The Evidence Portal

Identifying triggers and adaptive strategies for dealing with difficult situations

Flexible activity

This activity aims to develop cognitive planning and reappraisal strategies for situations that are likely to evoke a negative emotional response. This involves, first, identifying triggers that can elicit distress or upset in the individual person. Second, participants are guided through various cognitive planning and reappraisal strategies that can assist when dealing with ‘trigger’ scenarios or generally difficult situations.

Identification of triggers and adaptive strategies for dealing with difficult situations is a critical component of emotional regulation and self-management. In addition to its benefits for regulating emotions, this activity can assist with risk avoidance insofar as it encourages young people to identify triggers for emotional arousal including situations that may heighten distress or upset (such as pressure to engage in unsafe sex), and guides them through a planning and reappraisal process that assists with development of strategies to better manage and respond to these scenarios.

How can it be implemented?

Identifying triggers and developing adaptive strategies for dealing with difficult situations are best delivered during in-person sessions either one-on-one or in groups. They can also be delivered via:

Roleplay or scenario-based learning:

  • Participants can be guided through scenarios that exemplify fraught situations and participate in role-play activities with other peers that showcase adaptive strategies for managing the situation and one’s self in the situation.

Interactive sessions and games:

  • Facilitators can demonstrate common triggers and adaptive strategies for particular scenarios and encourage group discussion or group work.
  • Alternately, facilitators can provide games and educational quizzes that test the participants’ knowledge around a particular adaptive strategy or trigger

One-on-one sessions:

  • Facilitators may consider it appropriate in particular contexts to discuss potential triggers and difficult situations with participants on an individual basis. This may be because a trigger is personal to the young person, or because the young person requires extra support.

Who is the target group?

This flexible activity has been implemented with a number of different target groups. Key characteristics include:

  • Students considered at-risk for school failure
  • 18-24 year-olds who identify as African American
  • 6-8th grade students aged 12-15
  • Adolescent boys attending an alternative high school for students who struggled with behaviour problems in their traditional school

What programs conduct this activity?

  • The CERTIFY – Cognitive Emotion Regulation Training Intended for Youth program introduces the notion of cognitive emotion regulation to adolescent participants and explains adaptive and maladaptive strategies for regulating one’s emotions. Adaptive cognitive strategies include acceptance, positive refocusing, positive reappraisal, putting into perspective and refocusing on planning.
  • Color it Real involves group discussion around a variety of topics including assessing personal risk and avoiding sexual risk and identifying and managing triggers for unsafe sex.
  • During the IVRE + ER: Immersive Virtual Reality Environments (IVREs) paired with a Brief Emotion Regulation and Risk Reduction Intervention (ER), students learned how to identify ‘triggers’ for emotional arousal and developmentally appropriate strategies for regulating emotions during moments of decision-making.
  • In the Council for Boys and Young Men program, participants were tasked with identifying possible proactive solutions to preventing conflict, turning to positive influences as a strategy for coping with difficulty and seeking guidance in difficult decisions regarding personal and future decisions. All these activities were undertaken in groups.

Further resources

Last updated:

24 Nov 2022

Was this content useful?
We will use your rating to help improve the site.
Please don't include personal or financial information here
Please don't include personal or financial information here

We acknowledge Aboriginal people as the First Nations Peoples of NSW and pay our respects to Elders past, present, and future. 

Informed by lessons of the past, Department of Communities and Justice is improving how we work with Aboriginal people and communities. We listen and learn from the knowledge, strength and resilience of Stolen Generations Survivors, Aboriginal Elders and Aboriginal communities.

You can access our apology to the Stolen Generations.

Top Return to top of page Top