Have you ever felt a sudden wave of distress the moment someone brings up a particular topic of conversation?
Has someone ever tried to get a reaction out of you by being overly provocative and poking at your sensitivities?
Or, when someone uses a specific tone of voice, has it thrown you off and reminded you of things you’d rather forget?
These stimuli are all called “triggers.”
You can be triggered at any time, in any place, and by anyone. The trick is knowing what your triggers are and how to react when someone triggers you.
Whether your trigger makes you angry, sad, hurt, upset, annoyed, or even fly into a rage, there are tools you can use to manage your response.
This article will share 10 tips you can use to help you react better when you’re feeling triggered by something someone has said or done.
By the time you finish reading, you’ll understand what a trigger is, know how to identify your triggers, and be better equipped to handle feeling triggered.
So grab a notebook and pen because this article has all the tips you need!
What is a trigger?
A trigger is something that reminds you of a painful experience and causes you distress. Triggers are rooted in individual experiences, so they’re different for everyone. They serve as a deep sensory reminder of painful experiences, horrific trauma, and things you’d rather not think about.
Often, your trauma sits in your brain subconsciously, and you learn how to live around it. However, once triggered, the trauma comes full speed to the front of your brain, and you feel like you’re reliving it.
Because everyone’s trauma is different, and each person’s emotional reactions are unique, everyone’s triggers are also different.
Being triggered shouldn’t be confused with being uncomfortable. When you’re triggered, you’re instantly reminded of your trauma. You might feel angry about being triggered or sad and hurt that a person triggered you.
With more severe trauma, you might fly into a rage, thinking you’re right back where you once were. You might experience flashbacks and vivid memories and feel as if the trauma is happening again in the present.
Triggers are like a time machine. They catapult you back to the root cause of the trigger itself. These types of intense feelings don’t happen with discomfort. Recognizing that being triggered isn’t as simple as feeling uncomfortable is important.
Identifying a trigger is complicated and wrapped up in individual experiences, unique emotions, and much more. Sometimes, once triggered, you experience that painful moment over and over until you are able to calm your reaction or remove yourself from the triggering situation.
How do you know when you’ve been triggered?
Knowing when you’ve been triggered requires deep self-awareness, introspection, self-reflection, and self-understanding. It requires knowing what your “normal” is so you can identify when things aren’t normal.
You must become very in tune with your mind, body, and soul to identify when you’re triggered. It’s about more than just identifying when you’re angry or sad, but rather understanding that you feel those emotions as a result of something internal triggered by something external.
While this might sound challenging, there are a few things to remember that will make it easier to know when you’ve been triggered.
Signs you’ve been triggered:
- You’re more emotional or sensitive than usual. (Think flying into a rage, being very angry quickly, springing to tears, becoming quickly annoyed, irritability, and so on.)
- You’re experiencing physical sensations like increased heart rate, shallow breathing, muscle tension, heart palpitations, an aching body, sweating, and so on.
- You feel overwhelmed.
- You’re struggling to focus on one thing.
- You have racing thoughts.
- You become defensive in your behavior and attitude.
- You overreact to things that typically wouldn’t make you feel reactive. (You feel sad, hurt, annoyed, or angry about things that wouldn’t normally bring those feelings out.)
- You start having an irregular sleep pattern.
- You experience flashbacks.
- You dissociate (temporarily detach from reality, thoughts, and feelings).
- You struggle to find the right words to express yourself.
- You feel disconnected from yourself, others, and the world.
Tips To Handle Situations When Someone Triggers You
You may feel sad, hurt, or angry when triggered by someone. You may become defensive, fly into a rage, or feel entirely misunderstood. These feelings are common. Feeling triggered brings back memories, trauma, and pain, making it challenging to work through your reaction.
Below are 10 tips to help you handle situations when someone triggers you.
1. Realize when you’re triggered.
Understanding how to react when someone or something triggers you starts with knowing when you’re triggered.
