As creatives, we are all in a constant battle to keep our creativity thriving. We do what we can to care for ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally in order to keep our creative sides alive and well. On this blog, we talk a lot about ways to do just that: everything from meditation to self-awareness to breaking free from perfectionism. But as hard as you try, there are sometimes going to be things that derail your creative efforts—including emotional triggers. Today, we’re talking about identifying and managing emotional triggers that limit creativity.
What is an emotional trigger?
An emotional trigger is a stimulus that provokes an automatic emotional response (usually a strong response).
Emotional triggers can be internal or external, and they can be almost anything, including:
- Dates (especially anniversaries)
- Movies or shows
- Financial problems/uncertainty
- Other peoples’ emotions
- Rejection (or perceived rejection)
Grief is an example of an emotion that is commonly brought on by an emotional trigger. As anyone who has experienced loss will tell you, sometimes the smallest, most unexpected things can remind you of who or what you’ve lost, triggering waves of grief.
How do emotional triggers limit creativity?
We know that emotions can fuel creativity, but only if they are leveraged correctly. If you let your emotions get the better of you, without identifying or managing emotional triggers that inspire them, they can actually work against you and limit your creativity.
There are a couple reasons why this is true.
They can interrupt you creative flow and focus.
Because triggers can come up so quickly and unexpectedly, they can quickly pull you out of a creative, productive groove. You might be making great progress on a project, but an emotional trigger can throw you off by introducing new feelings into the mix that don’t serve your creative purposes.
They can bring up the wrong emotion at the wrong time.
All sorts of emotions can fuel creativity (even worry and stress), but it’s important that you are able to tap into the appropriate emotion for your current creative project. If you are emotionally hijacked by some sort of trigger, you have less control over your emotions, putting your creative energy at the mercy of the trigger.
They can cause frustration (especially over time).
If you can’t learn to manage your emotions and emotional triggers, you are probably going to end up feeling frustrated. Eventually, if you don’t get things under control, it may be enough to dim your creative light indefinitely.
They can perpetuate a victim mindset.
When you fail to manage your emotional triggers in a healthy way, you can start to feel like a victim to your emotions. You might start to feel like you have no say over what you think or how you feel, which can make you feel discouraged as you try to keep your creative spark going.
Identifying and Managing Emotional Triggers that Limit Creativity
For those reasons, it’s important to learn to identify and manage your emotional triggers, in order to stay in control and not allow them to overpower your life.
Identifying and managing are both crucial steps in this process, so let’s look at them one at a time.
Identifying emotional triggers
If you want to learn to manage your emotional triggers, you first have to be able to identify them. To do that:
Realize that you are having an emotional reaction.
It can be easy to write off or even deny your emotions. You might be tempted to brush off your feelings with an “I’m fine” or “I’ll get over it soon.” While it is good to think positive, ignoring your emotions usually isn’t a good idea. Instead, recognize and acknowledge that you are feeling something. How does it feel? Can you feel it physically? What does it make you want to do?
Name the emotion.
What is the emotion you are feeling? Be as specific as you can; it will help you as you work through your emotions (and eventually, learn to manage them). An emotion wheel like this one or this one can help you get really specific about which emotion you’re feeling at any given moment.
Understand what triggered it.
Identifying the specific emotion you’re feeling can help you reveal what exactly the emotional trigger was, and why it triggered you. (Realizing that you feel jealous, for example, is more likely to reveal a specific trigger than saying that you feel angry, which is a more general emotion.)
Again, be as specific as you can when naming the trigger. For example, let’s say a coworker said something and you walked away feeling triggered. Was it the words they said that triggered you? The tone they used? The way they looked at you? Identifying the specific trigger is important if you want to effectively manage the trigger later.
(Optional, long-term) Look for patterns.
Emotional triggers happen on a case-by-case basis, but if you find yourself emotionally triggered often, it may be worth your time to track your triggers to start to recognize patterns. Do you often feel triggered by words? Do you feel more triggered at certain times of day? Or do certain people trigger you more than others? Finding patterns like this can help as you work on a long-term solution to staying in control of your triggers and emotions.
Managing emotional triggers
After you’ve identified your emotional triggers, you can start to put in the work to manage them.
This can be tricky, because different methods will work for different triggers at different times. It may take some practice or trial and error to find out what is most effective for you when you are working to manage your emotional triggers.
The important thing to remember is that the effort is worth it. Learning to manage your emotional triggers will help you not only in your work as a creative, but also in your life in general.
Here are some things you can try to help you stay in control when you feel emotionally triggered.
If someone else did something that left you feeling triggered, communicate with that person about what happened and how it made you feel. Don’t blame them; rather, focus on your feelings and reactions. Give them a chance to explain themselves, and be open to the possibility that you misunderstood what they were trying to say or do. Keeping lines of communication open in this way will help you not only work through the problem at hand, but also avoid similar problems in the future.
(Note: this really only applies if the person that triggered you is someone you interact with often, like a friend, family member, or coworker. If a stranger triggers you, you are probably better off using another method than trying to engage them in a conversation.)
Question your response
You clearly had a strong emotional response to the trigger, but is it possible that the trigger didn’t mean what you thought it meant—or that it doesn’t have to mean what you think it means?
To put that another way: you are in control of your thoughts. You can choose how to respond (not react) to something that happens to you, or to any stimulus you are introduced to. If you notice yourself starting to feel something you don’t want to feel, question why you are feeling that way. Is there another way to explain what happened? Something that leaves you feeling better about, or more in control of, the situation?
Question your immediate reaction. Think about how you want to feel. This will help you come up with alternative possibilities that lessen the harmful effects of the trigger.
Sometimes the best thing you can do when you are triggered is to simply walk away. Not in an attempt to avoid or run away from the situation, but simply to give yourself space to regain control over the situation and your emotions.
That might mean physically stepping away, or it might mean temporarily distracting yourself (e.g. with another thought) so that you can start to see things more clearly. Either way, the point is to distance yourself in some way from the trigger, so that it stops triggering you.
Remind yourself of the bigger picture
If an emotional trigger is threatening your creativity, one of the best things you can do is rediscover your creative perspective. Instead of giving in to the emotions that threaten to derail your project, reset your attitude about the project. Think about why this project matters to you, or why creating in general matters to you. Consider what you’re trying to achieve, both with this specific project and in the future.
In short, remind yourself of your creative purpose. Use that purpose to help you push through the unhelpful emotions so you can stay on track even if you feel triggered.
Long-term solution: get help
If you find yourself triggered often, it might be a good idea to seek professional help. I for one am a huge proponent of professional counseling. A trained professional can help you learn to manage your emotions in a healthy way so that they don’t undo your progress or threaten your mental health and stability. There is no shame in asking for help.
Long-term solution: work on mindfulness
Another thing you can do that will help you in the long term is to work on your mindfulness. Things like yoga, meditation, and prayer can help bring you into the present moment. This is important because it can help you be less volatile and reactive, and more steady and responsive. Mindfulness can also help with a number of physical issues (like stress, sleep problems, and chronic pain) and mental health issues (including depression and anxiety).
Creativity ebbs and flows. For those of us in the creative field, it’s important to do everything we can to keep the creativity flowing—not only because it benefits us professionally, but also because it helps us as people. As we get better at identifying and managing emotional triggers that limit creativity, we can learn to create and foster environments that support creative thinking and growth. We can respond to tough situations in healthy ways. And we can create more happiness in our lives.
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