Does being reminded of an incident, trauma or difficult memory from your past trigger you to act or feel unlike yourself? Do you notice a change in your demeanor, attitude, physical or mental well-being when this happens? People often seek therapy to help gain the tools needed to better understand the things that set them off and how to process them. While you may not have full control over your own triggers, it is important to learn how to respond to them more skillfully to help improve the overall quality of your life.
To be triggered means that you are ‘activated’ by a certain situation. Typically, this activation shows up as increased heart rate, tension in the body, or intense emotions. It’s your own way of telling your brain that there is some sort of danger around that needs to be reacted to, which creates a “fight or flight” response. Since triggers often happen at the subconscious level, you may not even notice that you have difficulty regulating any of your own emotions or taking in new information. You may start to look at things without reason and find your emotions spiraling out of control to everyday moments.
The good news is that there are methods that can help you pull yourself out of that mindset and focus on the moment, rather than the racing thoughts going on through your brain. And while you can’t change your negative past (or the reminders of it!), it’s true that there are ways in which you can self-soothe to help regulate your emotions and reactions to them. In fact, you may not even realize that you are already using some of these grounding methods while in the moment.
So, instead of solely focusing on changing the things that trigger you, start finding ways in which you can help self-soothe to improve your reactions to them.
Read on to find 6 of our favorite ways on how to help self-soothe when you are feeling triggered!
1) Focus on your breathing.
When you start to feel like your emotions are about to take off on a roller coaster ride take a few seconds to slow down and breathe to help calm your body, mind and spirit. Take an exaggerated first deep breath by inhaling (for 3 seconds), hold your breath (for 3 seconds) and then take a deep exhale (for 3 seconds). When you take the time to focus on deep, rhythmic breathing it can send a message to your brain that you are safe and that all is well around you.
2) Find someone who you can vent and process the situation with.
Sometimes taking a minute to process what happened can open your eyes to the situation and how it affected you. The best time to process a situation is when you have cooled off and no longer feel triggered by the negative emotions. Find a friend or loved one who you can vent to about how the event or situation affected you and how to better recognize and manage them when they reoccur in the future.
Taking the time to talk through what happened while in a calm state of mind can provide clarity and help provide ways to improve your response in the future. Once you gain the ability to identify how you are triggered, you become more aware of it and can make a plan of how you can try responding to it next time.
3) Use your 5 senses to physically ground yourself.
This method allows your brain to focus on something else other than what has triggered you. When you combine this with deep breathing you will notice that by being more calm promotes a healthier state of mind. In order to practice this method identify the following:
- 5 things that you can see
- 4 things that you can touch
- 3 things that you can hear
- 2 things that you can smell
- 1 thing that you can taste
These distractions are wonderful ways to promote a sense of calmness throughout your body.
4) Progressive Muscle Relaxation.
This method specifically helps to relieve tension throughout your body by distracting your brain through relaxing different muscle groups. Focus on tensing a group of muscles, such as your shoulders, as you breathe in (hold for 4 seconds) and then relax them as you breathe out (exhale for 4 seconds). Repeat this exercise with a different set of muscle groups (ie- hands, arms, stomach, back, etc). With practice this helps lower overall tension and stress levels and helps trick your brain into thinking it has won the ‘fight’ from being triggered by allowing you to calm down.
5) Give yourself a spa-like warm bath or shower at home.
Unwinding with a warm bath or shower can help ease tension and anxious muscles. Block off at least 15 minutes in your day where you can clear your mind and decrease any stress hormones. Pop on some of your favorite music, add a bath bomb (if that’s your thing!) and enjoy some time to meditate while focusing on finding your inner peace. Think of this time as restoring your body, mind and soul.
6) Practice repeating a coping statement.
Coping statements are positive, uplifting words used to replace negative and often untrue thoughts that take over your mind when triggered. Just repeating something like ‘I can do this’ or ‘it’ll be okay’ can help with regulation, as well as providing a rhythm to breathe to.
Negative self-talk doesn’t propel you to a healthier future so work on some quick and easy to remember coping statements that you can write down and reference in a time of need. Whenever you feel like you are triggered with negative emotions pull out your coping card statements and quickly remind yourself it will all be ok.
These tips have helped many self-soothe and calm their triggers but keep in mind that these are merely a few examples. What works for one person may not work for you…so don’t be afraid to experiment! Find the ones that you connect to most and make a point to practice those when you are feeling mentally, emotionally and physically unwell.
If you have enjoyed reading our tips on how to self-soothe when you are feeling triggered but want to know more about how you can continue to work through some of the physical and mental effects your past trauma has had on you and your relationships….a great next step would be to contact us to schedule an appointment. You will be able to work with one of our therapists to explore exactly what you are experiencing and gain additional tools that are personalized to help you overcome your own obstacles.
Are you ready to achieve control of the things that normally trigger you? Solid Foundations can help! Learn more at solidfoundationstherapy.com or give us a call at 630-633-8532 today!