Triggers & How to Cope

Identify the triggers that can send you into a negative mood or downward spiral. Be on the lookout for them, and figure out ways to cope.

Before we get into our episode’s theme, we want to share the results of our first book giveaway on the Semi-Together Instagram account. The two winners will receive two copies each of Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Outer Order, Inner Calm. We asked people what they wanted to make space for, and we heard so many great responses! Just to name a few: meditation, adventure, art, enjoyment, writing, healthy loving relationships, and quiet early mornings with good coffee.

The picture in this post is the one that sent Melia into a shame spiral about her photography skills and the one that inspired an offhand, “Nice pic!” comment from Brian. 😂😭


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📚 Semi-Together Book Giveaway! 📚 One of our great inspirations is @gretchenrubin, who helps us get it together and be happier and more productive. We’re excited to give away four copies of her new book, “Outer Order, Inner Calm,” to two winners and their friends. To enter: 1) Follow @semitogether 2) Comment: What do you want to make more space in your life for? 3) Tag a friend who creates space for the things that matter. You’ll each receive a copy of the book if you win! Score a bonus entry by reposting this pic and the rules with #semitogetherbookgiveaway and tagging @semitogether! ____ US residents only. Giveaway ends on Sunday, March 17 at 11:59 pm ET. Winners will be randomly selected and announced on Monday, March 18. Winners agree to post a photo of their prize to their Instagram account. Giveaway is not affiliated with or sponsored by Instagram or Gretchen Rubin. #bookgiveaway #happierpodcast #outerorderinnercalm #selfhelpbooks #personaldevelopment #declutteryourlife #tidyingup #whatmattersmost

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  • Monica said, “I want to make more space for passion projects and/or making my paid work meaningful until I can make those other projects more present and real.”
  • Megan said, “I want to make more space to breathe. Like before I react, b.r.e.a.t.h.e. When I’m in a moment of joy, b.r.e.a.t.h.e.”
  • Beth said, “A little more space for the self-care that we mamas tend to let lapse. (However, listening to the Semi-Together podcast has REALLY helped me see that taking a few moments whenever I can, can truly help!)”

We loved hearing from you all. Thank you to everyone who participated, and congrats to our winners!


Triggers & How to Cope

Let’s start by talking about what we mean by “trigger.”

Melia says she thinks of it as an event that opens the floodgates of negative emotions toward ourselves or others, sending you into a bad mood or downward spiral. It’s like a pet peeve, but with an anchor attached to it that can drag you into an pit of emotions like anxiety, anger, jealousy or sadness.

There’s a lot of research that putting feelings into words reduces pain. UCLA psychology professor Matthew D. Lieberman found that, “In the same way you hit the brake when you’re driving when you see a yellow light – when you put feelings into words you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses. As a result, a person may feel less angry or less sad.”

So why is it so important to figure out what our triggers are and how to cope with them?

When you’re triggered, whether you’re in traffic or your kids are acting out, your body goes into the same fight or flight mode that our ancestors did when they ran into a lion on the savanna. The stress response activates a more primitive part of the brain.

Robert Sapolsky talks about this in the book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers – we are animals who are designed to fight or flee and then get back to normal quickly, not to have a chronic stress response like so many of us do. This stress wears down our bodies and contributes to everything from heart attacks to weight gain.

So to get your brain activity back in your cortex, where reason and creativity happen, you need to do whatever it takes to get back to calm yourself down and get your body back to homeostasis instead of spiraling into anger, anxiety or depression – which are just other versions of stress.

We unpack some of the biggest triggers that both of us share, and what we’re practicing to cope with them. (Here we’ve also included our extended lists of triggers that we don’t have time to talk about in this episode!)


Big Categories

1. Mistakes or missteps, especially when they lead to greater problems. This includes trying your best but not getting the result you want, investing resources in the wrong things, and feeling like your inaction caused missed opportunities.

Strategies to cope:

  • Reframe the situation. If you were able to fix it, focus on the ultimate outcome. Even if it didn’t happen in an ideal way, now it’s right, and it will happen. If it wasn’t something you could fix, find the lesson or opportunity.
  • If an opportunity has passed, look for open doors. There are usually multiple routes you can take to reach a goal. A detour may take you a bit longer, or down an unfamiliar path, be on a but you arrive at the same destination.

2. External obstacles standing in your way. The most frustrating kind are the roadblocks that are unnecessary or unfair, like people who say “no” for no good reason or arbitrary rules.

Strategies to cope:

  • Aim for empathy first. Try to default to empathy instead of annoyance or anger. Assume people are doing the best they can and not intentionally trying to inconvenience you. For silly or arbitrary rules or processes in your way, try to appeal to other people’s empathy.
  • Do a micro-meditation, like Thich Nhat Hanh’s three-breath pause. It’s a good way to create space between what’s happening and how you react to it.
  • Avoid engaging if you can. And if not, expect that you’ll have to play the game of whoever is in charge.

3. Dieting or anxious attitudes toward food. This includes conversations and media that frame food as the enemy instead of a source of nourishment and enjoyment. (This is a very personal trigger that can bring up food and body issues from different moments in our lives; we don’t have anything against people who subscribe to certain diets that work for them.)

Strategies to cope:

  • Don’t engage. Avoid the subject, and change it quickly if it comes up.
  • Cultivate a grateful relationship with food. See it as fuel and a source of enjoyment.

Extended List:

  • Open defiance
  • Mansplaining or being condescended to
  • Rudeness or lack of consideration
  • Injustice
  • Physical discomfort, fatigue or being hangry
  • (From Melia) The kids waking me up too early and then being cranky all day (“You do NOT get to do that!”)


Listener Takeaways

Here’s a three-step process to cope with any triggers of stress and the resulting negative feelings:

1. Know your triggers and learn to see them coming. Avoid triggering situations when you can, or go in with a game plan.

2. De-escalate so you can get your brain back. When you feel your stress level rising, find ways to calm yourself down. Take three slow, deep breaths before responding. Walk away for a bit and come back (if you’re in an argument, set a time to pick it up again.) On average, it takes 20 minutes for activity to move from the more primitive, fight-or-flight center of the brain, to the more rational area.

3. Reframe the situation. Once you’re calm enough to think, look for creative ways to achieve your goal instead of bulldozing straight toward it. Think about hitting a roadblock while you’re driving – you don’t give up and park in front of it; you immediately find an alternate route. For example, (once you’re calm enough!) you can make a game out of whatever you’re trying to get your kids to do instead of forcing them to do it. If something doesn’t go the way you want it to, ask, “What does this experience make possible?” and try to be grateful for the silver linings.

Know that we have obviously not perfected these ourselves and are working on them all the time!


Get It Together / Got It Together

We each share something that’s going well for us at the moment and something else that needs work.

Melia Get It Together: Leaving podcast reviews

Melia Got It Together: Doing micro-meditations

Gill’s Get It Together: Multitasking and not finishing anything

Gill’s Got It Together: Entertaining in fun, relaxed way


Get In Touch

We love to hear your thoughts! What are your triggers? What do you do to cope with them? It’s so helpful to hear about other people’s experiences, so please share!

Try out a voice memo with the app on your phone, if you like! Email us at podcast[at]semitogether.com or leave a comment on Facebook. You can follow us on Instagram at @semitogether, and individually at @meliadicker and @travelingtotaste. And please subscribe, rate and review this podcast wherever you listen.