4 Steps to calm down when triggered

After triggered, it can be difficult to calm down. Use the following steps to control your reaction: (1) pause/become aware of your triggered state, (2) remove yourself from the situation, (3) decompress, and (4) reflect.

Minions from Despicable Me playing a joke with yellow paint.
Minions from Despicable Me a playing a joke and being triggered. Photo by Justin Lim on Unsplash.

It happens to all of us. Somebody says something and all of a sudden we feel this overwhelming uncomfortable feeling in the pits of our stomachs: an extreme emotion (anger, sadness, irritability, etc.) or a combination of physical sensations and emotions. For me I feel angry and become defensive as if I’m going to war (it’s not a pretty sight y’all).

But how do we calm down after being immediately triggered? It’s difficult to do shadow or any other type of work once we’re in this state (for those of us new to this type of inner work, it’s best for us to learn how to control our reactions first, then do the necessary work on addressing the trigger). What are some ways we can control ourselves, our emotions, and our reactions in the moment? See 4 steps below:

Step 1: Pause and recognize that you are triggered

Now this may sound easy, but when you’re flooded with emotions/physical sensations because you are triggered, it could be hard to recognize this is what happened. You may want to immediately cry, punch a wall, get super combative with the person in front of you, etc.

When we are having these thoughts and feelings, it’s hard to recognize that we are triggered. When these feelings and thoughts begin bubbling up, pause. Pause before adding anything to the conversation or making your next action. It’s difficult because you want to immediately react, give into the sensation. Get back at the person who triggered you. Anything really that will take your focus away from the uncomfortable feelings raging inside.

During this pause, see if you can sense a shift within your body, mental state, or emotions. And don’t forget, everybody’s triggers look different for everyone. Some people may want to burst into uncontrollable tears, some may want to run away, some become super angry (I’m part of this camp), etc.

I remember once when triggered I had so much anger I quite literally slammed my hand against the hard marble table (when I was by myself to let it out)….yea, that didn’t work out too well for my hand y’all.

Step 2: Remove yourself from the situation where the trigger happened

Okay guys, now we know we’re in a triggered state (we’re feeling lots of emotions, irritability, etc), it’s safe to say that you should take yourself out of the situation that caused the trigger. If you don’t do this, you run the risk of the same situation continuing to trigger you (trust me I’ve been there and it’s not pretty).

Depending on where you became triggered, it can be hard to make a speedy exit. Maybe you’re at a party, talking to someone, at a family dawat, in the car, or with someone on the phone. You may have to get creative with your excuses to leave (or if in the car, mentally check out).

Here are some examples to help on your speedy getaway from the situation:

  • “I’ll just step outside to get some fresh air, be right back.”
  • “I need to take a quick phone call.”
  • “I need to use the bathroom.”
  • “I’ll just be back.”
  • If in the car: I’m going to listen to some music *puts headphones in and disengages from the conversation happening in the car*
  • If in the car: *Starts scrolling on instagram and disengages from the conversation happening in the car* 

Now dosts, all of the above are acceptable and you can of course make your own. The important thing is, if you are in an active conversation with someone, to excuse yourself from the situation in a neutral or positive manner (whatever available at the time) and leave. Get outta there holmes!

3. Breaaaathe, it’s time to decompress from the triggered state

Once out of that situation (great job!!), now is the time to decompress/go to your happy place (or as close to your happy place as you can get). Breathe it out dosts ❤️. You’ll notice many of us will want to stay in this triggered state because we want to deal with it then and there, but what point will you make when you’re in such a state? You may end up hurting others or doing something you regret later. (And psssst, follow these steps and we will address the trigger at the end, promise 😉).

Decompressing looks different for each person. Decompressing means doing something that brings you back to a “normal” state of thinking clearly/normal emotion levels (aka you don’t react out of pure stimuli around you, if someone can say something to you and you can’t control what comes out of your mouth? Maybe you need more time to decompress). But again, this is very personal-based, so you decide what your normal is!

The goal is to calm your nervous system to a manageable state. Some activities can include:

  • Scrolling through Tik Tok
  • Watching TV
  • Listening to your favorite song/album
  • Venting to your best friend (Pro tip: ask them if they’re emotionally available for you to vent before dumping on them!)
  • Gymming/working out
  • 5 minute meditation on Youtube (kudos to you if you can do this, I typically try to watch tv and can’t get to this immediately haha)
  • Eating your comfort foods (my guilty pleasure is a 5 guys burger 😋)

Do what works for you! The main point of this time is to center yourself and calm your nervous system down.

There are no right/wrong answer here dosts, try out different things until one of them works! (And trust me, no one is shaming you for scrolling through Tik Tok for hours on end, I was just there the other day after triggered…😂). For more information on how to ground yourself back to your surroundings, click on the article here!

