Six ways to calm down when triggered

How To Calm Yourself Down When Triggered By Your Partner

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Have you ever had days where you end up feeling like you really should have just stayed in bed? You start off your day being enthusiastic as it’s the weekend and it’s so good not having to rush. You’re looking forward to actually having time with your partner instead of the usual frantic goodbye as you both pass each other on the way out the door! Sometimes it seems to be hard to actually find time to just be together, even though you live in the same building! You begin with an easy conversation, everything seems great and then he does something that hits a nerve and within a couple of seconds you have you become totally triggered!

I remember I was chatting with my husband one morning about an experience I had when away the previous weekend with friends. It was incredibly important to me and I wanted to share it with him in the hope he would understand and be excited for me! I admit I had been staring into space as I was imagining the event, reliving it as I explained it. (I realise now that was a bad move!) Anyway, I was totally engrossed in retelling my story. But when I looked up at him, he had tuned out and had gone back to looking at his phone. I was stunned!

“Did you hear anything I was saying?” Then that deathly pause as I could feel the storm rising within me. He had totally hit a nerve and I saw red!

He gave some pathetic response, but to be honest it wouldn’t have mattered what he had said, I had already lost it! I was totally triggered. “You inconsiderate blah, blah! What’s the point in talking to you? You don’t listen to anything I say and you’re always on your @###! phone!” He had totally hit a nerve and my rational side was gone. Everything started going into overdrive!

How is this going to work? He’s the opposite to me. He doesn’t have the same interests! What was I thinking! He doesn’t listen to what I am saying! As I dropped into this reaction, my thoughts became more incredible and extreme. I’m sure you get the idea. I was seething and he had no idea what he had just done …….. poor man! I can laugh about it now but in that moment of time, definitely not!

It’s so easy for a simple action or remark to become so much more than it was intended to be! Do you know this in your life?

Here are six steps to help limit your reaction when you are triggered, to stop it becoming overwhelming and more toxic than it needs to be.

1. Focus on your Breath and fully exhale, then: 

  • Breathe in through your nose counting to 4 seconds.
  • Hold this breath for 6 seconds.
  • Exhale through the mouth to the count of 7-8 seconds. Let the exhale fall without effort. Repeat this breathing pattern for a minimum of 8-10 times or until you feel more relaxed and less triggered. Don’t worry if you can’t stay with these times. Do what works for you.

2. As you focus on your breath tune into your body. What are the sensations and emotions you feel in your body? Notice them, breathe and let them pass through, relaxing and letting the exhale fall. This helps bring awareness back to your body and out of your thoughts and triggered reaction.

3. Set the Pause Button to give yourself time. If you are too charged to stay in the same room with him because you know you will say or do something you will regret later. Make an excuse to leave the room. Decide now on a plan that would work for you to be ready to be able give yourself space to calm down the next time you are triggered. Some ideas to give you space could be:  

  • an oldie but a goodie, go to the loo
  • leave and find somewhere away from him to take a second to breathe, be aware of your body to calm down
  • go outside or go for a walk
  • if you are really struggling and can’t leave the space you’re in, take your phone and use an app. or game if you need help to shift focus from your triggered thoughts to give you time to settle

4. If and when you can get past the “He’s a total idiot! It’s all his fault! Why do I bother?”

  • Check in with yourself what is this emotion you are feeling? Are you feeling worried, angry, sad, lonely or alone?     
  • Also what are you telling yourself? “I’m boring, I’m not good enough, I don’t feel safe, I’m not attractive enough” or maybe “He’s not good enough for me or I’m too attractive, intelligent etc. for him?” 
  • Now ask yourself: Is it actually about what just happened or has it taken you to a past memory or a worry about the future? My reaction to my husband’s response stemmed from a childhood memory. Where is the source of your emotional reaction coming from? Is it from the past or fears about the future?    Be curious!

5. Can you see the humour in it? Step back and replay what just happened. Would you then think: “Really! Who was that person who just lost it? How funny, I don’t usually see this part of me.”

6. Smile – “Wow, that was an interesting moment. I didn’t see that coming. That’s ok, I can work on this.”

I have my good days and not so good days. I find a sense of humour, patience with myself and remembering that everyone gets triggered helps settle my reaction. It’s how we choose to respond to these rising emotions that is the game changer.

Anne Beyers
Holistic Counsellor, Psychotherapist & Breathwork Practitioner