Five Ways to Approach Triggering Emotions

November 10, 2011 Kendra Sebelius

When in recovery from an addiction, feelings and emotions can often be overwhelming. it is common to want to run from feelings, and numb out from tough emotions. In early recovery and sobriety, it is important to learn healthy coping skills and learn how to feel all feelings, process the emotions, and learn from the experience. Here are 5 ways to approach triggering emotions in sobriety.

1. Acknowledge the Emotions That Trigger You

It is important to name the top feelings/emotions that can trigger you (I would recommend at least 3-5); the ones that are especially hard in sobriety and recovery. Awareness is key in understanding what leads up to those feelings, and helps to understand the feeling process, and what we can learn from the emotions.

Name the feeling. Explain how it feels physically as well as emotionally. Naming an emotion is powerful exercise. It can be as simple as “I feel angry / Physical: I feel tightness in my chest, physically hot and flush / Emotional: I feel emotionally unstable / I feel a need for control.”

Validate that you are having a feeling. Feelings will not hurt you, but how you try to avoid, or seek to control may (Transform Triggering Emotions Because You’d Rather Be Happy).

2. Stop and Breathe When Triggered By Emotion

When you are feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to stop everything you are doing. Take 5 whole minutes to breathe deeply. This means breathing in for five seconds through your nose, and breathing out for five seconds out of your mouth. Pay attention to your diaphragm, your stomach and the physical movement of the breathing. Deep breathing can be therapeutic, and can help your physical response to a situation change because it helps to create changes in your central nervous system and the signals in your brain.

I love Wikipedia’s exercise on how to deep breathe!

  • Sit or lie comfortably, with loose garments.
  • Put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach.
  • Slowly inhale through your nose or through pursed lips (to slow down the intake of breath).
  • As you inhale, push your belly/ stomach out and feel your stomach expand with your hand.
  • Slowly exhale through pursed lips to regulate the release of air while squeezing your belly/ tummy.
  • Rest and repeat.

3. Change Scenery to Regain Control After Emotional Triggering

Take a walk, get outside, change rooms. Take some time to ground yourself and notice five things you see, four things you hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This is a grounding exercise to help make you more mindful of your surroundings and can help take the obsession away from the thoughts going through your head.

It can also help to get outside and be with people who are supportive. Go to a meeting, meet a friend for coffee, or go shopping. Being social can potentially help the feelings to process, and change due to change of environment.

4. Channel Your Triggered Emotions Into Positive Actions

I know anger is one of my most powerful emotions and I have learned a few techniques that have helped with managing the overwhelming feeling it creates within me. I have practiced a technique I call “Sitting in the fire”, which means when I am angry, I sit down, focus on breathing, close my eyes, tune the world out, and do not engage with anyone.

It is a time out, where I allow the waves of anger just go over me. One could say it is my way of meditation. I try not to cling, nor over-analyze it, and often in a few minutes the over firing of my amygdala calms down, and I feel a lot different. It sometimes passes so fast I am grateful I didn’t lash out verbally to anyone! This is my way of internal channeling of my energy.

I also recommend physical channeling of emotions. I swear that when I am upset in any way, my house gets so clean! I find it helps me to clean, do the dishes and the laundry, and because the end result is a clean organized house, I feel calmer. I also love to run, or take my dog on a walk, because it gets me outside, gets me moving, and physical exercise has been proven to be healthy for both our physical and mental health.

5. Create a Healthy Coping List For When Emotions Get Triggered

When you are triggered it can often be overwhelming and not easy to think of things that we can do that would help in a healthy manner. Often, in early recovery especially, the go to response to emotions will be the desire to numb out, avoid the feeling and go to what is known to work. In creating a healthy coping skills list, you can pull out the list, and start going through them to find a way to handle the emotions, versus run from them.

It is important to see we have choices. Choices help to empower us. You have a choice, and options to choose in order to handle tough emotions. Having a list can help re-focus and show you have choices and options.

What have you learned? How fast did the feeling pass? What helped you through it? Take time to journal each time you face a triggering situation to make note of what works and what doesn’t, because that helps you set up a recovery relapse plan for the next time the emotion comes up.

Feeling feelings takes practice! At first they may be scary, unfamiliar and overwhelming, but once you start practicing allowing yourself to let go and feel the feeling, it becomes a new norm. Feelings themselves aren’t good or bad, they change as much as the wind blows, and riding them out is important to be able to know where we are, and how to handle struggles and triggers.

APA Reference
Sebelius, K. (2011, November 10). Five Ways to Approach Triggering Emotions, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Kendra Sebelius

Pathways to Peace
January, 25 2013 at 12:24 am

This is one of the finest posts, I am glad to get this over here.

Leave a reply