Triggers Make Anxiety and PTSD Flare Up
Things like depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are insidious. We work hard, sometimes for years, to take away their power so they no longer control our lives. And we do it! We’re going along, innocently living our lives, anxiety and such at a tolerable level, when, bam - these beasts spring up and give chase. When this happened to me recently, it took me a while, but I finally realized what was happening.
One day, I was driving my son to school. I approached an intersection rather reluctantly and felt trepidatious as I continued through it. Odd, I thought, but I dismissed it. Later that day, also while driving, a random thought hit me: I was days away from the ten-year anniversary of a car accident that left me with a mild traumatic brain injury. I once again dismissed the thought and forgot about it.
Then, the anniversary date arrived. Thanks to a sometimes spotty memory, I didn't actively remember that it was the day. I found myself inexplicably tense and irritable. I had chest pains and it was a bit difficult to breathe - seasonal allergies, of course. No. Not seasonal allergies. I figured out that this wasn't allergies when the intrusive images and thoughts about the experience invaded my mind. I realized at that moment what this was: an anxiety reaction, a flare-up of PTSD, associated with the anniversary of the event.
Anxiety Can Flare up in Response to Triggers
What on Earth? Anxiety around the car accident and its aftermath have pretty much disappeared. Sure, a degree of anxiety lingers, but it doesn’t have power over me. As it turns out, anxiety and trauma disorders like PTSD can continue to flare up around triggers, such as the anniversary of an event.
With grief, the flare-ups are called sudden temporary upsurges of grief (STUG) reactions. Even years after a loved one’s passing, certain reminders can cause grief to intensify. So it is with anxiety and trauma reactions. Even when they've been under control, triggers can cause them to spike again. Perhaps we should call them STUA (sudden temporary upsurges of anxiety) or STUART reactions (sudden temporary upsurges of anxiety recurring terribly). Okay, I made those up, especially “STUART” because I thought it flowed better than “STUA.”
Happily, these eruptions of anxiety can be calmed fairly quickly.
A Few Ways to Calm the “STUART” Anxiety
- Draw on the things in your toolbox that have helped you through anxiety in the past.
- Recognize the trigger and stay away from it for just a little while (you don’t want to start fully avoiding).
- Be aware of your thoughts and emotions, and take care of them.
I think that the best letter in the above acronyms (real and fabricated) is the “t.” It means temporary. When you recognize these reactions for what they are, you can once again calm the associated anxiety.
NCC, T. (2014, April 16). Triggers Make Anxiety and PTSD Flare Up, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2014/04/triggers-can-make-anxiety-ptsd-flare-up
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Dealing with triggers, known or unknown, is never easy. We can become better practiced, but it’s never a joy filled experience of ease, just like the authors metaphor of a sudden burst of grief from a loss is never easy or joyful.
The end of this post left me feeling so much worse because I struggle with trauma, anxiety, and all that comes with that despite hard work and having a toolbox full of techniques and theories. And just like no one is thrilled to get out their toolbox to do home repairs, even if you are skilled or even a professional at the repair need, it still sucks to have to fix the leak, creaky door, or whatever needs repair in the home. Sometimes you have to call in a professional for home repairs because you tried the quick easy fix to fairly easily try and repair the leak but instead you got a busted pipe, ruined carpeting, need new baseboards, and have to tear up the sub flooring, living in a disaster for quite a while, not to mention the other costs, literal or metaphorical.
Please don’t ever say psychological work is easy or quick or just a matter of xyz because it seldom is and in a culture that teaches us to measure up to media propaganda, the measures of easy, quick, happily etc. when not achieved can leave a residue of defeat and shame on top of the anxiety and trauma we try to work through.
It’s being judgment disguised through the slyness positivity culture language. Call a spade a spade, getting triggered is hard whether just learning or years into managing and it is going to require a different set of steps for everyone, not just three easy ones (which really are categories of vast numbers of possible steps)
Ugh I'm sorry that your therapist dismissed you like that. Humor is important in healing and does have a place in therapy, but turning something very real and serious into a joke isn't humor. Feeling a need for physical protection is a legitimate psychological defense mechanism. (Of course, anything you think and feel is legitimate.) These resources might help if you are interested in finding a different therapist. Working with the right therapist is very helpful in the long process of PTSD healing.
Online counseling is becoming reputable. Two reputable sources are talkspace.com and betterhelp.com (HealthyPlace has no connection to either of these, nor do we endorse any single organization either online or off because each individual is different, and what works great for one person may not work as well for someone else. We like to provide a variety of resources for people to investigate.)
