Identifying Emotional Triggers and Building Resilience with Self-Regulation

by | Mar 18, 2024 | Life Lessons

Emotional triggers are everywhere – during a disagreement with a loved one, the moment you’re cut off in traffic, or even while scrolling through social media. These moments test us, but with self-regulation, you have the power to navigate these challenges. It’s a skill that takes practice and patience, but mastering it can significantly enhance your happiness and wellbeing. Let’s dive into how to turn these triggers into opportunities for growing a positive mindset and building personal resilience – two components of the Aha! Life.

“There never has been, and cannot be, a good life without self-control.”
~
Count Leo Tolstoy

Do you find yourself becoming emotionally triggered by a social media post, the political discourse, a coworker, or perhaps a family member? I’ve thought a lot about this topic of self-regulation because I’ve had to practice a lot of it lately. Let me tell you why.

I’ll admit, I’m not looking forward to the upcoming November election. The negative campaigning and disrespectful social media comments are already getting me down. It’s disheartening to see the lack of civility in our discourse. But I’m not innocent either. Sometimes, when I read a comment that I disagree with, I feel the urge to fire back with my own disparaging comments. And a few times I have. More often than not, this leads to a back-and-forth of negativity that only leaves me feeling drained and upset – mostly upset with myself that I engaged in the first place and let myself get emotionally triggered.

Recently, however, I came across a quote that really resonated with me: “I am unbothered, and that is my superpower.” It made me realize that being unbothered doesn’t mean I don’t care about the issues at hand. Rather, it means that I refuse to be pulled into negativity and be controlled by my emotions. This realization has led me to explore the topic of self-regulation further, and I invite you to reflect on your own experiences with it as well.

Negative emotions can stem from a variety of sources, and the current election cycle is just one of them. In comparison to some others, it may seem insignificant. For instance, feeling disrespected or rejected by someone you love, a misunderstanding between you and a friend, not getting the promotion you feel you deserve, a troubling health diagnosis, or even something as seemingly trivial as getting cut off in traffic or losing your place in line can all trigger negative emotions. If we don’t learn how to control our emotions, they can easily spiral out of control, which is why it’s important to learn how to regulate them.

Maintaining a positive mindset and developing personal resiliency are two essential components of an Aha! Life, and self-regulation is a crucial aspect of achieving these goals. In the upcoming paragraphs, we will delve into what self-regulation means and explore ways to practice it. Before we go there, I want to be open and transparent with you. Prior to writing this blog, I wrote something in my journal that I want to share with you:

“Writing today on self-regulation. I need this topic. Through my writing, I pray I experience a release or an insight that helps me and leads to my healing. And I pray that anyone who reads the blog will find it a healing balm for them as well.”

So, my fellow sojourner, let’s tackle self-regulation and build our personal resiliency together. I’m going to share with you some of the things that I’ve been practicing and learning. While I’m obviously not an expert on this topic, I can sense that I’m making progress in managing my emotions. I feel much better than before when I used to be overwhelmed by negative feelings. So, let’s dive in and learn together.

What is Self-Regulation?

Self-regulation is the ability to control oneself by oneself. It has two types: emotional and behavioral. Emotional self-regulation means keeping one’s emotions in check and resisting impulsive behaviors that could worsen one’s situation and cheering oneself up when feeling down. Behavioral self-regulation is acting in one’s long-term best interests and in alignment with one’s values. Someone with good self-regulation has a flexible range of emotional and behavioral responses that are well matched to the situation and the demands of their environment. (1)

The good news is we already know how to self-regulate in many areas of our lives, such as getting up each day and going to work, even when we don’t feel like it. Or resisting fried foods and pizza because you are on a journey to live healthier. (That’s my story too). With the social media example I shared earlier in this article, I’m learning to keep scrolling when I encounter a triggering message. You can do the same when you experience emotional triggers that could lead you to say something or act in ways that are incongruent with your values and how you want to show up. It takes practice.

