Coping with PTSD Triggers in Social Settings
Friday, February 17 2017 Tia Hollowood
Knowing when you'll need to cope with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) triggers in social settings is an unpredictable aspect of posttraumatic stress disorder. Despite knowing many of the situations where encountering a PTSD trigger is likely, there is no way to anticipate or to avoid every trigger (PTSD Recovery: How to Cope With Triggers). PTSD triggers that occur in social situations call for a toolkit of coping strategies that you can use even when it isn't practical to leave the group setting.
Coping with PTSD Triggers in Social Settings Is a Necessary Skill
Recently, I joined some friends and acquaintances at a small gathering to discuss ideas for activities with our children. There was food, coffee, and I brought my knitting. While social gatherings can be stressful for me, I was anticipating a relaxed afternoon.
Then, someone spoke a completely innocent phrase and I immediately felt as if I had been plunged into ice water. This is always my first reaction when a PTSD trigger brings forward an unwelcome image from the past (Recognizing and Managing Your Anxiety). I experienced rising anxiety, and an initial desire to leave the area as soon as possible. While I may still head for the ladies’ room, or shut down, I also have found some calming strategies that I can use without ever getting up from my seat.
Ways to Cope with PTSD Triggers in Social Settings
After having been in more than one social situation where leaving was not an option, I spoke with some of my peers about how they deal with PTSD triggers in public. Here are the ideas we used the most when coping with PTSD triggers in a social setting:
- Count something. Whether it is ceiling lights, the tiles on the wall, or the number of people passing by, counting helps by bringing your thoughts back to something concrete. It forces the rational part of your brain to do some work.
- Label what you see. Like counting, naming everything you see forces your brain to shift to into a thinking mode versus a panic mode.
- Use your phone. Quietly focus on a calming app for a while. There are apps for relaxation, meditation, coloring, and even journaling.
- Use self-talk. Tell yourself you are having a response to a PTSD trigger. Tell yourself what happened, why you are feeling anxious, and how you choose to feel instead. Continue to focus on how you choose to feel and why you do not need to be anxious.
- Make a plan. Think out your goals for the next hour or so. Plan to focus on what you need to accomplish in your current setting. Focus on completing the list instead of on making the anxiety go away.
No one wants to experience PTSD triggers in social settings. Having some strategies to fall back on can make the unexpected a bit easier to deal with (Top 21 Anxiety Grounding Techniques).
What are your experiences with being triggered in public or social settings? What works for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.