Practical Tips for Navigating Triggers


– Carolyn Moriarty, LCPC


Life can feel like a minefield at times, with triggers lurking around every corner, ready to set off a  chain reaction of negative emotions and reactions. Whether it’s a past trauma, stressful situation, or certain people or places, triggers have the power to disrupt our peace of mind and derail our progress. However, there’s a better way to navigate triggers than the “white knuckle” approach. In this blog, we’ll share some practical tips to use to navigate landmines successfully.


Identifying triggers

The first step in managing triggers is to identify them. Take some time to reflect on the situations, environments, thoughts, or emotions that tend to trigger negative reactions or distress. Keep a journal to track your triggers and notice any patterns that emerge. By understanding what sets you off, you can better prepare yourself to cope with these challenges when they arise.

  • A thought record journal, which looks like this, can help. It is a structured way to reflect upon a situation that caused you to feel a negative reaction. You can refer to this example of a completed thought log
  • Observe the relationship between the triggers and subsequent distressing thoughts, emotions and behavior. This may involve exploring the triggers, past experiences, or personal beliefs that contribute to specific emotional reactions. This awareness can help you better understand your triggers and their impact on your well-being.


How to cope in the moment

Once you foster awareness, it will become easier to recognize and identify emotions as they arise in the moment. Armed with self-awareness, it’s time to develop coping strategies to help you navigate triggers effectively.

Here are a few simple steps to keep in mind:

  • AcceptanceAcceptance involves recognizing and embracing one’s emotions without criticism. It entails permitting oneself to feel and convey emotions without attempting to deny or manage them.
  • Problem-solvingIdentifying and addressing the underlying issues or challenges that may be causing distress.
  • IntegrationIncorporating emotional experiences into one’s overall sense of self and personal growth. This means integrating the lessons learned from emotional experiences and using them to inform future emotional responses and behavior.
  • Self-CareEngaging in activities or experiences that allow for the release of pent-up emotions. This can include engaging in physical exercise, talking to a trusted friend or therapist, or engaging in creative outlets like writing or art.


Setting boundaries

Setting boundaries is an important way protect yourself from situations or interactions that consistently trigger distress. It’s okay to say no to activities or relationships that are harmful to your well-being.

In order to identify your own boundaries, start by paying attention to how you feel about and react to situations around you. Feeling uncomfortable, anxious, drained or resentful after an interaction with another individual is a good indication that setting a boundary within that relationship would be beneficial. It might be helpful to write down the emotions and thoughts you experienced during this interaction in order to clarify what type of boundary needs to be in place.

Important phrases to read every day:

Sometimes, people respond to boundaries by trying to wear you down. If you are struggling to enforce your boundaries and feel yourself starting to relent, keep these phrases in mind:

  • I am not responsible for other people’s emotions
  • I do not have to anticipate the needs of others
  • My needs are valid
  • I love myself enough to set boundaries
  • My time and energy are precious
  • The only people who are upset about me setting boundaries are the ones who are benefitting from me having none.


Managing triggers is a continual process that required patience, self-awareness, and resilience. By recognizing triggers, practicing mindfulness, building coping strategies and prioritizing self-care, it is possible to navigate life’s challenges with a greater sense of control. Above all, remember to be patient and compassionate with yourself as you navigate this journey.




Seeking Mental Health Support

If you believe you could benefit from understanding more about your symptoms or concerns, consider scheduling an appointment with Chicago Counseling Center. Our therapists can provide guidance, support, and strategies tailored to your specific needs. Meet our team to learn more!

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