ‘trigger warnings’ are posted around the internet, if you’re a sensitive soul (or just have some key issues that set you off), then it’s a total minefield.
It leaves you feeling vulnerable, threatened, frustrated, and so ready to turn to food for comfort.
If you’re not familiar with the term ‘trigger’, it means something you see, read, or hear that impacts you emotionally in a way that ‘triggers’ deep fears, past trauma, anxiety, sadness, or other feelings that often feel too big to handle.
For some, triggers can activate PTSD, for others it begins an emotional spiral, while others (like me) can end up feeling sad, bad, and weird for days afterward. I’m not here to talk about the PTSD kind – that’s for the experts, so today I’m covering:
- the triggers that set off emotions that feel “too big” for you
- how those emotions cause overeating and cravings
- what to do about it all
It all started with Facebook
Doesn’t every deep and meaningful emotional experience? No? Ok, maybe it’s just me getting my life lessons from social media.
Anywho, I have a Facebook group full of awesome women on the road to healing their eating. We’re all at different stages, but it’s a really respectful and helpful group. A few weeks ago, one of the members posted that she was having a hard time lately and had been really triggered by an experience one of the other members had posted about.
It wasn’t about violence, or sexual abuse, or racism – and it doesn’t need to be – the post resonated with one group member in a very triggering way, and she’d been dealing with the emotional aftermath for over a week.
What’s interesting is how *I* was then triggered by this.
I spent all day wondering if I was doing something wrong, if the space I’d created was somehow harmful, whether I’d responded in the best way… you know – the usual “someone else feels bad, it’s probably my fault somehow and everyone is judging me” thought spiral.
Which made me want to eat.
I meditated instead.
Noticing how I’d been triggered, I started to think about ways to work with these sneaky, unavoidable emotional surprises in your day. Read on to learn too.
Protect your mental and emotional space + how to do that
If there’s something you do regularly that leaves you feeling down, sad, frustrated, and helpless (reading/watching the news, stuff on Facebook, reading YouTube comments, a particular conversation you keep having with a friend) – take steps to stop that coming into your life.
If you know something is triggering you, you do not have to keep doing it that way.
However, no matter how much you protect yourself, life is there and certain things have to get done. Don’t go living in a bubble or protecting yourself so much you miss out on authentic experiences.
For me, a lot of my struggle with triggers came down to a massive lack of self-trust around my ability to handle big emotions. I thought that any ‘negative’ emotions I had were a sign of weakness and failure and that feeling them was something I couldn’t do.
Thankfully, now I know differently. Now, I protect myself from some triggers (I never watch the news) and have a strategy for dealing with the emotional impact of those I can’t, so that they can actually become a constructive experience and something I’m not afraid of.
Trigger is not the same as having a different opinion.
A word of warning on protecting yourself from triggers. Some will be a total no-brainer for you, but be careful that you’re not “protecting yourself” from different points of view, and living amongst only people and ideas that confirm what you already believe.
This can actually be quite damaging and lead to you developing triggers you otherwise wouldn’t have.
Your triggers are yours
If there’s something you prefer to avoid because it triggers you – don’t let anyone bully you into engaging with it. There is no shame in triggers, even ones that aren’t what you’d call ‘serious’.
For example, when I was a kid, the TV show ‘Ren and Stimpy’ used to make me cry and feel bad all day. I just hated the way the big dog got bossed around, made fun of, and manipulated by the small dog. So, even though it was a cartoon and it was ‘cool’ to watch it (we used to sneak it – mum was totally against it!), I stopped watching and removed the trigger.
So, even if you triggers are as silly as a cartoon TV show, they are yours and they are real.
How to work with triggers
You don’t have to be a victim to your triggers.
I used to feel like I had to step so lightly in case I accidentally stumbled across something that upset me. These days, I know better – I can cope with my triggers (and even heal them) without using food.
Learn from them – what’s the message?
As always, emotionally-charged situations are fantastic teachers. It means there’s energy there, something we need or care about. So, if a person, situation, or story is triggering you, the first thing to do is:
a) notice that it’s happening; and
b) ask yourself ‘why?’. What was it about this particular thing that got so far under your skin?
Realize the emotions caused by triggers only have as much power as you give them.
Although I’ve spent some time in this post validating your triggers no matter what they may be, at the end of the day, you have control over respond to them. As I said, I’m not talking about PTSD here and you may want professional help with if you’re struggles are interfering with life in a way that feels unmanageable.
But stuff like confrontation, challenges to your belief system, or rude comments online can trigger a spiral of emotions that you’re able to learn to control. Here’s how to master your emotional triggers.
Try this the next time you’re triggered:
- Walk away/ get away from the trigger
- Close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths. Count them.
- Make a mental list of 3 things you’re grateful for today.
- Play a quick round of Tetris on your phone.
- Decide how you’d like to respond to the situation (or just leave it and walk away, which is often a great idea).
- Later, if you still find yourself dwelling, grab a pen and paper and pour it all out. This helps get it out of your head and often makes learning from it easier and more approachable.
Putting your emotions in motion
Here’s an exercise I use in my work (and my life). It’s a simple, but powerful exercise for giving your emotions voice and motion. It helps you legitimate how you’re feeling, feel it, and then move on from that place. You can grab it here – use it for whatever is triggered in you – sadness, anger, anxiety, anything.
There’s no need to fear your triggers or feel like you can’t handle big emotions. You can master your emotional triggers. What are some ways you’ve found that help?