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What are PTSD Triggers?

Triggers are anything that can bring on a deep rooted reminder of a trauma or brings you back to that moment when a trauma happened.  For anyone who’s experienced being triggered, you know it can be a frightening or down right debilitating experience at the time.  The chain-reaction of emotions can run the gambit and can be completely exhausting for a person.

Not only can it impact the situation you are in at the moment, but it often has longer reaching emotional effects that persist for days even.

Identifying what your triggers are can greatly increase your chances of managing and working through them.  This is where you need to be your own personal detective and keep an eye out for the things that trigger you.  Since triggers are deeply personal and can happen at any time, this becomes no easy task.  If something happens that drives you back to your trauma (mentally or emotionally), then make note of it as this is most probably a trigger for you.

Types of Triggers

Many will describe the types of triggers as being internal or external.  From my experience, both play off each other and can make the other worse.  I found that, once I returned home, because of the extreme depression I was in, external triggers had a far greater effect, thus driving me further into depression.  As time went on, external triggers (and there were enough) began to drive my internal ones.  It was a vicious cycle, but I never could really get a grip on them.

Internal Triggers

  • Anger
  • Loneliness
  • Feeling Lost
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Pain
  • Tension
  • Inability to Relax
  • Lack of Self-Esteem
  • Guilt

External Triggers

  • Loud/Sudden Noises
  • Being Touched
  • Specific Place (being there or seeing a picture)
  • Particular Smell
  • Arguments
  • Holidays
  • Anniversary of Event

Obviously these lists are not exhaustive and can be a mile long.  What your/my PTSD triggers are will differ, but this at least allows you to start recognizing your own and taking proactive steps to manage them.

5 Ways to Cope with Your Triggers

If you feel triggered, these tips will help to ground you a bit so that you can process what is happening and take action.family support

Reframe the environment.  Repeat (or have someone that you trust near you) “I am safe, this is not the trauma I experienced”.  Avoid closing your eyes so as to remain aware of your surroundings.  This will help your mind adjust and realize that this truly is not you experiencing your trauma again.

Deep breathing relaxation.  Take a deep breath in, count to 5, then exhale on a count to 5.  Do this 5 or 10 times.  In your head, count each second you’re doing this.  This will get more oxygen into you, help you relax, and, if you’re counting, it will focus your mind away from the trigger.  Focusing your attention away from the trigger for even a minute will help put the situation into perspective and help you make a more proactive decision on what to do next.  Here’s an article on meditation that goes more in-depth.

Remove yourself from or avoid the trigger.  Although this may not be possible, and in some situations, not advisable, removing yourself from the trigger can help.  Something that must be kept in mind is that, on the road to recovery from PTSD, part of therapy is oftentimes to confront your triggers and take control of them.  That being said, if it is just not the time or if the response is too great at that moment, then avoiding/removing yourself from the trigger may be best.

Seek support from those around you.  Ideally you won’t be alone during a time like this, so always seek support from those that are with you.  Don’t feel like you’re burdening anyone or that they will think any less of you.  As friends and loved ones, they want the best for you and will stand by you.  They can help calm you, or get you to another location.  Let them be your rock as you go through the process of taking control back from the PTSD triggers.

Journaling.  If you are triggered, an excellent way is to write down everything that happened, what the trigger was, how it made you feel and what you did about it.  Not only will this allow you focus your mind and calm you, but journal writing will give you the tools to analyse how PTSD is affecting you.  You’ll be able to go back and identify triggers and how your actions to cope either helped or hindered you.  Then, you can adjust.  This, my friends, is extremely empowering.  It is a huge step in taking control of PTSD and the triggers that affect you.

Coping with triggers, though not easy, is something we all have to do in order to progress through to recovery. Click To Tweet

5 Ways Your Loved Ones Can Help You When You’re Triggered

PTSD recovery really does require support from others and not surprisingly, many have no idea what to do when their loved one or friend who suffers from PTSD gets triggered.  For them, they may see a Jekyll and Hyde type of scenario, or wonder why their friend doesn’t want to hang out with them anymore.  This is all normal if they don’t know what is going on.  I really do believe that those closest to you should have an idea (details aren’t necessary unless you choose to) of what you are going through.

For those who have loved ones and friends (I’ll group them together here) struggling with PTSD, here are some tips to help before and if they get triggered.

family supportAsk how they are doing today.  This is the first step in understanding how things are going today.  This is a day by day, moment by moment battle we wage inside us, so the “right now” is good.  Don’t press for answers, just ask and listen.

Be the calm voice of reason.  If your loved one gets triggered, they could be feeling any number of emotions and quite possibly feel as though they are living through their trauma once again.  This is the time to be calm and support them.  Tell them that they are safe, ask if they want to leave the situation, and let them make the decision of what to do.  Even if your loved one is showing anger, now is not the time to reciprocate.  Calm and reason is what’s needed to defuse the situation and get things under control.

Be patient.  As I stated earlier, PTSD triggers can cause emotional distress even days after someone is triggered.  It’s not a “bounce back” right away thing most of the time.  You need to be patient and understand that the rollercoaster ride within is absolutely exhausting and sticks around for awhile.

Ask about what they have done to cope with triggers before.  This simple question can help so much during a trigger event.  If you already know how they most effectively can cope with a trigger, then it makes it much easier to help support them.  If everyone is on the same page, then things go much smoother.

Don’t pressure for answers.  So this one isn’t what you can do, more what not to do.  Do not insist and pressure your loved one to talk because you feel you either want to know or deserve to know.  There are so many factors that are involved with this…from the stigma of mental health itself, to the feelings of being judged to the inability at express oneself.  There are a million factors here.  Pressuring someone to talk when they aren’t ready is a recipe for disaster.

Conclusion

PTSD triggers are a very personal and intrusive thing for each individual struggling with it.  Coping with them, though not easy, is something we all have to do in order to progress through to recovery.  Hopefully some of the ideas I’ve presented in this article will help people along their journey.  Identifying and finding strategies that work for YOU are key.

For those trying to support loved ones with PTSD, be patient and give them their space.  Be supportive when they need it and avoid stress and pressure.  The tips I’ve outlined will help you help them on the road to recovery.

If anyone has any other tips for others, please let me know so I can add them.  Share and like if this can help others.

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