Emotional triggers – is your gas tank running on empty?


Throughout the day, week, month…the things happening around trigger our emotions. Emotional triggers can be either positive and negative. Think about your emotional level like a gas tank. Positive emotions fill the tank, giving you energy and motivation. Negative emotions empty the tank, sapping energy and motivation.

There’s actually a reason for that based on your brain and body. Negative emotions are linked to things we feel threatened by. Our brains and bodies react to threat and stress with adrenalin and cortisol. Positive emotions can trigger serotonin and dopamine. And don’t forget physical contact which promotes oxytocin.

The brain craves reward. That’s why it’s easy to automatically indulge in some of the more obvious rewards: food, alcohol, sex, social media. Especially in times of emotional stress. But excessively rewarding ourselves with any one thing is not the answer. The reality is, our bodies and brains require balance. Too little cortisol and adrenaline and we’re not very peppy. Too much dopamine and we’re in the addiction zone.

So, your workplace and home front stressors trigger negative emotions continuously. Things like that annoying colleague two cubes over whose whiny voice has frayed your nerves. Or the girl on the road who cut you off as she texted away and never lifted her head. Those things are uncontrollable, and they empty your gas tank.

In parallel however, there are things we do, little and big, that bring us joy and happiness. That’s what fills up our gas tank. It’s the joke the guy you had lunch with told you. It’s the people who make you laugh, the places that inspire you, the activities which get you psyched.

Do you know what fills your emotional gas? Here are just a few from my list.

  • Laughing

  • Dancing

  • Reading

  • Petting my dogs

  • Getting a massage

  • Walking on the beach

  • Eating something I love

  • Drinking nice wine

  • Hugging my grandson

  • Talking to my best friend

  • Blasting the stereo and singing at the top of my lungs

So yeah, those are just a few of the things that I really enjoy – some generic some more personal. You have your own list. Take a moment and write down a list of things that make you feel good. Get granular. Include people who make you feel good, activities you enjoy doing, places you love going. The point is variety. Some things must be planned in advance, others can be done off the cuff. Some take a significant amount of time, others can be done in a few minutes. I’m lucky, I can walk over and pet one of my dogs any time!

Now that you have your list, consciously seek out the things that you love and fill up your gas tank on a regular basis. When you are starting to peter out, take a minute to plan how you will fill your gas tank. By visualizing and anticipating a reward, we trigger similar reactions as actually experiencing the reward. Planning vacations is a great example. If you’re flagging at the end of your work day, close your eyes a second and imagine something you love that you’re going to do later.

Have fun filling up your emotional gas tank this Thanksgiving weekend. Happy Thanksgiving!