By Marcus Mottley, PhD
Everyone has their own anger ‘triggers’. These are the things that lead to them being irritated, frustrated, annoyed, upset or just plain angry. You could probably list your own triggers right now—little emotional ‘shtuff’ like clutter, other people’s ‘bad’ habits and small things that people do that annoy you, or having to wait on someone who is late. Maybe you can’t stand a particular word or phrase, you don’t function well if a room is not set to your ‘liking’, or you find it impossible to work if there is noise. The thing about triggers is that they are often small things that tip you over the edge, and before you know it, you’ve lost your temper over something that in the scheme of things, doesn’t really matter that much.
Here are four approaches you can take to manage your anger triggers better.
The first thing is to realize that you are totally in control of how you react. Pay attention to your responses and begin to notice what triggers your negative responses. Then you can begin to resolve your reactions and take more control. You can anticipate and plan for situations where you know you’re likely to blow your top. In other words, thus far, your triggers have been controlling you. Now YOU need to take control of those triggers and neutralize their power over you.
Be conscious of how your anger manifests in your body. Likely your heart rate will go up, your hands might tighten and your jaw will clench. You might feel breathless or even get a stomachache. You may start feeling restless, your lips may tighten and you may begin to feel a throb in your neck.
First, tune into the signals that your body is sending. Notice the circumstances under which these signals appear. Reflect, back on the triggers that started the process. Commit to intervening into this process. Then, gradually learn to stop the process of reacting to whatever the triggers were. And remember the feelings themselves aren’t ‘bad’. But how you choose to respond to those feelings can be harmful, even destructive. So let’s be clear… YOU choose to respond one way or another. It is YOUR choice.
Instead of sweeping the papers off your desk onto the floor, pounding the desk, throwing dishes across the room or yelling, or shutting down and withdrawing, take a deep breath or go for a walk.
Sometimes the feeling of being triggered is associated with physiological events that may be related to the release of hormones or even associated with things like an illness, low blood sugar, fatigue, or dehydration. Taking care of your physical needs can help you manage your emotional needs as well and make you more resilient and respond more appropriately to stressors and triggers.
As indicated above it is important to interrupt the trigger response. Once you do that then you can start to identify what it was that set it off in the first place. Did you feel disrespected? Unheard? Were you mistreated or misunderstood? If someone pushed in front of you in the line at the grocery store, was someone too close to you and not social distancing far enough away from you…? Whatever it is, what did it signal to you? How did you interpret it to mean? What were the thoughts in your head saying? What associations did you make? For example, did you interpret ‘cutting in front’ of you in the line at the grocery to mean that they did not respect you? And if it was disrespect, so what?
What about if someone talks over you or interrupts in a meeting? As well as potentially labeling that as being rude, did you also feel sidelined or even feel humiliated?
What will you do the next time these things occur? Will you allow the same emotions to be triggered? How could you have handled those feelings as they arose?
Whatever your triggers might be, it’s totally up to you how you react. You can anticipate how you might feel and what you might do or say in response. You may take a deep breath, detach from the situation, and focus on how you want to feel. You can choose to stay calm in triggering situations – it is up to you.
The point, however, is to practice doing that now. Role play and rehearse it in your mind. Mentally rehearse how you want to respond the next time. See and feel yourself doing it. Talk it through.
To learn more about how you can control your emotional responses to ‘shtuff’, you can check out these 3 free videos and a get free ebook from Dr. Marcus Mottley.