What to Do When You Get TriggeredYou were having a good day until…wham! You got triggered! All it took was a touch, taste, smell, sight, or sound to upset you, ruin your day, and make you react. After all, triggers are a spark that makes you feel a particular way and brings you back to the physiological trauma of a memory. Although your brain tries to block trauma from the past—whether it’s from childhood abuse, being on the battlefield, or a car accident—it can affect your body, soul, and mind in the present. Here are some steps to take the next time you experience a trigger to begin healing.

Step 1: Use Your Emotional A.I.D. Kit:

1. A-Awareness of what’s going on inside.
When triggered, your brain responds with fight, flight, or freeze. Let’s say you were bitten by a German shepherd when you were 5 years old. Decades later, when you hear a dog bark, your body tenses up. Being aware of what’s going on inside will help you connect the feeling with what happened.

2. I-Identify what’s going on inside.
Identify an area of your body where you are feeling the trigger—chest gut, or head—whether it be stress or tension. Identifying how you feel inside will help you understand how your physical body is responding to the trigger.

3. D-Disclose what’s going on inside.
You may want to ignore your triggers and keep it all to yourself…don’t! It’s important to disclose what is happening to you. Try journaling to help you notice any patterns. Next, share with a safe person, or find a New Life Counselor or Coach with whom you can disclose what’s going on. You can join a Life Recovery Group here to have a safe group of people to share your journey.

Step 2: Get Curious
Here are 5 questions to ask yourself.

  1. “What do I feel?”
    When you feel triggered, ask, “What do I feel?” For help on how to put a name to an emotion, use our Feelings Word List. If you are feeling anxious, look at the Feelings Word List and pick out 3 words. You could say, “I feel worried, tense, and troubled.” Naming your feelings helps!
  2. “Where do I feel it in my body?”
    Your brain tries to put trauma out of your memory, but your body remembers. Therefore, ask yourself where you feel it in your body. For example, if you’re angry, you might say: “I feel my cheeks are flushed, fists are clenched, and my stomach feels sick.”
  3. “Why do I feel this way?”
    Get to the root of why you are feeling the way you are. Here are a few prompts for you to consider:

    • What happened before the trigger occurred?
    • When I feel triggered, my thoughts are_____.
  4. “When have I felt like this before?”
    Try to remember when you first felt this way. What is the story behind the trigger? Sometimes a New Life Counselor specializing in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can help. Connecting your past to your present is the key to healing the old wounds that affect you today.
  5. “What do I need?”
    Reflect on what you need to heal and feel safe. Ask for what you need from others. By understanding what you need—whether it’s being heard, supported, or safety—you will experience freedom from triggers. Remember, triggers are a signal there is healing still to be done. By identifying what is happening, it can lead to understanding and healing the old wounds.

God wants you to experience freedom, as the Bible says, “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 8:36, NLT). Call us at 800-NEW-LIFE (639-5433) for help.

by Chris Williams and Dr. Jacqueline Mack-Harris

More about Chris and Jacqui.