How to Recognize Emotional Triggers

How to Recognize Emotional Triggers

What are Emotional Triggers?

Emotional triggers can be memories, people, or objects that bring out intense negative emotions. It can affect anyone at any time. For example, some people may be triggered by getting into an elevator because of a fear of heights. Some people may be afraid of public speaking and will get upset if called upon to make a presentation. Some youth you work with may be afraid if someone puts their hand on their shoulder because they have been abused.

I am sure you are familiar with the following symptoms when your emotions are being triggered:

  • Dizziness, chest pain, rapid heart rate, stomach upset, shaking, anger, anxiety, sadness.

Triggers come from anxiety, trauma or anger.


Steps to Deal with Emotional Triggers

These suggestions may help you if you are dealing with emotional triggers and they will help the at-risk youth you work with.

  1. Identify Your trigger and your responses: If you feel an emotion think about what you are feeling (angry, sad, jealous) and take stock of the physical feelings you are having (breathing quickly, heart pounding, hot). By doing this you will identify the trigger. This takes practice.
  2. Think about what caused it. Think back to what you were doing before you got upset. Did you feel the emotion coming on. What made you feel unhappy?
  3. Take Action - Decide if you need to express your emotions. Sometimes it’s enough to just think about how you feel, but sometimes you will want to do something to feel better. Think about the best way to express your emotions. Is this the time when you need to gently confront someone else or maybe talk it over with a friend or work off the feeling by going for a run.
  4. If you have trouble and you can’t think about what triggered your emotion. Start again with numbers 1 and 2.

If the youth are unable to do this after trying on many different emotions they have over time, maybe a professional mental health counselor should intervene.


Common Situations that Trigger Intense Emotions in At-Risk Youth

  • Rejection.
  • Betrayal.
  • Unjust treatment.
  • Challenged beliefs.
  • Helplessness or loss of control.
  • Being excluded or ignored.
  • Disapproval or criticism.
  • Feeling unwanted or unneeded.


How to Build Positive Emotions

In working with at-risk youth, building positive emotions is very important. Help the youth notice and focus on something good in their life. – even little things. Noticing good things when one feels bad can help you shift from negative to positive. ARISE has a Life Skills curriculum that can help the youth build positive feelings about themselves.

Four Wheel Drive for the Mind: Self-Esteem (Book 1) - Instructor's Manual