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Dealing with Emotional Triggers: What to Do When You’re Stuck on a Feeling

“As you grow more practiced in noticing your triggers, offering yourself kindness and remembering that the power to heal your life is always available in the present moment, the situations that once set you off lose their explosive potential.” ~Martha Beck

Recently, I stayed with a friend I don’t see very often so I could attend a mindfulness event near her home. I took the train to her apartment about an hour before the event. We embraced and spent the first few moments together catching up on things.

And then my cellphone dinged.

Which, of course, it does every five minutes or so throughout the day.

Between email, Facebook, Twitter, messaging, and Whatsapp, my phone is like a running faucet—it never stops. But it’s never seemed to really bother me.

Apparently, it bothered my friend.

“What was that sound?” she asked, glaring at my phone.

“Ah, who knows? Probably an email came in. I won’t answer it,” I assured her.

Appearing slightly disturbed, she made an uncertain face and then resumed the conversation.

Within minutes, it dinged again.

Worried and anticipating disapproval, I looked at my friend. As expected, she made a dissatisfying face and a “tsk” sound demonstrating denunciation. Still, she made no mention of the phone.

She invited me and her family to sit down for dinner, and less than a minute into beginning our meal, my phone dinged again.

That damn phone, I suddenly thought to myself!

“Can you please just turn your phone off?” my friend remarked in a reprimanding tone.

Did my friend just reprimand me? I thought to myself. And in front of her children? How dare she shame me!

I looked around at the faces staring back at me and knew I was stuck. So, I turned to The S.T.U.C.K. Method, a simple and easy-to-remember technique I practice anytime, anywhere to stop being hijacked by my emotions and take better care of myself and my relationships.

So I stopped. I closed my eyes for a brief second and took a deep breath.

I told myself I was stuck on embarrassment.

I uncovered my beliefs and checked the accuracy of each one.

I believed I’m allowed to live the way I want to live regarding the use of my phone!

Yes, but don’t you want to show respect for your friend and her family?

I believed my friend had no right to lecture me and certainly not in front of her kids!

Shira, did she lecture you?

I believed my friend just ruined the entire evening!

The entire evening? Shira, the evening just began!

I believed my friend completely embarrassed me!

What was so embarrassing with what she said?

Looking at my beliefs, I could see my story was not really stable, so I came up with other perspectives.

  • I considered that, in all honesty, the phone was starting to bother me, even before my friend remarked on it.
  • I considered that my friend did not lecture me and had no intention of hurting me.
  • I considered that I could respect the standards my friend sets for herself and her family and silence my phone at certain times during the visit.
  • I considered the irony that my friend, the one with little to no experience in mindfulness, was trying to gently help me realize the freedom I could experience if I were to silence my phone.
  • I considered I could just silence the phone during dinner and not make a big deal out of it.
  • I considered gratitude for having a friend in my life who feels comfortable to be honest with me and holds me to the same standard she holds her family.

I recognized my friend had no ill will and, therefore, I had no reason to feel embarrassed. I chose to do something I never do. I got up from the table and silenced my phone.

I got stuck on embarrassment, but it’s okay. I’m glad I didn’t stay stuck for too long and ruin what otherwise was a beautiful and inspiring evening, both at the lecture and in the company of my dear friend.

The next time you are feeling emotionally triggered, try The S.T.U.C.K. Method.

First, STOP and bring your attention to something real in the present moment (such as noticing your breath).

Next, TELL yourself what you are feeling (such as: “I am stuck on anger”).

UNCOVER your beliefs about what is triggering you. Look out for words such as: need, should, always, never, and other generalizations. For each belief, ask yourself, is this 100% accurate?

Then, CONSIDER other perspectives. Stretch your “consideration muscles” and allow any and every other kind of viewpoint to be possible. Then, choose at least one and take it on. Finally, remind yourself that it’s OK you got stuck in the first place.

By closing this practice with self-compassion, you relieve yourself of any guilt or self-criticism that may arise from getting stuck in the first place and promote well-being.