Also I want to say, depending on your personal situation/trigger, it can take days if not weeks to calm down. Sometimes I go to bed at night still trying to decompress from my trigger and continue recuperating the next day. There is nothing wrong with how long it takes for your nervous system to come back to a normal state, you are beautiful and magnificent exactly how you are ❤️.

4. Observe the trigger/situation….aka reflect reflect reflect!

Honestly y’all, this may be one of the hardest steps in our journey. After you calming and entering a normal state for your nervous system (you’re not over-flooded with emotions/you can analyze thoughts/rationalize/enough time has passed since the incident, etc), it’s time to think back on that time and evaluate: what happened? What was the trigger? A comment? A situation? A result? What made you feel that certain way?

When evaluating the situation, it’s helpful to do the 4 W’s and 1 H (yupp, I’m taking you back to school amigos). Think about:

  • What happened?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How did it happen?

This is a great start to studying the situation, but after this I want you to take it one step further (because I know you can):

Why were you triggered?

This is the question we want to answer folks and answering this can bring us back to a vulnerable place back in our childhoods, a traumatic experience, a difficult period, etc. I recommend journaling on this one, talking to trusted friends*, talking it over with your therapist, running on it (I’m a runner and my runs have become meditative over the years!), etc.

You can, of course, choose to ignore the reflection step. This is your life, I have no right to tell you what to do with it! But if you don’t want to be triggered again by the same stimulus, this reflection step is vital. It may take a long time to work on one trigger, but that’s okay! I find solace in the fact that I’m actually doing something about my own behavior and trauma, rather than controlling my life to where I’m never triggered (I’ve tried this, it was pretty unsuccesful haha 😂). This is where the real work begins!

This entire process is super difficult but necessary, however I have NO DOUBT you can do this. You got this dosts. And I’ll be along for the ride if you so choose ❤️. (Psssstt, this step is also a good way to show your love for yourself, check out my post on how you love yourself here!).

The Eagle River in Vail, Colorado with green trees, snow, and running water.
The Eagle River in Vail, Colorado with green trees, snow, and running water.

One of my triggered experiences

I always learn better through examples amigos, so let me give you a quick example of one of my triggered experiences and how I helped myself calm down:

  1. My mom did my laundry for me one night (to give context, this is a boundary I have set with her multiple times and there was a breach of this boundary) 
  2. I came home to see this and immediately got angry. This triggered me. I said 1-2 sentences to my mom (not in the most nice tone I may add), and immediately went upstairs. I knew I needed to begin decompressing after realizing my trigger activated.
  3. I felt a surge of anger overcome me and my heart racing: I paced from my room to my bathroom to the laundry room. I even hit my hand on the laundry room table (made of marble dosts…..) because I needed to release some frustration and let out a quiet scream. 
  4. I went to my room and locked my door (aka I left the situation/scenario) and turned on the tv. While watching tv I proceeded to do my best to start taking deep breaths (dosts this was really hard because I wanted to be angry 😡).
  5. After about 15-25 minutes I calmed down and started taking interest in the show I was watching (I honestly can’t remember which show it was right now), but I instantly started feeling better. 
  6. After coming to a calm state, I revisited the situation in my head. What happened? Oh that’s right, my mom texted me earlier asking about the laundry and there was some miscommunication in our texts, so there wasn’t a breach of the boundary I set. Why do I get triggered if my mom does my laundry? Because I worked ridiculously hard to become independent, and as a 29 year old I feel proud that I can take care of myself, including cooking, cleaning, groceries, life, etc. 

Welp, there’s my life story out on the internet haha (sorry mom, I love you!).

I’m on this journey with you dosts and none of us are perfect. And yes, later I did apologize to my mom for being terse and said I’m working on my own reactions when triggered. 

Annywaaaysss it’s super normal to be triggered, it’s part of what makes us humans (honestly I think if you were never triggered you may be a cyborg). But these steps will def help you get onto the path of controlling your reactions when triggered (woo hoo 🥳)! 

Signing off with peace, patience, and love, 

Heens

Psssst, I’d like to point out and reiterate that I am not a mental health professional and this is not a form of therapy. These posts are based on my experiences and helped me in my journey. There are local websites available for professional mental health services.

*Notice how I put “trusted friend”: this doesn’t only mean someone you built a relationship with but also signifies someone who supports your growth. Don’t go to people who will dismiss this or are not willing to hear you out when you’re working so hard towards improving yourself, all of us at Brown Girl Gupshup are rooting for you to become the best version of YOU. You got this!! 🥳

Mental Health, Uncategorized

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