When your emotions and senses are heightened, try these tips

‘Being triggered’ usually refers to encountering something – a place, action, sound, smell, picture, or anything else – causing someone to recall a traumatic experience from their past. When someone is triggered, they may have a very intense emotional reaction. They might panic, feel overwhelmed, cry, withdraw, become angry, tense, or distressed.

If this sounds familiar, it’s worth considering reaching out to a mental health professional – if you haven’t already – so that they can work with you one-on-one to explore your individual experiences and circumstances. But here, we’ve teamed up with integrative counsellor and psychotherapist Belinda Sidhu, to share some initial advice for coping with being triggered.

Come back to the present moment

“Often, when we feel triggered or experience an intense emotional reaction, we may no longer feel we are ‘here’, and the fight/flight/freeze response can kick in,” Belinda says. “Reminding ourselves that we are safe, and finding a helpful way to ground ourselves can help us come back to the here and now.”

Belinda notes one way of doing this, which is by using our senses to name: five things we can see; four things we can touch; three things we can hear; two things we can smell; and one thing we can taste, or are grateful for. You may also want to try repeating affirmations to yourself, such as ‘I am safe,’ ‘I am present,’ ‘I am in control.’

Focus on your breathing

Sometimes, when we’re feeling out of control, one of the best things we can do is to turn our focus back to the things that we can control – and zoning in on your breathing does just that, as well as setting off some powerful psychophysiological mechanisms.

Breathing techniques can be a helpful way to regulate our nervous system,” Belinda explains. “They can activate our parasympathetic nervous system that promotes the ‘rest and digest’ response (the opposite to the fight/flight/freeze).

“There are many different breathing exercises out there. Box, or square, breathing is a simple yet powerful technique that you can do just about anywhere, and which takes seconds to practise.”

Belinda points to an article published in Frontiers in Psychology, which showed how ‘box breathing’ was able to lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as reduce anxiety and stress, and increase attention levels.

Ready to give it a go? Inhale to a count of four, hold for four, exhale to a count of four, hold for four, and repeat for several rounds.

Remember that a trigger is information

“By asking curious questions, we can start to understand our triggers, and through this process, they can become easier to spot and deal with,” Belinda explains. “You may find it helpful to do this through journaling, or through speaking with a therapist.

“Some questions which may be helpful to ask are: What is this trigger telling me? When did I first feel this way? What does this remind me of? What thoughts came with these feelings?”

This too shall pass

When we’re going through the peak of intense emotions, it can be very difficult to see the other side. But, it is there.

“If you can, leave the room or situation in which you feel triggered, and remember that no feeling lasts forever,” Belinda suggests. “No matter how intense or upsetting you may feel when triggered, knowing that this feeling will pass can help us to maintain perspective.”

Seek support

“It can feel lonely when you’re struggling to manage your feelings and emotions. If you feel it is beginning to affect your ability to live your life as fully as you would like, remember you are not alone, and there is support available,” Belinda says.

Who are the people in your life who you can turn to in difficult times? Can you let them know what your triggers are, and teach them how to spot the signs that you have been triggered? It’s OK to lean on others for support. In fact, it’s more than just OK, it’s essential.

If you are struggling with your mental health, visit the Counselling Directory for more information or speak to a qualified counsellor.

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