What Triggers You? Tips for Controlling Your Emotions When Things Don’t Go as Expected

One of the keys to successfully navigating a big transition in your life or career is emotional intelligence, especially self-awareness and emotional self-control. Without the ability to regulate your emotions, you cannot think clearly under stress, much less inspire yourself to create a better future for you and your family.

To be emotionally competent, we first need to understand what triggers us, and then know how to choose how we wish to respond. Yes, we do have a choice in how to react to any emotionally stressful situation. But it’s a skill that requires self-discovery, self-awareness, and practice to learn how to react in an appropriate way. Here are 5 tips for controlling your emotions when things don’t go as expected:

1) Discover Your Emotional Triggers

What triggers you? Think about the last few incidents that upset you … people who made you impatient, angry, or lose your cool. You may discover that anyone who does something that violates your core values will trigger you to react emotionally. Here are some examples:

a)  If Mutual Respect is one of your core values, you will get triggered when someone does something you perceive as disrespectful.
b)  If Customer Service is a core value for you, you will get angry if a restaurant waiter ignores you or messes up your order.
c)  If Work Ethic is important to you, you will get very annoyed when a co-worker appears to be slacking off during work hours.

2) Re-Calibrate Your Expectations (Without Lowering Your Standards)

We tend to get thrown off-track when things don’t go as we expected. Since you may not be able to control other people’s actions, the next best way to prevent a nasty surprise is to adjust your expectations. Imagine that there is a good reason that things are different than you expected, therefore perhaps a pleasant surprise.

If you alter your expectations of how your ex-husband will behave around you, you might not get as angry when you see him. If you adjust your expectations of customer service at a popular restaurant during peak lunch hour, you’re more likely to stay calm when the service is slow. If you re-calibrate your expectations of how the audience will behave when you’re giving a presentation, you’re more likely to be able to handle any rude behavior and challenging questions.

This doesn’t mean you’re giving in or compromising your standards. You’ll still have high standards for customer service, for example, but you’ll be able to set more realistic expectations so that you won’t get so emotionally triggered when encountering poor service. Instead, you’ll be able to calmly provide feedback to their management about the service you experienced.

3) Distract Your Brain

When we get triggered, our Amygdala (“reptilian brain”) hits the panic button to cause a “flight or fight” response to the perceived threat. It floods our brain with stress hormones, mainly cortisol. These stress hormones stay in our bodies for hours, causing us to be even more emotionally sensitive during that time. In continuous high stress situations, our stress hormones can reach a toxic level, killing off neurons in the brain (impacting your ability to think clearly) and destroying your body’s immune system.

Fortunately, you can “distract your emotional brain” with some simple techniques such as:

  • Take a few deep breaths … The extra oxygen serves to re-set your brain.
  • Sip some ice water … The shock of the cold water will momentarily distract your right brain, allowing your left brain to regain control.
  • Stand in a power pose … Studies have shown that by opening up your arms and standing in a powerful stance, your self-confidence will increase.

That momentary distraction will help you to regain your composure and decide the best way to respond to the situation.

4) Choose Your Response

The key to emotional self-control is knowing that you can choose how to react to any emotionally stressful situation. What is the most appropriate response to the situation at hand? What does this situation call for? And what do you want the experience to be? Sometimes, the best thing to do is to not say anything, even though you may want to express your anger or frustration. Other times, you can say “Let’s talk about it tomorrow, OK?,” giving you more time to think and process your surprise.

When you find yourself reacting emotionally, you can also calm yourself down with some soothing self-talk. Talk (silently) to yourself as if you were comforting your best friend. What would you say to her if she were in your shoes?

If you have time to think in advance of possible outcomes of a difficult conversation or meeting or event, you can prepare what to say if something goes awry. Think about possible scenarios, and plan how you would respond in each case. This allows you to be more mentally and emotionally prepared in case the situation doesn’t go as you expected.

5) Develop Emotional Resilience

Developing emotional resilience takes practice. Even if you understand your triggers and learn how to re-set your expectations to prevent upsets, you may still get triggered. The tips described above will help handle those stressful situations. With continued awareness and practice, you’ll learn to bounce back more quickly so that your emotions won’t get in the way of your day to day activities and transition plans.
Think about what big changes YOU’d like to make in your life. Do you want to uplevel your career? Start a business? Find a new special relationship? Create a new beginning after a big transition? There’s no better time than now to reflect upon your life and set/embark on a new path. Consider hiring a personal coach to help you brainstorm your options, define your goals and action plans, overcome your fears and mental blocks, and to hold you accountable so that you will make a big leap forward. For a complimentary consultation, go to http://wingsforwomen.net/consultation-request-form.
Keiko Hsu
Wings for Women

One Response to What Triggers You? Tips for Controlling Your Emotions When Things Don’t Go as Expected

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