It can be frustrating learning how to cope with triggers from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Triggers seem to be all around, yet it often feels like they have come out of the blue when they hit. Because so many different things have the potential to be a PTSD trigger, it may seem like an impossible task to prepare for them before they occur (When My PTSD Gets Triggered). The good news is, there are some effective coping strategies that can help deal with triggers during PTSD recovery when they do come up.
Identifying PTSD Triggers During Recovery
A trigger is something that cues, or sets off, the symptoms of PTSD in the body. It can be something internal (like a thought or feeling), or it can be an external trigger, a situation, or something we see or hear in our day-to-day life. When experienced, the trigger can cause anxiety, flashbacks, the fight or flight response, or any number of other PTSD symptoms.
Some Internal PTSD Triggers
- Feelings of anger, anxiety, or sadness
- Feeling out of control
- Feeling vulnerable
- Racing heartbeat
- Physical pain
- Negative self-talk
Some External PTSD Triggers
- Seeing something on the news or online that reminds you of your traumatic event
- Watching a movie or television show that reminds you of your traumatic event
- Certain smells
- An anniversary
- A specific place
- Seeing a person who reminds you of someone connected to your traumatic event
It’s important to become aware of what your PTSD triggers might be. Awareness of things that trigger you, may allow you to avoid triggers all together, or at least allow you to understand your response when you encounter them. Of course, you can’t avoid feelings and thoughts, or even some external triggers, so it’s also important to have some coping strategies for those instances.
Ways to Cope With Triggers During PTSD Recovery
Sometimes triggers are outside of your control and impossible to avoid. When that happens, though, there are some things that you can do to lessen the anxiety and negative responses that follow. Some things that may work for you are:
Using mindfulness: Making yourself aware of where you are, in the present moment, and knowing that in that moment you are alright and can work to alleviate the anxiety and fear that has been triggered (When Mindfulness Doesn’t Calm Anxiety).
Using your recovery support system: Talking to someone who understands your PTSD and is supportive in your recovery, is a way to let go of the effects of being triggered (PTSD Support: The Power of Connection).
Telling yourself the truth: Identifying that the feeling or situation you are in is not the same as your traumatic event, and becoming aware that your fear and anxiety, while real, are not necessarily accurate reactions. Remind yourself that you are safe now. Positive self-talk or journaling when triggered feelings come up can be helpful dealing with those emotions.
Using grounding techniques: Grounding techniques use your senses to get yourself back in the present moment, much like mindfulness. Hold onto a special object, listen to music, smell or taste something with a strong scent or flavor, take notice of your surroundings, or hold someone’s hand to bring yourself back into the here and now.
Dealing with PTSD triggers in recovery isn’t easy, but with awareness and some practice, it can become much more manageable.
I would love to hear some of your coping strategies for PTSD triggers, please share them in the comments below.