In-person counseling is great when you have the right therapist for you. While some of this information you likely already know, the articles contain ideas for finding good counselors:
Where to Find Mental Health Help: https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/mental-illness-overview/i-need-mental-help-where-to-find-mental-health-help
Types of Mental Health Doctors and How to Find One: https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/mental-illness-overview/types-of-mental-health-doctors-and-how-to-find-one
Types of Mental Health Counselors: Finding a Good One: https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/mental-illness-overview/types-of-mental-health-counselors-finding-a-good-one
When you are out and about in the world, watch for the good. Watch for people who are treating each other well, and notice all of the safe things that are going on. PTSD makes people hypervigilant for danger (for a good reason), so people experiencing PTSD have to work extra hard to see beyond the danger. It's a process of shifting your perspective that, as I'm sure you're well aware, is just one part of PTSD recovery.
You've been through a lot and you still have strength and courage to keep working through it all. Own this strength.
Is someone who suffers from PTSD a protected class? I feel it needs to be understood as I clam up sometimes and fail to defend myself. Looking for help I stumbled on this blog.
I'm sorry to read of what you are experiencing. Your question is an important one. I'm not familiar with the legal aspects of PTSD, but I found two resources that might give you some information you need or spark ideas for where to turn next. Also, check local organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a domestic violence shelter, or other such group. They will likely have resources to share with you. The two I found are Accommodating PTSD in Our Courts (http://www.legaltechcenter.net/download/whitepapers/Accommodating%20PTSD%20in%20our%20Courts.pdf) and Domestic Violence -- Legal Protection from Abuse. I hope these offer some useful information.
I think it's wise of you to see a doctor about your physical symptoms. It's good, too, that you're so aware of how your life is being restricted. Avoidance is common and can negatively impact life. Eating, sleeping, and more can also be disrupted by anxiety. When you see your doctor, discuss everything with him/her so he/she can recommend the right type of treatment for you.
Your question is one that researchers are attempting to answer. The brain works in mysterious ways, and there is much subconscious activity that we have yet to understand. This means that there isn't a definitive answer to your very good question -- yet. That said, many things are known about PTSD and the memories and reactions that are triggered by anniversaries. This article provides good information: https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/problems/anniversary-reactions.asp
I am a PTS survivor. I choose not to call it PTSD, like the recent 2010 US Armed Services choice, because it is not something that developed but occured because of a traumatic experience. That being said, I discovered something about Hypervigellence that I think that scientist might learn something from this anomoly.
Over the last 10 years I became hypervigellent without knowing that I was. I would search for threats great or small. It was second nature to me. I was kidnapped in 1998. I was also a survivor of an earthquake/Tsunami, and was stalked, as well as living in the area where the DC sniper was shooting people.
One of these alone would cause some people trauma, I'm sure, but all of them. Were a little overwhelming. That being said.
When I did realize I was hypervigellent. Something occurred to me
When I decided to turn it off, or stop doing it. It had combined with good old fashion common sense about people, or strangers.
When I did decide to stop being hypervigellent. It wasn't as good an idea to stop cold turkey as it would seem.
In fact I discovered that all people seach for dangers, threats. In fact its a healthy thing to do.
You wouldnt' want to ignore a bad vibe you got from someone who was possibly going to do something bad.
In fact hypervigellence probably is inate to people and was willed by God.
When I decided to go cold turkey on Hypervigellence. It was a dumb idea.
Though I talked to people more. The first person I trusted burned me, lied about me, and said nastier things that anyone has ever said in my life.
That being said. PTSD sufferers.
If your trying to work on hypervigellence. Consider continuing to examining whose naughty and whose nice.
Because it is typcial facet of safety.
Its not wise to go cold turkey on hypervigellence.
One suggestion is to talk to your therapist, and to discuss that issue.
Consider continuing to check whose naughty or nice sometimes.
I've found that if you a hypernegative or blaming then scale it back.
If your too trusting, you could be dropping the standard vibing whether a person has good intentions.
Food for thought.
I'm so sorry to read about your experiences. Trauma does affect people dramatically, and the desire for your old self is very common. What you describe is, as you know, absolutely a trauma reaction caused by triggers. HealthyPlace has a blog dedicated to trauma and healing from PTSD (and healing is indeed possible, but it's a process): http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/. Michele Rosenthal was the author, and she has a wealth of helpful posts. Dan Hays has just begun writing this column, and I'm sure he will maintain the excellent quality of Trauma! A PTSD Blog. Between the articles there and the reader comments, you just might find helpful information.
