PTSD Recovery: How to Cope With Triggers
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.
DeLoe, J. (2015, December 6). PTSD Recovery: How to Cope With Triggers, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, May 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2015/12/ptsd-recovery-how-to-cope-with-triggers
Author: Jami DeLoe
I was triggered recently by being back in my workplace...I’m just starting a gradual return to work after a prolonged absence for PTSD. I started doing yoga during my absence from work and that really helps me connect back to my body. I also reached out to some friends and made plans to get together, I painted a wooden box I will have at work with some little treasures to make me smile. I felt really discouraged and ashamed at first but after sitting with this for awhile I’m reminding myself that there will be times I am triggered...I’m allowed to feel my feelings...it will pass and not to question my progress :)
I recently found Prithilla on ebay, , a childhood doll that was there for me as a young child. Prithilla sucked her thumb, as did I until I was far "too" old. Prithilla was the gift of a narcissistic mother who used it to belittle me. Unfortunately, she didn't realize that I needed her to nurture me instead. I am looking forward to Prithilla's arrival to help me remember that I am not that same scared little girl anymore.
Thank you for putting words on how life for us Survivors is. I feel everything you wrote, it has sadly become the normal for me. I have to retrain my brain and it's hard. Feels Wonderful not being alone in this Hell. Thank you sisters and brothers
Recently, an expected trigger caused an unexpected intensity of reaction. I couldn't even think where I put my small rock which I use as a grounding tool, so my daughter brought me another from outside.
(Nothing spiritual about the rocks, I just like rocks.)
I was still having trouble breathing, so I asked for a piece of ice in a washcloth.
Why ice? I don't really know. My face felt flushed so I thought it would help. Boy, did it! That icy cold in my hand shocked me back into the moment and I caught my breath and began to settle.
Ice works wonders for me too. It's actually my go-to for dealing with triggers and flashbacks. You can't help but be in the moment as you feel the freezing of your skin and the wetness of the ice. Sometimes, if I'm triggered bad enough, I even count the drops of water as the ice melts. Good for you for taking the steps you needed to handle your trigger!
I have to remind myself that I'm no longer in harm's way. I'm not the person I once was and there's no way I would put up with that type of abuse now. I'm not a little kid anymore or scared. I don't like watching shows where a man abuses a woman and will change channels or turn it off and focus on something else. I go for a walk or exercise to calm down.
I imagine standing next to that scared little girl who I used to be when that trauma happened. I imagine telling her that we are ok now. We were scared then but don't have to be scared now because we've grown and the abuser had died. There's literally no chance of him hurting us again. So in my mind, I stand with her until we are both calmer.
I coped with triggers by playing with my Jack Russell. She's gone now. I don't have that today to help. Talking to my mother and father later on really helps. After I calm down, we have a flower garden. It's very preety. It relaxes me.
Again when I calm down, exercise, a light walk around the local lake.
I usually let the situation go, and try to move foward without focusing on the trigger. Over time it has worked for me.
I have a boarder collie who feels when I have a break down and will immediately come to where i am and let me hug him until I can stop sobbing and calm down.
My border does the same....don't know what I would do without him.