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About Shira Taylor Gura

Shira Taylor Gura is a success coach and author of Getting unSTUCK - Five Simple Steps to Emotional Well-Being. She created The S.T.U.C.K Method™ and facilitates workshops, retreats and 1:1 coaching to help people get unstuck in work, in love, and in life.

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  • greenapples

    ‘Which, of course, it does every five minutes or so throughout the day.

    Between email, Facebook, Twitter, messaging, and Whatsapp, my phone is like a running faucet—it never stops. But it’s never seemed to really bother me.

    Apparently, it bothered my friend.’

    Even if it isn’t a problem for you, it is for everyone else who ‘isn’t’ stuck on your (I’m speaking in general terms, to you specifically) social media life. Honestly, it annoys the crap out of me to have my sister’s phone going off every 10 minutes whenever we’re together, and it annoys me to have to listen to my coworkers obnoxiously loud text alert dinging 20+ times a day. You’d think at 35 and 47 years old respectively, they’d value their time better, or at least know better than to force their online social life on everyone else. The rest of us don’t care ‘what you’re doing’, they don’t want to hear it, and they should speak up about it. This phone behavior has jumped to the absolute top of my list of things I cannot stand, and on at least one occasion, a friends inability to spend time exclusively with me while we were together, helped to contribute to the end of our friendship, and bought her a lifetime membership to not ever being invited into my house again. Yeah, people really do feel that strongly about it.

  • Aelio

    It is annoying for someone to be constantly on their phone and/or on social media while they are supposed to be spending time with you. I wouldn’t be too bothered by notifications, especially if they aren’t really distracted by them or taking away from the time they should be spending with you; however, I can certainly see if it is constantly going off “dinging” and they arent even paying attention to it, just simply put it on silent… I’m not sure why the phone owner wouldnt want to in the first place. My phone annoys me all by itself lol, I love the silent feature. I basically use it indefinitely less I’m waiting for an important call or pizza delivery haha

  • Monica

    I had the same reaction. You are visiting a friend and you don’t have the courtesy to silence your phone, especially during dinner! There is “absolutely” and I do mean “absolutely nothing” on an email, FB, Twitter or text that can’t wait.

  • uh hello … the point of the article was not the etiquette of the situation. it was the mindful process the author took to get past the defensive embarrassment of the situation. how mature it is to be able to see other perspectives and not react immediately. kudos.

  • Shira Taylor Gura

    Dear Aelio, Thank you for your response. Yes, the silent feature is wonderful! Thank you for that suggestion. Be well, Shira

  • Shira Taylor Gura

    Dear Green Apples,
    Thank you for responding. I hear the frustration you have with other people’s phones. I was sorry to read that a relationship was ended because of it. All I know, is that when I get stuck, I am very grateful for the courage and bravery of those who help bring awareness to my “stuck” situation. Sometimes we live in a cloud and it could take a lifetime to waken up. For those people in my life that help me do this, (in a gentle and compassionate way, of course), I am incredibly grateful for their love, support, and patience.

  • Shira Taylor Gura

    Hi Monica, You are absolutely right. I certainly learned my lesson and for that reason I wrote this article – to help bring that awareness to others. Thank you for responding.

  • Shira Taylor Gura

    Claudia, thank you. Yes, that was the point. It takes a lot to get unstuck and it takes even more to be vulnerable and share that “stuck” story. I so appreciate your response. Be well, Shira

  • lv2terp

    GREAT post!!! Love the practice, thank you for sharing your wisdom!!! 🙂

  • Shira Taylor Gura

    Thank you for your response, Lv2terp! And please pass the wisdom along!

  • juliegris

    Greetings and thank you for this post. I like the idea of the S.T.U.C.K. method, but I am wondering how long it actually took you to go through the steps in your mind before you got up from the table. Do you have any thoughts about using S.T.U.C.K. as an ‘after the fact’ reflection? Or does it have to be implemented only in the moment?

  • Vinita Kumbhar

    Oh god! Thank you. I always felt I am the only one in the whole wide world to feel so strongly about cell phone use.

  • Andy Bowker

    Yes, I would have done the same if a friend’s phone kept ringing in that kind of situation. But well done for monitoring your response and being aware of how you were feeling.