#26 - How to Respond to Triggers

No matter who you are, you have triggers.

By triggers I mean things, people, places, thoughts, etc. that take you out of the moment and trigger you to go into a state of extreme emotion.

When you get triggered, your body and your emotional brain (your limbic system) have literally shut off your logical brain (your prefrontal cortex).

The part of your brain that can help you make a thought-out choice (prefrontal cortex) is no longer in control. Your limbic brain has taken over, and it’s sending all kinds of new chemicals into your body to prepare your body to fight a foe or run away from danger.

This is called an amygdala hijack. The amygdala is the part of your brain that controls the limbic system. It’s the oldest part of our brain, commonly called the “monkey brain”.

The amygdala knows how to do 3 things: fight, flight or freeze. So when your amygdala is in control of your behavior, you’re pretty limited in what you’re able to do.

You’ve essentially gone from being a 21st century logical thinking human to being a prehistoric primordial ape. Good luck making good decisions.

In these situations, rather than try to operate with your emotionally triggered brain, sometimes it’s best to remove yourself from a situation.

Today, I was triggered by someone I know saying something to me that really rubbed me the wrong way. When I tried to tell this person how rude I thought they were speaking to me, I was totally shut down.

And that triggered me.

Luckily, the other person shut down the conversation before we kept going. That’s a good thing because we were both in an emotionally agitated state.

My whole body was vibrating, and I felt a lot of anger, which rarely happens to me.

Rather than stay in the situation, I removed myself. I went to a different place. I journaled what I was feeling and thought about how I wanted to respond and then meditated for 30 minutes to calm myself down.

After 30 minutes of meditation, I could feel my state going back to a calm place. I used a compassion meditation to wish this person well.

I almost started laughing at myself for how silly it was that I was angry over something small.

As it would have it, this person ended up coming up to me later and we had a talk about what happened. We had an amazing conversation, talked through things that had been building emotional tension between us, and walked away in a better place.

It turns out this person originally shut down the conversation because they knew they were getting triggered. Even though it came off as rude, it was a smarter choice than allowing the conversation to escalate in a way that would trigger a regrettable action.

Thus, in this scenario, both this person and I used mindfulness to avoid letting triggers escalate into more heated emotional states.

Mindfulness helps you recognize your triggers coming on. It can save you from reacting in a way you later forget.

Sometimes, you should remove yourself when you recognize you’re being triggered. Sometimes, creating space is better than letting your emotions take over. Giving yourself time to calm down can help you access your prefrontal cortex and make a good decision.

It’s good to know your triggers. It can help you to recognize them before you experience an amygdala hijack.

We all have triggers. What are yours?