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Know your triggers and hold fire


QUICK ON THE DRAW? Asking yourself certain questions can delay or stop explosive reactions.

Mental Matters

Jannah Walshe

Do you ever get to the end of an argument and wonder how on earth you managed to get caught up in it? Do you ever find yourself feeling so hurt and upset and wondering why you let someone else’s comments or opinions get to you so much? Or do you ever get so anxious that you thought you were having a heart attack? If so, you know what it is to be triggered.
Triggering happens when something (a trigger) causes a negative emotional response (a reaction). Usually this emotional response happens before the person even realises why they have become upset. Triggering can vary in severity and the most harmful triggering tends to happen when the trigger occurs without any warning. Triggers can be set off by our internal feelings or through external circumstances. The types of emotional reaction can be fear, anger, sadness, panic, flashbacks and pain.
Triggering is very relevant for those with other mental health disorders, including anxiety disorders, eating disorders and substance abuse. In these instances it is imperative for the person to learn their triggers, because they can lead to relapse back into harmful habits.
One way to deal with triggering is to stay curious. Curiosity is more powerful than we give it credit for. It can beat triggering because it allows us to take the time to ask questions and find out what is happening. This can delay or stop our usual reaction straight away.
How to stay curious
Keep asking questions. What is happening to me now? Why am I triggered? Why does it upset me? What am I feeling? How can I react differently?
Don’t take your feelings for granted. Don’t just accept feelings as they are. There are always many layers. Peel back the layers and see what is hiding underneath.
Look at what is happening as an opportunity. Any strong feelings and their subsequent reactions are occasions that can be used wisely, if you allow yourself to keep an open mind, investigate what is happening and allow other possibilities to emerge.
Don’t stick to the same old tired reaction. Try out new ways of responding to triggers. For example, instead of getting into a shouting match, take five minutes by yourself to calm down. Or change what you say in response to the other person. Or surprise them and show them some kindness. Experimenting with new ways of being, allows us to change and learn from what is happening.
Learn, learn and learn some more! Read up on what is happening to you. Check out your local library, get online, do workshops or talk to others. Always stay open to more information. It helps us to get another perspective. Stay interested and keep exploring further. You may surprise yourself with what you learn.
One final word – it is helpful to try the tips above, but you don’t have to do it alone. If you are feeling triggered on a regular basis and feel unable to cope with various situations or feelings that arise, it is important to make an appointment with a doctor or mental health professional to discuss your symptoms and other treatment options.

Jannah Walshe is a fully accredited psychotherapist, course facilitator and mental-health speaker based in Co Mayo. More information about Jannah can be found at