Self-Regulation versus Self-Control

Self-regulation and self-control are two important constructs that are often used interchangeably but have significant differences. Self-regulation is a subconscious process that involves reducing the frequency and intensity of strong impulses by managing our stress-load and recovery. Self-control is a more active and conscious set of decisions and behaviors that involve inhibiting strong impulses.

As psychologist Stuart Shanker (2016) suggests, “self-regulation is what makes self-control possible, or, in many cases, unnecessary.” (2)

Effective self-regulation involves three critical elements: (3)

  1. identifying trigger points and monitoring them to understand how they influence our emotions and behaviors,
  2. assessing and evaluating our behavior according to our values and cultural norms, and
  3. reacting to our behavior by determining whether it aligns with our desired outcomes.

By mastering self-regulation, we can gain better control over our impulses and build resilience to overcome the challenges of life. It is a crucial skill that can help us achieve our goals, manage stress, and thrive in our personal and professional lives.

Strategies to Identify Emotional Triggers and Build Resilience with Self-Regulation

Have you experienced any emotional triggers lately? It’s safe to say that it isn’t a pleasant experience in that moment. In such situations, we tend to act in ways that we’re not proud of, and it’s not a healthy response. When you’re in an emotionally triggering moment, you may feel your heart racing, your muscles tensed, and the stress mounting. Our goal should be to develop resilience so that we can do as this famous quote says, “Keep calm and carry on.”

Here are 7 strategies that can help you recognize emotional triggers and build greater resilience with self-regulation:

  1. Self-monitoring: As stated earlier, monitoring emotional triggers and the emotions they conjure up for you is a first step. A strategy is to keep track of your behaviors, emotions, and thoughts through journaling. This awareness can highlight patterns and triggers, helping you to make positive changes.
  2. Cognitive Reappraisal: Change the way you think about a situation to alter its emotional impact. This involves reframing negative thoughts into more positive or neutral ones.
  3. Mindfulness and Meditation: Engage in mindfulness practices to stay present and reduce reactivity to emotional triggers. Meditation, or taking a deep breath when feeling triggered can help calm the mind and improve focus.
  4. Set Personal Boundaries: Learn to say no and set limits with others to protect your time, energy, and emotional wellbeing. Often, we are triggered because someone crossed a boundary that we haven’t expressed to them. It’s our responsibility to set and communicate our boundaries.
  5. Positive Self-Talk: Replace critical or negative self-talk with affirmations or positive statements about yourself and your abilities to boost confidence and reduce negative emotions. Talk yourself through a triggering moment.
  6. Practice “I” Messages: Learn to express your emotions clearly without placing blame on yourself or others. “I” messages sound like: “I feel  _____  when_____ because____ . What I need is _____.  Example: “I feel disrespected when you interject before I’ve finished talking because it seems as though you are not listening to me and what I’m saying is not important to you. What I need is to finish my thoughts before you respond. That way I know you’ve heard me and are taking my thoughts into account.”
  7. Emotional Awareness: Closely tied to the previous strategy, recognize and label your emotions as they arise. Understanding what you feel and why can help you choose how to respond more effectively. For example, “I’m feeling sad and heartbroken because I ended a relationship that I had high hopes for.” Getting clear about your emotions can lead you to consider what you’ve learned in the process and what actions you can take to deal with the situation, heal, or move on.

These strategies have been proven useful to me and many people. However, implementing them requires practice and patience. It’s best to start with one or two techniques and gradually incorporate more into your routine as you become comfortable with them. Over time, these strategies can help you regulate your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively, and build your resilience. You’ll feel better, show up better, and improve your relationships with yourself and others.

Do you have a strategy that helps you to identify and manage emotional triggers? I’d love to know what works for you. Email me at tonya@yourahalife.com. Thank you for being on this journey with me.

—————————————-

  1. Ackerman, C.E. (2018). What is Self-Regulation? PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved from https://www.positivepsychology.com/self-regulation/
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.

How did you find this blog? I’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, or any specific topics you’d like me to cover in future articles. Please feel free to email me at tonya@yourahalife.com. Your feedback is invaluable in helping me make the Your Aha! Life blog as relevant and engaging as possible for you.

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This is the year of AWE!

Tonya
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