Emotional Triggers Can Be Terrifying: Understanding and Managing Them

Emotions are a fundamental part of our human experience. They colour our everyday lives, shaping our thoughts, actions, and relationships. While some emotions bring us joy and happiness, others can be distressing and overwhelming. I am a very emotional person, and sometimes my emotions tend to get away from me, especially when it is important to me. I am sure you can tell by my writing!

Emotional triggers fall into the latter category, often eliciting intense fear or anxiety. These triggers can be terrifying, hammering us with powerful emotions and disrupting our sense of control. I thought to share how I explored the nature of emotional triggers, their potential impact on my well-being, and strategies to effectively manage them.

Firstly, it is crucial to understand what emotional triggers are. Emotional triggers are specific experiences, situations, or even memories that elicit strong emotional responses. They can vary greatly from person to person, as what triggers one individual might not affect another. When I see anonymously written websites naming and shaming someone else, I am triggered but I appreciate that others may not be.

Triggers can originate from traumatic events, past experiences, or deep-seated fears. For example, as someone who experienced a house fire, I find the smell of burning wood highly triggering. I also find seeing someone being psychologically abused and deliberately exposed, in the contents of websites, is another…These triggers can be so potent that they cause a person to relive the emotions associated with the original event. It brings me back to those moments when I felt these strong emotions!

Do you want to know what my thought was that day in March 1991 when I was 24 years old? I was thinking about dying… The smoke was so bad, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face but I could see the bright orange glow getting brighter around the closed door. I was standing in front of the stove, not far from the window thinking that if I jumped out the window, I could die but if I stayed, I knew I definitely would. I thought of my partner who died a couple of years before, I would see him again but then I thought of my children outside watching all this unfold. I couldn’t leave them parentless… So I took the chance and jumped about 32 feet and was badly hurt, but I survived.

When confronted with an emotional trigger, I sometimes experience a range of intense emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, and panic. These emotions can manifest physically, leading to increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, or shortness of breath. The fear of losing control and being overwhelmed by these emotions can make triggers even more terrifying. Consequently, sometimes I would go to great lengths to avoid situations or stimuli that might activate my emotional triggers, thereby limiting my ability to fully engage in life. Therapy helped me get out of that thinking!

The impact of emotional triggers on our overall well-being should not be underestimated. Continuously avoiding triggers can lead to social isolation, reduced quality of life, and hindered personal growth. I became a hermit, afraid of living for just over 2 years. Furthermore, the fear and anxiety associated with triggers can often become generalized, making it challenging to identify and address the underlying emotional issues. In severe cases, emotional triggers may contribute to the development of anxiety disorders, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I was diagnosed with all of the above, PTSD with severe anxiety in 1992, once I got into counselling after the fire I had in March 1991 and I had extensive therapy until 1995 to help me learn how to manage the symptoms. I did very well for many years. In 2018, I was told my PTSD symptoms were triggered once again and I had severe depression with episodes of psychosis.

During therapy, I found strategies to effectively manage emotional triggers and reduce their terrorizing effects. Understanding my triggers is the first step. Identifying the experiences or situations that consistently provoke intense emotions allows me to anticipate potential triggers and develop coping mechanisms. Self-reflection, therapy, and support groups were valuable resources for gaining insight into the root causes of my triggers.

Once triggers are identified, implementing healthy coping mechanisms becomes essential. I learned techniques such as deep breathing, grounding exercises, and mindfulness which help regulate emotions and restore a sense of control in triggering situations. Seeking professional help from therapists or counsellors specialized in trauma or anxiety can provide additional support and guidance.

I faced my fears. Gradual exposure to triggers, when done in a controlled and supportive environment, can also be an effective strategy. Known as exposure therapy, it involves gradually confronting the feared stimuli or situations, allowing individuals to build resilience and reduce the fear response associated with their triggers. I spent the summer of 2021 doing many things that helped me face my triggers to get past them! I put myself in social situations to show myself I had nothing to fear from them.

Support from loved ones is vital in navigating the challenges of emotional triggers. Talking openly and honestly about your triggers with trusted individuals can foster understanding and empathy. My many loved ones offered comfort, and reassurance, and were a source of strength during many of my difficult moments. Building a strong support network is particularly beneficial for those recovering from trauma or managing emotional triggers in their daily lives.

My husband has been my biggest support and he has learned and grown with me over the past 28 years. He is always there to listen to me and it has helped me immeasurably!

Emotional triggers can be terrifying, but they do not control my life. By facing them head-on, seeking professional help, and implementing healthy coping mechanisms, I have gained power over my triggers and maintained my emotional well-being. I took control of my own life and my reactions to situations that occur within it.

Remember, it is essential to be patient and compassionate with yourself throughout this journey. With time and effort, you can overcome the terror provoked by emotional triggers and create a more fulfilling and empowered life!


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