By Barb Ward

For months you have been vocal about an issue that needs to be addressed at work. You have offered numerous solutions, and nothing has been done. Now, you learn that your boss has selected a committee to address the issue and you were not invited to be a member of the group. You experience frustration and anger so intense that it is probably disproportionate to the actual offense. 

You’re driving in your car happily singing along to the radio. Then, a sad song comes on and reminds you of a loved one that passed away last year, and your mood immediately snaps to sad and melancholy.

These are examples of emotional triggers. An emotional trigger is a word, person, event, or experience that sets off an immediate emotional reaction. Not all triggers are negative, they can also stimulate happiness, such as when you smell cookies baking, or see flowers that remind you of your wedding day. However, usually the term “trigger” is used to denote negative stimuli. 

Triggers happen in the limbic, or emotional center of the brain, meaning rational explanations won’t help in the moment. This part of your brain does not process rational thought. It is what allowed early humans to survive when exposed to the constant threat of being injured or killed by wild animals or enemies. To improve the chances of survival, the fight-or-flight response fires in response to a physical danger, allowing them to react quickly without thinking. 

This fight-or-flight response can also occur in response to an emotional trigger. Your brain automatically releases adrenaline, increasing your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing as your body prepares to fight or flee. While this is a great response if your life is in danger, it’s a bit overboard if you are reacting to criticism from your boss!

In truth, emotional triggers impact each of us in our personal and professional lives. But what if you could just “chill”, and take an extra moment to assess the situation? Fortunately, you can. By digging deep and identifying your emotional triggers, you can retrain your brain to recognize a triggering experience, in turn, allowing you to consciously choose how to respond and reducing the power triggers have over you. 

Think about a recent situation where you experienced an emotional reaction in a conversation or situation. What did the voices in your head say? What physical sensation happened in your body? How did you respond? 

Our next blog will explore more about identifying triggers, noticing patterns, and managing how you respond to triggering situations. Then, as you learn to manage your emotions and reactions, you can just chill!