What to do when you get triggered – difficult relationships in difficult times

There’s a humorous video circulating social media.  A man is given a choice to be “A – Isolated with your family and kids or B – …”   without even waiting to hear what B is, the man responds, “B.  Definitely B.”

When confined with others in a pressure cooker of shared space, stress, anxiety and fear, those relationships can be littered with land mines.

Personal and professional relationships are being strained

Many of us are finding that our wells of patience and calm are depleted.

We are having strong reactions, saying internally or out loud:

“I’m doing the best I can. Cut me some slack!”

“Stop taking everything I say personally. This isn’t about you.”

“Wake up and start dealing with reality.”

“Why do I have to do everything?”

“You don’t understand.”

“You’re wrong!”

We are getting triggered. We are pushing against each other. We are reacting rather than thoughtfully responding.

Here are some tips for what you can do when you find yourself starting to lose your cool.


When you are about to have a reaction and perhaps say something you may regret, simply say to yourself, “Breathe in . . . breathe out”.   As you think those words, take a breath and then release it.

This does two things. It buys you 2-3 seconds, and sometimes that is all it takes to be able to respond instead of react. It also sends oxygen to your brain.

I talked with a colleague who was working from home in her high pressure financial job. She is a single mom of a 4-year old. Her boss was flooding her with so much work she was working 7 days a week.

Saturday morning at 8:30 am her boss sent her a note asking why she was not online.  She was triggered and was about to type in “I quit.”

Instead, she took a breath. She decided to set up a separate conversation with her boss when she was back in control. Know that you almost always have the option to delay a difficult conversation to a better time.

Eat something

If you know you’re going to have an important and possibly conscientious conversation, eat something first. An empty stomach may result in a drop in blood sugar which can increase anxiety.

I talked with a financial advisor who says, with all the uncertainty and market volatility, he needs to make sure he is grounded and compassionate when he calls his clients. He schedules those calls AFTER eating a meal so that he can bring his best, most centered self to his clients.

Pick your battles

There are going to be all sorts of opportunities for confrontations.  So ask yourself, is this a battle worth fighting?  

I had a situation with my 86-year-old mother. Her credit card was denied.  She believed it was because she was late paying her bill.  I know her trigger is feeling judged and shamed for making a mistake. So I told her not to worry too much about being late this one time.  I suggested we simply call the credit card company.  She pushed back on that, but I believed that was a battle worth fighting.

We found out there was one charge they thought was fraud but that was legit. They reinstated the card.  But mom wanted a new card sent, with the same number. That made no sense to me. The card she had was fine. But I decided that was NOT a battle worth fighting.  So I went along with her decision.

Ask for what you need

This sounds so obvious, but it is surprising how rarely we actually do this.

Think of the above situation where my colleague wanted to say, “I quit.” Did she really want to quit? Heck no. What she needed was a more manageable workflow, more realistic expectations and perhaps a little compassion from her boss.

My mother did not want to call the credit card company. But if she could have asked for what she needed, she probably would have said, “Please don’t judge me or make me feel bad for being late paying my bill. I’m really distracted right now and just forgot.”

Yesterday I talked with a friend who was about to lose her business. Many well-meaning people advised her on all the ways she could try to start over or change her line of work. I could see she was triggered so I simply asked what she needed. Her answer was, “I need you to NOT give me advice. I need you to just understand that right now I am in mourning. 20 years of hard work just went down the drain.”

If you’re feeling triggered, get clear on what you actually want or need from the other person. Have the courage to ask for it.

If you see your employees, colleagues, friends or family members struggling, ask, “Is there anything I can say or do to help?”

Use these tips if you get triggered. Use them when you see others get triggered. They can be relationship savers during these difficult times.

Holly Buchanan

Holly Buchanan

Holly Buchanan is the author of Selling Financial Services to Women – What Men Need to Know and Even Women Will Be Surprised to Learn. She is the co-author of The ... Web: www.SellingFinancialServicesToWomen.com Details