To know this, you must develop self-awareness and introspection. You need to be able to recognize when your body is experiencing an emotional response that doesn’t match what is happening in the present moment.
For example, pay attention to your body. Is your stomach upset all of a sudden? Are your legs shaking? Is your heart racing? Are you having a panic attack? Are you getting defensive?
Realizing when you’ve been triggered is the first step in developing the skills to handle a trigger, which can help you improve your overall emotional health and mental well-being.
2. Become more self-aware.
We all have some level of self-awareness, but when considering your reaction to something that triggers you, you must increase your self-awareness quite a bit. Becoming more self-aware will help you understand what you’re feeling and where those feelings come from.
Self-awareness can help you learn how to accept constructive criticism. Or, if you’re always upset after spending time with a specific person, it might be helpful to practice controlling your emotions in the present moment.
Increasing your self-awareness can help you become more open-minded and self-confident and gain clarity on your values, thoughts, strengths, and weaknesses. It can help you understand whether that person intentionally triggered you and allow you to choose not to be defensive.
There are enormous benefits that come from being more self-aware. These can help in all areas of your life, especially with understanding your emotional triggers and managing your reaction to them.
3. Take a break (if possible).
Depending on the situation, when someone triggers you, it can be helpful to take a step back, remove yourself from the situation, and take a break. This can help you ground yourself, give you a moment to do breathing exercises, and clarify the situation.
Sometimes it might not be possible to leave the situation altogether, so consider going to another room, the washroom, or outside for a couple of minutes. A break can be beneficial when experiencing emotional flooding because of a trigger.
Remember that the break doesn’t need to be a certain length of time to be effective. Taking a step away can help you refocus, ground yourself, and re-enter the situation feeling more in control and less triggered.
4. Do breathing exercises.
There might be situations where you’ve become triggered but can’t take a step away. Perhaps you’ve improved your self-awareness and you know you’re triggered, but what do you do at that point?
One thing that can help a lot is to take some time to focus on your breath.
Notice the feeling of air moving in and out of your nostrils, or what the air feels like as it gently touches your lips. Notice your lungs filling up as you focus on long breaths.
Pay attention to how you’re breathing. Quickly? Try slowing it down. Shallowly? Try taking deeper breaths. Focus on being in the present moment and completely controlling your breath.
5. Avoid an immediate reaction.
Refraining from reacting when someone triggers you requires a high level of self-awareness, so don’t worry if this takes time for you to master. Avoiding an immediate reaction is helpful in not becoming emotionally attached to whatever triggered you in the first place.
Try to put some space between you and the environment that you were triggered in, practice some breathing exercises, and explore any immediate creative expression to process your feelings in a healthy and constructive manner.
Don’t let people get to you and rile you up—pause and reflect on what has occurred before you act.
6. Explore relaxation techniques.
When something someone says or does triggers you, relaxation techniques can be powerful tools to regain composure and manage overwhelming emotions.
Take a moment to step back from the triggering situation and engage in relaxation practices. This will help create a space for self-awareness and emotional regulation.
Techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, or progressive muscle relaxation can calm the body’s physiological responses to stress and promote a sense of grounding.
You can gain a different perspective on the situation by deliberately directing attention away from the trigger and toward relaxation, allowing for more thoughtful and composed responses.
Exploring relaxation techniques empowers you to handle triggering moments more effectively and fosters personal growth and resilience in the face of challenging emotions.
7. Embrace humor.
Laughing can help change the heavy weight of being triggered into something lighter and more positive. You’re not laughing at what the person said or did—you’re learning how to foster a sense of humor to lessen the burden of your trauma.
Laughter brings people together, fosters meaningful connections, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and basically makes you feel better. If you can find humor or create humor in an environment where you feel triggered, you’ll feel less emotionally reactive and more self-aware.
8. Ask for clarification.
Asking for clarification when someone triggers you is a valuable communication strategy that allows for better understanding and prevents unnecessary conflicts.
