Triggers can be anything that causes you to have a nervous system response, and this is different from person to person.
PTSD triggers can be anything that causes you to have a nervous system response. It doesn’t matter if the event happened 1 minute ago or 20 years ago, it can be re-experienced through a trigger. A trigger can include certain sounds, smells, sights, tastes, etc. For some people, trauma is stored within each of these senses. Triggers can also be different for each person – what triggers one person could not affect another at all. A trigger may also be a memory, song, smell, or even person. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that affects certain people after they have been through a traumatic, frightening, or hazardous incident.
In this blog, I will guide you on what normally triggers PTSD, how to understand your reaction to the triggers, and various ways in which you can control or minimize your PTSD triggers.
Know your triggers.
A good first step to figuring out how to react to triggers is figuring out what they are. Many people with PTSD experience emotional and physical reactions when they encounter a trigger, like getting startled or feeling intense anger or sadness. A trigger might be anything that reminds you of the trauma, including:
- Memories or thoughts
Triggers can change over time. Some people may have triggers that bother them for years without any change, but others may find that their triggers gradually become more manageable. This can happen with treatment and exposure therapy, where a person is exposed to their triggers in controlled settings to learn healthy ways of responding to them.
Understand your reactions to triggers.
In this guide, we’ll talk about how to avoid triggers when you’re feeling them. It’s important to know what your reactions are to better understand why they happen and how to control them. The most common ones we encounter in our work with anxiety sufferers are the fight-or-flight response, the freeze response, and the fawn response. When feeling a trigger, your body immediately goes into fight or flight mode. Your heart pounds, blood pressure rises, muscles tense up (especially if someone yells at you), and your whole body feels on alert and ready for action.
One of the many things that people with PTSD struggle with is being unable to escape or pull themselves out of it before they experience a full-blown panic attack…
Make a plan for how to cope with each of your triggers.
- Make a list of your triggers. These can be anything that makes you feel anxious, reminds you of the trauma, or causes you to have flashbacks. They might include things like loud noises, crowds, certain smells or tastes, and so on.
- Make a list of coping strategies for each trigger. There are many ways to cope with PTSD symptoms when they come up. The important thing is to make sure that the coping strategies are healthy and safe. Some examples might include meditation, distraction strategies (counting backward from 100 or playing a game on your phone), talking with a friend or family member about it, and grounding techniques such as deep breathing and touching five things in the room around you and describing them aloud.
Have self-care, relaxation, and distraction techniques handy.
Have self-care, relaxation, and distraction techniques handy. It’s important to have some activities on hand that you can turn to when you need to help yourself cope with the intensity of a trigger and whatever feelings it is bringing up for you. This is called grounding and can help you return your attention from the flashback or upsetting memories to your current environment.
Try to taking a warm bath, listening to calming music – perhaps ones without words so that your mind can stay more focused in the present moment than it would be if catching song lyrics, journaling about anything other than what happened in the past, calling someone caring and supportive who can help take your mind off things for a little bit, doing something creative like drawing or painting, going for a walk or moving around in some way (exercise releases helpful neurotransmitters), doing something else that helps you relax but is not harmful to yourself or others.
Practice mindfulness meditation.
- Practice mindfulness meditation. Engaging in this type of meditation provides a way to distance yourself from your experiences. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment and accepting whatever is happening without judgment.
- Focus on your breath. This type of breathing can be helpful during a mindfulness meditation practice or when you are having a difficult time but don’t want to meditate. Try to breathe slowly, inhaling deeply through your nose and then exhaling slowly through your mouth. If you’re feeling comfortable with this, try a more advanced breathing technique called square breathing:
- Inhale through your nose for four seconds
- Hold that breath in for four seconds
- Exhale through your mouth for four seconds
- Hold for another four seconds before beginning again
Have emergency contact information available at all times.
Have emergency contact information available at all times. You never know when a trigger might arrive, and you need help at the moment to calm down and soothe yourself. Make it a point to always have your phone on hand, or easily accessible. If you do not have a cell phone, consider having an extra prepaid phone that you can keep with you in case of emergencies.
After reading this blog, I hope you will be able to identify your PTSD triggers and find a coping mechanism against them. Do consult a doctor to discuss your condition and get expert advice to manage your triggers.