Managing trigger events

There are numerous potential triggers for us to get angry. So, why is it, that sometimes we experience a trigger event and feel really angry, yet we can experience the same trigger event another time and it doesn’t impact us that much?

The reason, something called ‘setting events’. As an example, a key trigger for someone could be other peoples poor driving. One day, someone getting cut up on the road could lead to them reacting in response to their increased feelings of anger.

There is nothing to be gained by me screaming abuse at the other driver, so I use as much self-control as I can muster to prevent myself from behaving in this way. Other days, someone will cut me off and I won’t care so much, I might be slightly annoyed but have no desire to react angrily.

The difference between my responses to the same event are the setting events that come before the trigger event.

If the trigger event occurs when I’m driving home, and I’ve struggled at work that day, or not had the breaks I need at the right time, or not had enough food during meal break, maybe earlier in the day I had some conflict at home that still needs to be resolved. Each of these reasons would put me more at risk of having a higher level anger reaction, when someone cuts me off. I’m possibly tired, hungry, upset and already carrying a bit of anger, so I’m all set to react when the trigger is pulled.

If the trigger event occurs and I’ve had a good day at work, home life is good, I’m well fed and rested, then I’m not set to react to someone cutting me off. I’m more likely to feel a little bit annoyed but there is less risk that I will feel intense anger.

So, before you enter an environment that has a potential trigger event, such as driving, or going to a difficult meeting or calling some service where you’ve previously got the run around, check if you have had any setting events that day that could place you at risk of responding with anger, should a trigger event occur.

If you are set up to react, then if possible, delay entering the environment that has a potential trigger until you feel less vulnerable and more calm. If you can’t delay entering the possible trigger producing environment, then use self talk just prior to going into the environment, and remind yourself you are potentially vulnerable and at risk, so you need to be careful not to react with anger if a trigger occurs.

Use anger management strategies such as controlled breathing or counting backwards to increase a sense of calm and self-control. That way, you will be less at risk of feeling intense anger, and even worse, behaving in response to that anger, should a trigger event occur.


Mensline Australia’s Changing for Good welcomes new participants. Men who have completed a men’s behaviour change program and want to get extra support in their efforts at change, can ‘self-refer’. Just call 1300 015 120 and leave a message with your name and contact details and one of the team will follow up with you.

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