When faced with a triggering situation—receiving unsolicited advice, for example—it’s natural to feel overwhelmed by your emotions and assumptions. Instead of reacting impulsively, taking a moment to seek clarification leads to a more informed perspective.
By calmly and assertively asking the person about their intentions or the meaning behind their words or actions, you create an opportunity for open dialogue and mutual understanding.
This approach can help diminish misunderstandings, uncover underlying motivations, and foster empathy. It can also help you gain perspective and increase your compassion.
Asking for clarification strengthens communication and encourages a more compassionate and empathetic response, ultimately leading to healthier and more constructive relationships with others.
9. Communicate clearly.
Clear communication is vital when a person triggers you, as it allows for honest expression of emotions and helps you to navigate complex situations.
When triggered, emotions can run high, and misinterpretations are common. By communicating clearly and openly with the person involved, you can share how their words or actions affected you and give them a chance to understand the impact of their behavior.
This can lead to increased self-awareness on their part and possibly a change in their approach in the future.
Clear communication also helps to establish healthy boundaries and set expectations for respectful interactions. When both parties can openly express their feelings and perspectives, finding common ground, resolving conflicts, and building healthier relationships becomes easier.
Moreover, clear and healthy communication reduces the chances of misunderstandings and avoids escalating tensions, which fosters trust and empathy.
Tips to communicate clearly when someone triggers you:
- Don’t let their words affect you. Focus on being honest about your feelings and speaking your truth.
- Try to remember that everyone has different lived experiences, and those experiences make up who we are. The person who triggered you might not have known something was a trigger for you. Practice not taking things too seriously and be open to other perspectives.
- Be honest and forthcoming.
- Practice active listening. Sometimes you only hear one part of something, and your brain reacts to it. Work on listening without judgment or opinions.
- Don’t be afraid to take a break when you’re overwhelmed or overstimulated.
10. Use affirmations or mantras.
Affirmations or mantras can be beneficial to navigate and cope with triggering situations. Negative emotions can quickly take over when something triggers you, leading to heightened stress and reactivity.
Affirmations are positive and empowering statements you repeat to yourself, reinforcing your self-worth, resilience, and inner strength. Mantras are similar but often focus on specific qualities or intentions you want to embody.
By incorporating affirmations or mantras into your self-talk during triggering moments, you redirect your thoughts toward positivity and self-empowerment.
These uplifting phrases can counteract the negative impact of triggering events, reminding you that you can handle challenging emotions and situations gracefully and with composure.
Affirmations and mantras create a more optimistic mindset, help you develop a thick skin, allow you to maintain perspective, and help you respond to triggers in a more balanced and constructive manner.
Affirmations or mantras to help when you’re triggered:
- I am in complete control of my emotions, and I can choose my reaction.
- I can choose inner peace over external chaos and negativity.
- I am strong, resilient, and capable of handling these emotions.
- I can do hard things. I can manage my emotions and control my reactions.
Final thoughts: don’t let the trigger turn into something bigger.
Learning how to react when someone triggers you and building a toolbox to help with your reaction are valuable skills that can lead to healthier relationships and greater emotional well-being.
Using the tips above can help you cope, care for your mental well-being, and improve your relationships.
By recognizing your triggers and practicing self-awareness, you gain insight into your emotional responses so you can better manage them.
Implementing strategies such as pausing, doing breathing exercises, increasing self-awareness, and asking for clarification allows you to communicate clearly and assertively while respecting others.
Incorporating relaxation techniques, affirmations, and mantras into your coping mechanisms empowers you to respond to triggers with composure and positivity.
Ultimately, these tips will guide you toward a more compassionate and balanced approach, fostering authentic connections and personal growth in challenging moments when you feel triggered by someone.
With practice, persistence, and dedication, you can start reacting to triggers in a way that nurtures your well-being, cares for your mental health, and enhances the quality of your interactions with others.