When practising meditation with the goal of working on attachment, you may occasionally find yourself triggered by strong emotional experiences or memories. You might have anxious symptoms such as a racing heart or shortness of breath, or you might simply have a feeling of being overwhelmed. What to do when triggered after meditation is the same as what you can do when triggered in other circumstances, and there are always ways you can ground yourself. Here are some of our suggestions for how to return to your centre and find calm when triggered.
- Call a friend. Calling a trustworthy friend who you can talk to about what you’re going through can be an effective way to calm down. By expressing the emotions that have arisen, you might find them beginning to settle already. It can also be helpful to hear an outside perspective on any intrusive thoughts from someone in a more relaxed state of mind.
- Get a hug / physical contact from loved ones or an animal. The system of human attachment developed over millions of years of evolution. As evolved mammals, our bodies are hardwired to respond to physical contact like hugs. A hug lasting 20 seconds is enough for the body to release the hormone oxytocin, which can produce a sense of safety and calm.
- Call a hotline. Many hotlines take calls from people going through difficulties with their mental health. While there might be a perception that these are only for people in extreme crises, the trained operators expect and often welcome calls from distressed people who have identified their need to talk in any circumstance. A list of such hotlines is available at the bottom of this article.
- Try a more soothing meditation. Some kinds of meditation can be challenging when they force us to look deeply at ourselves. Others have the goal of soothing, calming, and regulating us, as with samatha practices in Buddhism.
- Take a walk. If you feel able to, taking a walk might be all you need to come down from being triggered, especially if you can be out somewhere in nature or even a local park. Another thing hardwired from our biology is the calming effect of seeing green plant life. Other regulatory effects of going for a walk include exercise, sunlight, and simply changing your setting.
- Reflect, recognize, and practice your own agency at this moment. While this might be challenging, taking the opportunity to reflect on your mental state can lead to insight and feeling more agency. Notice how you can get up and move, how you can take actions to soothe yourself. You haven’t chosen to have the reaction you did, but you can choose how you respond.
- Call a therapist, religious/spiritual leader, or any other helping professional. Our culture has many designated roles for just this kind of situation. Just as we have doctors for physical illness and mechanics for car trouble, there are professionals whose vocation is helping soothe the mind. The value of having a relationship with such a professional cannot be overstated.
- Reflect on the fact that your experience is common, and that many have experienced this same, legitimate suffering as you are experiencing right now. Suffering is part of the human experience. Knowing this deeply can be transformative in itself. Accept that this isn’t your fault and ask yourself what you would say to others in your situation.
If you are in distress and need to talk to someone, a list of hotlines you can call is available here: https://www.psycom.net/get-help-mental-health
If you cannot find a mental health hotline for your region, please search for one online.