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What Can I Do When I Feel Triggered?

What Can I Do When I Feel Triggered?

When we are in the midst of an emotional trigger, frustratingly, we oftentimes aren’t in a place to reason our way through the moment. You may notice an alteration in your physiology, such as a change in your heartbeat, breathing, and/or sweating. Ideally, both branches of our nervous system work in harmony to maintain internal balance and, when faced with a challenge, respond together and appropriately in relation to the context. However, when one branch or the other is overused, it may become our “default” response system over time.

When our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) becomes the typical way we deal with environmental stressors, our emotions, feelings, and affects might heighten as well as the ways we respond to such stimuli. When this response is triggered, you might find it hard to return to a balanced state. We can help ourselves by consciously activating the system that allows us to relax and rest, the parasympathetic nervous system. In the same way that our beating heart and breathing lungs are rhythmic, we can bring balance to our nervous system by thinking about rhythm. Luckily, because rhythm is everywhere, we can get creative with this and adjust it to our surroundings.


Think Rhythm

· Breathe deeply, keeping it measured and repetitive, slowing your breath to about six breaths per minute (See “Paced Breathing” below)

· Throw a ball back and forth with someone

· Play music and dance or gently sway to it

· Hum, chant, rap, sing

· Rhythmically tap around the collarbone (this is called EFT for more information, and this video is helpful)

Practice TIPP Skills

o Temperature

· Hold your breath

· Place bags of water or ice on your eyes, cheeks, and forehead, or put your face in a bowl of cold water

· Hold for 30 seconds

o Intense Exercise

· Engage in short, intense physical activity

· Expend your body’s stored up physical energy

o Paced Breathing

o Breathing exercise: Box breathing

· Breathe in for 4 seconds

· Hold for 4 seconds

· Breathe out for 4 seconds

· Hold for 4 seconds

· Repeat




o Paired Muscle Relaxation

· Breathe deeply into the belly

· Deeply tense your body muscles

· Breathe out while saying “relax” in your mind

· Let go of the tension

· Notice the difference in physical sensation, then repeat


Once we’ve done those steps, we’re ready to start thinking again. This is when we can move into asking ourselves what feelings the trigger is bringing up. If the trigger is brought up in a conversation, we can practice communicating what we’re feeling, saying, “I feel _____ when you _____ because _______.” This is also the time to notice what situations we’ve been avoiding while we were triggered. We can reintegrate into them with the knowledge that we’re safe now.



Jacob Lundy is a Mental Health Student Intern at Cypress Wellness Center. He began pursuing a Bachelor in Psychology from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and deeply fell in love with therapy when he finally went to therapy himself in his senior year. He has ten years of teaching experience including music, special education, and ESL. He also has three years of experience working as a personal service worker, showing comfort to autistic individuals. He's now pursuing a Master in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Adams State University.


Thaina Cordero is the care coordinator at Cypress Wellness Center. Reach out for questions about our services, our team, fees, scheduling, and any assistance you need in finding the right therapist for your needs.

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