What to Do When You’re Triggered?

Earlier in the week, a series of events unfolded in a group, the details of which are irrelevant. The outcome is where I’m focusing today. As people interacted, the scene became more and more like ones I went through very frequently when the organization I was working for was undergoing a crisis. And it was hard on the participants.

Even good teams have trouble putting everything together correctly sometimes. Photo:  @Nodar77 via Twenty20

I needed to provide input, redirect the conversation, or in some way diffuse the situation, but I could not. I mentally froze up, as I retreated into a way of feeling and acting from over a decade ago. I didn’t get memory flashbacks, but my emotions went into overdrive and I could FEEL the atmosphere at my old job when volunteers I directed and others at the organization were engaged in unpleasant and unproductive exchanges.

I was triggered, I guess. My current set of coping mechanisms helped me, at least a little. I didn’t burst into tears or run out of the room, like I might have over a decade ago. Instead, I played a word game on my phone, since all my life I’ve coped with being overwhelmed by doing something with my hands (hence all that knitting and playing of Bejeweled). I find that when a good chunk of my brain is busy on a soothing task, I can make better use of the rest of the ole noggin.

Now we know why some people doodle when stressed. Moving helps. Photo:  @davealmighty via Twenty20

But, on the other hand, I didn’t help much at all. I froze. When the event was over, I went to a place all by myself and paced around, at least 15 minutes, according to the exercise tracker. I think well when walking, too. Obviously I have a movement theme going. Finally, I came up with something to say and was able to be supportive and kind. But, it was too late to have the best possible outcome. I sure regret that.

Question for the Audience

I do wonder, though, how do others of you deal when past traumas come out of nowhere and make you briefly unable to participate in something you’re supposed to be doing? I’d love some input.

comment or something!

What My Trigger Did for Me

Often a surprise situation can teach us, or at least remind us to stay on our path. With the situation that got me upset, I realized it could easily be handled in a different way if everyone had looked at things from each other’s perspectives, acknowledged they perceived things differently, and looked for a solution that would be beneficial to all. I hoped I had helped lead to such a situation in the end, but it was not to be.

I say this to all of you! Photo: @wendeewingfield via Twenty20

I do appreciate that I got the chance to remind myself of how I want to behave in stressful situations, and I also appreciate that when people are tired and have other things in their life that make it hard to be as patient and/or empathetic, they can realize it later and work to do better.

That’s what I’m doing, anyway. I want more than anything for my friends and associates to be able to work through hard times and come out with productive solutions and wisdom. I know it isn’t easy. I’m sending love to all the people I formerly worked with and those I currently work with, because I know it’s not always easy being on a team.

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

2 thoughts on “What to Do When You’re Triggered?”

  1. This is a timely post for me because I’ve had a parallel experience quite recently. For the second time in my life I work for an organization at a time when the person who had been leading it for decades has recently been replaced by someone new.

    The changes that are happening now echo ones that happened in a job I had decades ago, although I did not consciously make the connection until last week. (Changes in benefits, time keeping, etc.) Once I realized my anxiety was spiraling out of control largely due to reliving my feelings from the past, that resolved about half of my internal struggle.

    I made a list of things I wish I had done then, and am doing them this time.

    Liked by 1 person

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