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Triggers and Self-Soothing

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Life is full of ups and downs, and you can be emotionally triggered by anything at any time, and you feel upset, fearful, hurt, angry, or just a tangle of a lot of different emotions.  What are the body sensations/visceral reactions when you’ve been triggered?  The physical symptoms could include a racing heart, your throat tightening, breathing in your chest instead of in your diaphragm, veins bulging, or clenched muscles.  So what should you do once you’re triggered?  Self-soothing is the answer.

Self-soothing means calming your own anxiety and fears, allowing you the space to think and act clearly and effectively in the moment.  According to psychology, self-soothing helps to reset bodily systems after an acute stress response.  Your body is in fight or flight mode!

Here are steps to take to self-soothe after you’ve been triggered:

Pause!:  When you’re emotional, your brain reacts in a split second the moment it perceives a threat, flooding the body with stress hormones.  To regain your equilibrium and act rationally, the cortex needs around two seconds to come back online and take over, so giving yourself a little pause is imperative.

Breathe:  During your pause, take a deep breath in and a long breath out.  When the out-breath is longer than the in-breath (a ratio of 4:6), you send a message to your nervous system to relax.  Focused breathing is a powerful trigger buster.

Name the trigger:  When you’ve been triggered, it’s just as important to notice what triggered you as well as how your body responded.  For instance, if you had a particularly stressful conversation with a co-worker and you notice your heart is racing, place your hand on your heart, and name it out loud.  Creating a mind-body connection between the trigger and your body’s response pushes your brain to go from feeling to thinking, so you can apply rational thought to the incident.

Distract your senses:  Take over for your body, and distract yourself for a few minutes with a senses countdown.  Look around you.  Name five things in your immediate vicinity you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.  Psychologists recommend creating a self-soothing box that includes objects to soothe all five senses:  comforting smells such as essential oils or body lotion; pleasant tastes such as herbal teas or favorite snacks; soothing things to touch such as a soft blanket or a squishy stress ball; comforting sights such as photos of loved ones or pets; and soothing sounds such as a favorite piece of music or a guided meditation track.

After you’ve self-soothed in the moment, turn to self-care options that will bolster your mental health long-term:


  1. Change the environment. Go outside and focus on nature, or find a cozy indoor nook with a pleasant view. The change of venue doesn’t have to be for more than a few minutes, just enough time to feel rejuvenated.
  2. Stretch. When triggered, your body may respond by freezing up. A few simple trunk twists, neck rotations, or toe touches can help.  Or hold a few yoga qui-gong poses.
  3. Take a warm shower or bath. Treat yourself to a little steam to loosen up your tight muscles. Pour in some Epsom salts, and soak away your troubles.
  4. Soothing imagery. Lean into behaviors that you find soothing – light a candle, dim the lights, look at photos of happy times, or read an inspirational quote or affirmation.
  5. Listen to music. Familiar music can have a calming effect. Or tap into a relaxing music video for stress relief that can be found online.
  6. Soothing smells. Pleasant smells are everywhere: try an essential oil diffuser, burn a scented candle or incense, or smooth on some scented hand lotion.
  7. Self-compassion. How would a good friend speak to you in a triggered situation? Speak compassionately to yourself.  You’re doing the best you can.


You can’t help feeling triggered sometimes.  How you choose to cope with it is up to you.  Take ownership for your better mental health with focused self-soothing and self-care techniques, and you’ll gain control over the triggers instead of the other way round.

Learn more about emotional detox and self-soothing at OHI San Diego and OHI Austin. Our caring team can help you achieve your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual goals for optimal health. Visit our website at www.optimumhealth.org , and call us at (800) 588-0809 to make your reservation.