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.

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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