Getting Prepared to Manage Your Triggers
One of the most common and challenging tasks a survivor has to deal with daily is managing trauma triggers, especially in the workplace. I have said this often and will continue saying it…triggers abound in the workplace. How can we prepare ourselves with the tools to manage them and minimize their effect on our careers?
In my upcoming online training, Reclaim Your Power for Career Growth, I propose assembling a trigger toolkit containing the tools we need to “right the ship” once we’ve been triggered. Today, I will share what to include in your trigger toolkit. I invite you to experiment with including the things that help you the most in recovering from being triggered and to share them. You may have found some “secret sauce” that would help the rest of us. PLEASE SHARE.
The Basic Tools in a Trigger Toolkit
Over the years, I have used various tools and approaches to recover from workplace triggers. Some tools worked great, while others were not so great. I recommend experimenting with many things to see which ones work the best for you. Each trigger may need a different management tool, so be creative and flexible. The goal is to assemble everything you need to be prepared for when it does happen. Have you ever heard the saying, “When all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail”? We want to give ourselves as many choices as possible so that we can get our hands on the right tool for the job.
Trigger Tracker Worksheet — I have been giving this tool away as a freebie for months now because I think it is an essential tool for us to have. The Trigger Tracker Worksheet helps create an awareness of our triggers, our response to the trigger, the intensity of the trigger, and what coping strategy we used to manage it.
A critical part of managing our triggers in the workplace is knowing what they are. We can’t manage or plan for things we don’t know about. This list will continue to change with you as you change.
Some things may no longer trigger you because you’ve worked through the trauma with your therapist or coach, which is an incredible feeling. I recommend you keep those triggers on the list but star them or highlight them to remind yourself of your progress. This is a long journey, and there will be times when you get discouraged or don’t feel like you are making progress. By keeping these “wins” on your list, they become proof of the progress you are making.
Also, don’t be surprised if you experience new triggers. It’s OK…it’s part of the process. It doesn’t mean you are getting worse or going backward. I look at it as another opportunity for growth. If new things are coming up, it is our system’s way of telling us that we are now strong enough to deal with it.
When we are triggered into an emotional state, our frontal cortex is not online. We cannot analyze, assess, or create strategies for helping us regulate ourselves, but I discovered that I can pick something off of a list and execute it. I can follow directions…even if they are the directions I gave myself during the planning phase.
My list includes five coping strategies: grounding, affirming, resolving, distracting, and self-soothing. Under each category, there are several activities to choose from.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good start. You could circle the coping strategies that work for you or the ones you want to try, or you can edit to your heart’s delight. My goal for this tool is for you to develop the best strategies for you. No one knows you better than yourself except God; this is your journey. You get to decide how to manage the legacy effects of trauma you are experiencing.
This does not have to be anything fancy. I use a spiral college-ruled notebook for my journal. The goal of this tool is to get everything out of your head and on paper, so you can see it and decide what to do with it. When we are triggered, a lot is happening in our bodies and minds (maybe not right away).
I have no rules for journaling. I do not obey standard English or punctuation. I don’t worry about spelling or whether it makes sense to anyone else. It is a sacred space for me to capture all the elements swirling around in my brain. Many times it is extremely raw…and that’s OK. It is meant to be a place to dump all of those disturbing thoughts and feelings to get them out.
The lack of control we have around being triggered can result in feelings of powerlessness and shame. It can also set off our inner critic, who tells us disparaging things about ourselves. We do not have to listen to that voice.
I have found it helpful to write about everything…what the situation was…what happened when I was triggered…do I have any idea what it was related to…the intensity…and how I coped or didn’t cope. I write in detail about everything I capture in summary on the tricker tracker worksheet. I try to figure out why that particular trigger sets me off. Was I tired from not having slept well? Did I ignore the signs of threat my body was sending me?
This process is an audit of sorts. As I carefully dissect the situation and the contributing factors, my goal is to devise a solution to avoid being triggered by the same thing next time. If my coping strategies were inadequate, what would I try next time?
Part of the management process for triggers is planning. If we know something will be a problem, how can we plan for it? When I work with coaching clients, a lot of what I do is practice the situations that trigger them, whether it is in the workplace or some other venue. We practice. We create a plan.
Beyond the Basics
One thing that has become a game-changer for me is the use of music. Music is processed in the creative side of the brain but can act as a bridge for us to activate the cognitive side of the brain.
I recommend creating a playlist on your phone, whether you use Amazon Music, Spotify, or another music provider. I created an encouragement playlist and added songs to it that encourage or remind me of some truth that I am missing when I am triggered (like I am not alone).
I use music a lot, actually. I use it to help my ADHD brain to concentrate by putting noise-canceling headphones on with soothing piano or spa music. It is almost like a behavior modification activity because my brain knows it’s time to work and concentrate when I put those headphones on.
When my system is agitated or stressed, I use music to calm and soothe it. When I am feeling down, I crank up the volume and play an upbeat song that reminds me of some truth I need to hear at that moment and sing at the top of my lungs (thankfully, I work from home :)!)
Try it and let me know what you think.
Our responsibility is to manage the things that threaten to trigger us. It is not easy, fair, or desirable, but it can be a game-changer for our career development.
I want to invite you to close your eyes and imagine what your work/life would be like if you weren’t triggered so often. It is good to visualize that. In your mind’s eye, I want you to see what that looks like. I invite you to consider what it would take to make that vision a reality.
You can totally make that happen. If you don’t have that confidence in yourself yet, you can borrow mine. I believe in you. You’ve got this.
Get on the waiting list for the online course. You won’t want to miss it.
As always, you are not alone on this journey. I would love to accompany you on your courageous path to healing. Contact me to schedule your free discovery call.
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Believer. Leader. Learner. Advocate. Writer. Speaker. Coach. Mentor. Triathlete. Encourager. Survivor.
Most of all, I am a fellow traveler on the rocky road called, Trauma Recovery. My mission is to minimize the effects of trauma for survivors in the workplace.