Chapter 6

Managing Stress, Triggers & Unhelpful Thinking

Resilience is important for good mental health. Resilience is how you bounce back or manage difficulties that you experience in life.

Knowing your strengths and using the tools you have, builds confidence in your ability to manage. We all experience stress in our daily lives and this can bring on or contribute to an unwanted emotional or behavioural response.

This is often called a “trigger”. Identifying the causes of your personal triggers can improve your self-awareness of what to look out for.

Triggers differ from person to person and can include the following:

External triggers

Which are identified by your senses — sounds, smells, sights, noises,
or textures.

Symptom triggers

A physical change can trigger anxiety and worry which can build into bigger mental health issues.

Trauma triggers

Significant feelings arise based on memories of past experiences or events.

Learn to Identify Triggers

It is helpful to look at past triggers and the related situation. When doing this, break them down into How, When, Why, Who, What, and Where.

Triggers can be places, people, images, emotions, anniversaries, and thoughts which can cause you distress. Look for any patterns and signs that may help you prevent a similar situation. For example: specific types of movies, news and TV bulletins, or social media may include content warnings.

Negative life situations and events can hit you, like a wave. They may take the form of a broken promise, a misunderstanding, or an argument.

Every person manages their challenges differently. Your experience of any event will depend on how you deal with it. You can ride the wave or you can be swallowed by it.

RIDING the wave includes positive self-talk, choosing to respond rather than react to the situation, and taking time to regroup. There are different coping strategies you could use to
manage your triggers to reduce their impact on your emotional reaction.


Welcome Page
1 Strengths & Values
2 What are my Hopes?
3 Setting Goals
4 Being Motivated
5 Wellness Tools
6 Managing Stress, Triggers &       
    Unhelpful Thinking
7 Making Social Connections
8 Understanding Relapse Prevention
9 Asking for Help
10 What to do if You Become Unwell
11 My Wellness & Discharge Plan
12 Resources Directory & Helpful
Download a printable version of this Toolkit here
APMHA HealthCare's Relapse Prevention and Discharge Program

Understanding Self-Talk

Self-talk and unhelpful thinking may get in the way of coping with stress or difficult situations. Your self-talk drives your thoughts, behaviours, and outcomes.

Identifying when you have unhelpful thinking and running them through a filter of fact checking may help reframe them so you can move forward.


Examples of unhelpful thinking are:

Black & White thinking

Black & White thinking or all-or-none, where everything is seen in black-or-white
categories e.g. when a situation is anything less than perfect it is seen as a total failure, or a single event is seen as a never-ending pattern.

Note: the use of the terms “always” or “never”.

Crystal ball thinking

Jumping to conclusions: Interpreting things negatively when there are no facts to support the conclusion.

Two types are:
  • MIND READING e.g. absolutely believing that someone’s reaction towards you
    is or will be negative.
  • FORTUNE TELLING e.g. assuming or predicting that things will turn out badly.

Holding yourself or others personally responsible for events that aren’t entirely under your (or their) control.

Attaching negative labels (“I am …” instead of “I do…”) e.g. “I am hopeless” instead of “I made a mistake”.

  • Exaggerating: The importance of a problem (catastrophising) or minimising positives. e.g. One word of criticism erases all praise received, insisting it “doesn’t count” or that anyone could have done as well.
  • Personalising: Blaming yourself or taking personal responsibility for
    anything that goes wrong. “It’s my fault”.
Should or Must

Telling oneself that “I MUST” be able to complete a task, things SHOULD be the way that I expected it to be.

Many people try to motivate themselves only with must, should or shouldn’t (rather than using internally motivating phrases such as “I’d prefer to…” or “I would like to…”).

Negative focus

Focusing on the negative, minimising or misinterpreting positive aspects of a situation, focusing on weaknesses and not considering strengths.

Strategies to turn self-talk into positives include:

Fact check and challenge your thinking.

Open the Toggle below to view APMHA’s checklist. Hopefully these questions can help you through your thoughts:

APMHA's Fact Check Checklist
What evidence do I have of this thought?
Am I thinking in Black & White?
Am I jumping to conclusions?
Am I only thinking about the negative of the situation?
Is there another explanation?
Am I overestimating how responsible I am?
How would someone else think about this?
Are my judgments based on what I felt or what I did?
Am I setting myself unrealistic or unobtainable standards?
Did I forget relevant facts or over-focus on irrelevant ones?
What if it happens? What would be so bad about that?
How bad will this seem in a few weeks, months, or years?
Am I underestimating what I can do to deal with it?
Why should you? Who said you should? Prove it!
If my negative thought is true, what is the worst thing that could happen?
If my negative thought is true, what is the best thing that could happen?
If my negative thought is true, what is the most realistic thing that could happen?
Practicing accepting positive feedback and being aware of your response bias.

(Q For Renee: Worth having this as a downloadable resource?)

Coping Skills

There is a lot of evidence that living in a low stress environment supports good mental health. Thinking ahead and understanding yourself more, will help you recognise and plan how to respond to stressful situations more positively and reduce its overall impact on you.

Coping strategies are ways to manage and reduce the impact and the strength of your emotional reactions.

Open the Toggle below to see some suggestions to create a low stress environment include:

Tips to Create a Low Stress Environment
  • Create a space or room where you can relax. This might include choosing colors you find calming, indoor plants, fairy lights, using tools like weighted blanket or fidget gadgets, holding your pet, or using an oil diffuser or scented cream.
  • Unplug from time to time. Most people spend a lot of time with technology and looking at screens. Minimise your screen time, silence alerts and put your phone on “do not disturb” or remove your phone from your bedroom at night.
  • Plan breaks and quiet times. Planning breaks throughout the day like going for a walk, sit under a tree, having a bath, sit in the park, listen to soothing music, or go for a weekend away.
  • Practice mindfulness, meditation or deep breathing (You can find e options on this page or in Chapter 12: Resource Directory and Helpful Tools).
  • Practice turning negative self-talk into positive self-talk (refer to Chapter 5: Wellness Tools)
  • Practice self care.
  • Avoid alcohol or drugs.
  • Get more physical activity and maybe spend time in nature.
  • Eat a balanced diet and reduce caffeine intake.
  • Try starting a journal to jot down your thoughts and feelings.
  • Connect with friends and family.
  • Create boundaries and learn to say “no”.

Worksheet 6: Identifying Your Triggers

Worksheet 6  will help you “Identifying your triggers or negative thoughts”.

Please list your coping strategy for each trigger or reframed wording for any negative thoughts.

Other Resources
Downloadable Resources:
Smart Phone Apps:
  • MoodMission – Helps you learn new ways of coping with low moods and anxiety
  • Smiling Mind – Meditation Made Simple
  • 1 Giant Mind
  • Calm
  • YourCrew  – A reflective, interactive and fun way to prevent small issues from becoming big ones. Connects people seeking help to those they know and trust.
  • ReachOut WorryTime – A reflective, interactive and fun way to prevent small issues from becoming big ones.