The best I can do is to try and distract myself. My wife hates dogs. i think a dog would help me. i need some to touch and not judge what i do and say
You are so right -- sometimes it seems like everything can be a trigger. Mental illness sure can turn the world into one big, overwhelming picture. It's not easy, but it's possible to start narrowing down that big picture so you can work on things step by step. You're also right about animals. They can be extremely therapeutic. Do you think it might be possible to reach a compromise with your wife? If she's adamant against dogs, would she accept a different type of pet? And what type of animal do you like that could provide the same benefits that you describe? Oh, and by the way, distracting yourself is a great strategy. It involves purposely choosing what you want to focus on, and it loosens the mind's grip on the other things. Doing this can help people gradually feel in more control. So congratulate yourself for finding a great strategy, and if it's not working as well as you want it to, keep at it. Everything takes practice.
Instead of hyper-vigilant, it's something else... highly aware, deeply sensitive... not angry, mad, or violent. It takes a lot to upset me, but when it finally hits, it feels intense (last straw).
(Ok, 1st trauma 2006, 2nd almost 2 months ago & 3rd almost 2 weeks ago... kind of just here/numb now)
I know it's debatable, but do you think these symptoms are the same or different?
I would never want to do harm to you by trying to determine the nature of your symptoms. I think that visiting with a therapist or a psychiatrist might help you sort everything out. I will say, though, that it makes a lot of sense that you are having this same-yet-different sensation. When someone re-experiences trauma directly or through a trigger, the brain kicks into the fight or flight mode, and the original thoughts and feelings resurface. Feeling highly aware, deeply sensitive, etc. can be part of hypervigilance, and the experience of anger the way you describe it are frequently experienced as part of trauma response, too. To experience so many traumas, two close together, is unsettling to put it mildly. What you describe seems very appropriate. Seeing a mental health professional might be very helpful for you. I wish you the best.
I try to re-direct my thoughts to get them un-stuck, focus on the present, do something although it is hard to do and use neurotherapy, which helps to calm my racing thoughts.
I wish employers knew how inconsiderate this is. But it's the way things are today. I have to keep searching for a job even though it brings up these triggers, and try to deal with them one day at a time.
Thank you for your comment. It seems that you are very insightful into your own thoughts, anxieties, triggers, and the things that contributed to them. Insight doesn't always come easily and naturally, and it can be quite a long process and ordeal to discover true insights. Be proud of yourself for that! Wouldn't it be nice if once we had insights into what is going on that is causing our anxiety/PTSD to fare up that we no longer had struggles with these things? I've often thought that, thinking, "Okay, now that I know what this is about, I can put it behind me and move on." As you know, it's not that simple. Again, though, you are engaging in very effective things to overcome PTSD. Keep at it even when it's hard.
I noticed one very important thing you said. You said (about employers' inconsideration when failing to be timely in job notification -- which is very real to a whole lot of people including myself, by the way) that it's the way things are today. I'm glad you said that because I think it's something great to share with others who come here. I work on my own self esteem and drive to be perfect, and I've come to realize that there are a lot of things that are out of our control and aren't at all personal. When we don't get a call or an e-mail we need (or something similar), it's important to realize that it's probably not because of something we did wrong. It often has nothing to do with us and really isn't rejection at all. When you know in your heart that it's not true rejection, it might stop being a PTSD trigger. Again, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with everyone.
I find that anniversaries can trigger memories that are deeply rooted in the nether regions. I just passed a 50th anniversary of an issue that was profound in its horror. It was buried and I was unaware of it until a couple of months ago. I am still working on it, but it has diminished significantly in two months. It is the core issue and I expect it to take a while longer.
To manage daily anxiety I have an EMDR program on my computer that has both visual and audio bilateral stimulation. As background music I play a binaural beats meditation audio and go for 10-25 minutes, depending on how I feel. This has proved to be an effective regimen. If things are particularly difficult 200 mg of L-Theanine can help a lot.
I appreciate your sharing your insights with everyone! You are very correct memories left unexplored or unprocessed. That's precisely why they can be triggered, and you're very right -- it's important to healing to address them, and it is indeed possible to address and diminish them. Thanks for also sharing things that work for you. While I don't have personal experience with either EMDR or L-Theanine, these are both things I have heard of, and I know they can be quite effective. As with any method of therapy or, especially, medication (whether a traditional pharmaceutical or an alternative), it is very important for people to talk with professionals before beginning such treatment. Something that is extremely effective and safe for one person might be damaging to another. As with anything, people should always proceed with caution, but it really is great for people to be able to learn about all of the treatment approaches available. Again, thank you so much for sharing!