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Feature image via Cloudy Thurstag

In a perfect world, we could strategically choose the people we work with. They would share our interests, values, and experiences. There would be no worry of political incorrectness or insensitive comments.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.

Although there are people who have the resources to leave a job that doesn’t mentally benefit them, this is not the case for many. The typical “isms” appear in our everyday lives (racism, sexism, ableism, classism, etc.) and it’s hard not to be affected by them. Certain insensitive and ignorant comments and attitudes make it difficult to function in the workplace. It is also very triggering for many because these examples and other situations can have harmful past origins.

Sometimes it’s not as simple as leaving and finding another job. For one, job hunts are not easy. A person could be overqualified, under-qualified, unaware of resources to aid them, or any hindering life factor. There are also people who are passionate about their job and what they do, but are fully aware encountering future triggering instances. I myself am in graduate school studying to be a Licensed Professional Counselor, and I know I will have clients that bring in trauma and negative aspects of life that I can’t bring home with me for the sake of my own mental health (cute and depressed black girl at your service).  Managing triggers can be difficult but not impossible if a person is self-aware, and there are a few questions to ask yourself in the moment when the reaction occurs.

The Physical

First, it’s good to identify how your body physically reacts to the stimulus that causes the trigger. For me if the stimulus would make me sad, I feel nauseous, my chest tightens, and I have an inner conversation of telling myself that I’m okay. On the other hand if the stimulus would make me angry, I snap. My body feels warm as I have the urge to swear and argue and ensure I make my point. So, what’s important here is to recognize the physical reactions to triggers in that moment.

The Emotional

Next come the emotional reactions and unconscious behaviors/responses. What are some feelings that occur when triggered? I either feel uncomfortable, upset, or very angry. What are some things that you automatically do when triggered? I try to distract myself, which mostly includes fidgeting. This can cause avoidant behavior, which continues the cycle of unhelpful reactions from triggers. Again, it’s important to focus on reactions that occur in that moment and how it’s affecting you on a deeper level.

The Personal

There could also be interpersonal roots that fuel triggering reactions. Consider your current life issues and dynamics such as fatigue, illness, crises, and stressors. An overall impact of recent experiences (the situation reminded you of recent events) and unresolved or unhealed past issues, traumas, and “wounds” also have major effects. I discovered my unresolved past issues and trauma lead to my reactions to triggers. Commonly, what is happening around us is the lead cause to how we react to major stressors; it is not simply one small thing that causes an uncommon reaction.

The Practice

Once you are aware of your reactions to stimuli that trigger you, it becomes a bit easier to then think about how to handle them better if you believe your reactions aren’t fruitful. Some things to consider are the following: what were your intentions and motives? What were you hoping to accomplish? What did you consider unproductive motives and what would be more productive? How did feeling triggered affect your effectiveness? How did your reactions impact you? Not only will you be more aware of your reactions to triggers at work, but this practice is useful in handling triggers among the other roles we live.

And remember to be gentle with yourself. Your mental health is important in every aspect of your life, even when becoming more aware of unhelpful behaviors.

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