Many folks who experience anxiety react negatively when triggered. Before you know it, things have been said, actions have been taken which almost immediately result in regret.
So, what’s the solution? Here are some ways to manage reactive negative responses:
First, know your triggers. All of us have them! It may be your kids’ arguing, your mom commenting once more on your lack of housekeeping skills, your partner “forgetting” to take out the garbage for the fourth time in a row…
Second, realize that some triggers can’t be anticipated. An innocent remark by someone may hit a tender spot, a car accident, an unexpected work assignment…
What do you do?
First, be realistic! You can’t control what other people do, say, believe, think, feel, and you can’t control events. Give it up! The minute you realize how little control you have, the easier life will be. Remember, the only thing you can control is how you cope.
Second, be prepared! Take a few minutes everyday to think of what may trigger you. If you have had a restless, sleepless night, be aware that fatigue can make you more reactive than usual. As Dr. Dan Siegel states, “to name it is to tame it.”
Third, identify times throughout the day when you check in on your emotional well-being. Do that by checking your body for stressful sensations…your shoulders, your neck, your gut…Just being aware of the stress triggers cause can help you be less reactive.
Fourth, train yourself to breathe deeply. Throughout the day, regularly practice following your breath in and out. Feel your breath penetrate every nook and cranny of your body.The more you do it, the more automatic it becomes. You’ll find that consistent deep breathing results in less reactivity when you get triggered.
Fifth, refrain from acting or speaking when your triggers get the best of you until you have taken a few deep breaths. If someone presses you for an immediate response, tell them you need a moment. There are very few things in life that need an immediate response! If you can, leave the situation briefly, walk a few steps, get a drink of water… The mere act of moving will decrease your reactivity. Move and change your mood.
Sixth, it’s good to think of the consequences of different courses of action before making a decision. As Dr. Elisha Goldstein explains, there is a space, called reflection between trigger and response. During that reflection time, ask yourself, “Which consequence is going to move me towards positive growth?” That short reflective pause can make the difference between making a thoughtful, reasoned decision or a decision that is going to result in pain and increased negativity.
Seventh, see a therapist. When you are making knee-jerk negative reactions, there is unfinished business in your family-of-origin. Everyone grows up in imperfect families, and patterns, beliefs, expectations (the family “shoulds”) are preventing you from making thoughtful responses. Family-of-origin work helps you identify family patterns, beliefs, feelings and expectations, once useful, that now may need to be modified or discarded.
One thing you can start today is taking time several times during the day to focus on following your breath in and out. Consistent practice will change how the neurons in the brain fire and that will create a less reactive brain. Ready to try?
Acknowledgements: Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Elisha Goldstein. Their web-sites and facebook pages have great accessible resources. Check them out!