I’m writing this post during the summer, and it’s pretty toasty outside. A lot of us are feeling hot under the collar. But the heat I’m talking about in this post is when we become triggered in some way and feel angry, irritable, agitated, or even afraid. Knowing what works and having a plan to get yourself back to your center and a feeling of ease is paramount, especially in our current pandemic when almost everyone is being triggered by almost everything.
You may have noticed that topics related to the pandemic and how people are responding to it are particularly touchy subjects right now. It’s become politicized, there’s tons of conflicting information, and everyone is reacting out of fear.
That fear gets translated into anger when we feel caged in – that others are affecting our feeling of safety. Anger arises to spur us into action. Unfortunately, most of what comes up is reaction, rather than empowering and healthy action.
We can use this sensitive situation we find ourselves in, however, to work on helpful ways to deal with our triggers, especially anger, and appropriate ways to set boundaries for ourselves. This is an opportunity to move to the next level of our growth.
Recognizing the Physical Sensations
The first step is to recognize when you’re triggered, and in this case, I’m specifically talking about anger triggers. That’s the hot under the collar sensation. Even when we’re feeling fear and anxiety, it can sometimes spark anger within us. Our physical body may be the first sign that we’re getting really mad and it could lead to a volcanic explosion.
Even if it doesn’t get that bad, just one hurtful word from being triggered into anger can cause a lot of damage to a relationship, so it’s worth it to be aware. What are the physical signs that you’re triggered into anger? Here are some common ones:
- A build-up of heat in the body
- Clenching the teeth (jaw tension) or fists
- Overall tension, and especially in the neck, forehead, between the eyes (frowning), shoulders, upper back, and stomach
- Acid indigestion, reflux, and other burning sensations in the digestive tract
- Increased heart rate
- A fight or flight response
List your own physical sensations when you start to get mad. Sure, you may be having angry thoughts, but sometimes fear arises first and then sets off the anger through more noticeable bodily reactions. Knowing your typical physical sensations when you’re starting to become angry can give you enough warning to intervene and care for yourself. They are the warning clarion that you need to respond rather than react. Your responses should include recognizing what you need to feel safe and creating safety for yourself with boundaries.
The First Step for Safety: Space
In order to feel safe, we first need to create space. When our space feels violated, taken over, or reduced, the fight or flight reaction arises and anger kicks in to help protect us.
Back to our heat analogy, one of the laws of thermodynamics is that compression increases temperature. And compression is “to reduce in size, quantity, or volume as if by squeezing.” In other words, when you feel that you have less space and no way out, that you’re being squeezed in some way, like your freedom or safety taken away, heat will be created. Psychologically, that heat is often anger, agitation, and fear. As you know, there’s a lot of heat building up within us and around us in the world currently!
So give yourself some more space from the person or situation when you are feeling that inner heat being triggered. Step away for a few minutes or days. You may need to take a social media break, get off a phone call, or literally walk to another room.
When you have space, then feel your feelings, cool off, and listen to those feelings for wisdom. It’s important to give yourself ways to express the anger that won’t hurt others: dance it, pound a pillow, scribble with crayons (I love the fact that I can press hard with a crayon), rip up a newsletter.
And definitely either journal or speak out loud (not at someone!) how you feel – even shout if you can find a private, comfortable space to do so. This will help release some of the pent up energy of the anger so that you aren’t carrying it around like a pressure cooker. When the energy is released, we often receive clarity, wisdom, and insight. Follow that up with empowered action to create positive change. These steps are explained in detail in my book, Awakening from Anxiety.
Another Step for Safety: Boundaries
That brings us next to the topic of boundaries – an important empowered action. A boundary is a line, physical or conceptual, that indicates a limit. Funny that we just talked about how feeling more limited or compressed will increase anger, triggered by fear of losing our safety or freedom. So limits themselves aren’t the issue: it’s when our personal limit is crossed, encroaching on our safety zone, that it becomes problematic. It empowers us to be able to determine our own limits with others and the impact from the world around us.
The pandemic has revealed to us all the ways in which we have allowed our boundaries to be crossed through people-pleasing. Before COVID, we may have let someone hug us that we really didn’t want to and said yes to things that we weren’t comfortable with, usually in order to please others. Now, we may have a clear reason to say no to something and we’re forced to look at how that people-pleasing behavior doesn’t serve us.
Consider what boundaries you want to establish in your life, with whom, and what will be the consequence if they are crossed. My husband and I set a boundary with our teen daughter the other day; we don’t want any more snappy, disrespectful tirades when she’s angry. She can talk about her anger, but not attack. So far, she’s doing really well with it – partially due to my firm stance the moment she is sneaking up on that edge (and I pray for strength to keep holding it!).
Refocus on the Present Moment
After you have acknowledged, felt, and expressed (appropriately!) your anger, listened to it’s messages of wisdom and guidance, and then taken whatever action you can to create more safety (such as setting a boundary), return to the present moment. Feel your body, right here, right now. Focus on the breath; inhaling, exhaling. Take in what is around you with your eyes, ears, fingers. Let go of the story in your mind about the situation, because it’s probably not happening right here, right now.
Presence is my number one centering practice, especially after I’ve been upset. The trees, my pencil, the water flowing through the faucet are always still right here, and don’t have an agenda. The mind can become more calm and quiet as I immerse in my breath, my sensations, and simple things in the environment. Especially when present in nature, I feel my inner calm return to this moment.
Don’t worry about whether you’ll get triggered again. You will at some point. But now you have a plan for how to deal with it. So stay in the present moment as much as possible and enjoy the ease of right now. Trust that, if you do get triggered, you have what you need within to return to calm and centered
Awakening from Anxiety isn’t just about anxiety – it’s about dealing with any emotion. Order your copy here!
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