3 strategies to unpush your own buttons

emotional triggers

There is a special place in hell for line-cutters. It’s one of those basic lessons that kids are trained to master by the age of 5: You take your rightful place in line and don’t cut. That’s the fair thing to do. So, when adults do it, does it send you into an all-out rage?

It might be line-jumpers, someone who cuts you off in traffic, or a small passing comment from a boss or coworker. But when it happens, that moment either instantly drives you through the roof or it festers in your mind all day long. Before you even realize it, you’ve been grouchy around colleagues, short with friends, and reached your breaking point. 

To keep these moments from getting to us, we must first learn to identify our emotional triggers. We all have our breaking points (or really Breaking Bad points), where something offends and sends us down the road to Walter White levels of overreaction.

One of my emotional triggers is being talked over. If you buy into those birth-order theories, my irrational rage toward over-talkers likely stems from being the youngest child. For so long, I was used to being bossed around, overlooked, discounted, or left with no say because of my youth or inexperience. So now, as a fully functioning adult with a voice, I admit, nothing irks me more than when someone talks over me, discounting my point, while I’m mid-explanation.

I can’t say that I’ll totally ever rid myself of this pet peeve and never take insult from an over-talker again, but I am making efforts to control my impulse reactions to them. As part of my ongoing journey to master my emotional triggers, I use these three tactics to calm myself down.

1. Find some perspective

It’s difficult to analyze someone else’s intentions when you’re already set on a raging war path. But it’s worth it. I recognize plenty of scenarios that could have played out differently if we all took the time to analyze the other person’s intentions.

Ask yourself: Is the offender aware of his or her actions? Is there a chance it was done unintentionally? Is it possible that they are unfamiliar with protocol?

Think about that line-cutter. Did he or she not know that one, single line was formed behind the two cashier stations? You would expect empathy or forgiveness if you unknowingly offended someone, so why not reverse your roles? And once you’ve permitted forgiveness, you’ve let that grievance leave your heart and relinquished your fury.

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2. Recognize, reframe, and rationalize

Have you ever gotten so frustrated with an incredibly slow-driving car that meanders down a road you regularly take at ten miles-per-hour beyond the speed limit? Yes, you may be in a rush, but what else can you do about it?

These moments of commuter aggression can leave you stressed, moody, and unproductive for the rest of the day. So why get all worked up when there’s no real solution (no lawful solution, anyway) to your dilemma?

Acknowledge your anger, then seek to understand it. On a scale of 1 to 10, how mad are you? Are there other factors contributing to the intensity of your rage? For example, are you already stressed about being on time? Lastly, attempt to rationalize your response. Is the Driving Miss Daisy sedan ahead of you really worth the spike to your blood pressure? It’s likely not. And it’s usually at this stage, I realize I was foolish for letting myself get so worked up.

3. If all else fails, choose a course of action

Let’s say you have a coworker who constantly burns your britches with shady remarks. You know he or she enjoys getting a rise out of you, so you’ve already considered the intentions. You’ve also tried to rationalize your anger, but you can’t seem to talk yourself down. And your blood just continues to boil the longer you think about it.  

At this point, you should consider taking action. It could be taking your coworker aside and calmly discussing why their actions bothered you. If it’s a line-cutter, calmly state, “Excuse me, but the line starts here.” Once you’ve said your piece, that alone should relieve some of the built-up tension — like a hot kettle releasing its steam. But the key word is calm.

If you don’t think you have a composed interaction in you, then you’ll just have to let it ride or walk away. If needed, remove yourself from the situation, take a breather, and repeat tactics one and two. A heated confrontation is the last thing you want, especially when adrenaline is already coursing through your veins. If a new opportunity ever arises to resolve this conflict, you can have that conversation again.

No matter how big or small the incident, don’t let your emotional triggers take you to the point of no return. And especially don’t go the way of Walter White, as you might know, that didn’t work out so well.


Nina Reeder is a journalist and media manager, who has contributed to outlets such as Ebony, AOL.com, Marriott Hotels, and more. She’s a self-proclaimed foodie, but also has passions for health/wellness (which doesn’t always work out well). You can follow her on Instagram here.

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