How to Deal with Trauma Triggers
“That’s triggering” is a phrase that’s often casually thrown about, but being triggered by trauma isn’t something that’s felt lightly.
Trauma is something that we hold within us (both within our bodies and our minds) often after a life-changing incident, abuse, violence, or witnessing something distressing.
When we’re triggered, by a psychological stimulus that in some way makes us involuntary relive or re-call the traumatic experience that once occurred, we suffer mentally and physically.
Ranging from a scent that brings you back to an unhealthy and unhappy time, right to dealing with waves of PTSD that surface due to everyday life duties, trauma can resurface at any time and stop us in our tracks.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at what trauma triggers are, how you can identify them, and how you can move forward with the coping skills to get through the experience of being triggered.
What Are Trauma Triggers?
Trauma, whether fresh or deep-seated, can be triggered by a psychological stimulus that makes us remember, relive, or recount the traumatic experience that we went through.
Certain trauma triggers are more obvious than others. For example, if you see the person involved in your trauma, if you return to the place where the traumatic event occurred, or if you discuss the experience.
Unfortunately, trauma triggers aren’t always so obvious.
For example, trauma could be triggered by hearing a certain name, an item of clothing, a product, or even by getting a whiff of a particular scent. In these cases, it’s more likely that you’ll be unaware of them and get triggered unexpectedly. Sometimes, you might not even realise what has triggered you, yet the trauma will re-surface.
Examples Of Trauma Triggers
Trauma triggers can both be internal and external, and although you sometimes cannot control external triggers, you can use coping skills like mindfulness, going to therapy, and CBT to help you reduce the internal triggers you experience.
If you’re not sure what the difference between internal and external triggers are, let’s take a look:
Internal triggers are things that you experience within your body (or mind) and come from within.
Examples of these types of triggers include:
- Feeling anxious
- Feeling out of control
- Struggling with depression
- Battling with ruminating thoughts
- Re-playing memories
- Having physical pain, a raised heart rate, or tension
External triggers are things that you experience outside of your body and are caused by things other than yourself.
Examples of these types of triggers include:
- Visiting a certain place or seeing a certain person
- A conversation other people are having
- Being asked certain questions
- Watching or listening to something that reminds you of a traumatic event
- A certain smell
- An anniversary
How To Identify Trauma Triggers
When it comes to identifying trauma triggers, some are obviously easier to pinpoint than others, as mentioned above. For example, you may be able to say that if you speak to someone about your traumatic experience, you will likely be triggered. However, other trauma triggers might come up unexpectedly.
Whilst it’s impossible to shield yourself completely from trauma triggers, it’s useful to take time to make a list of trauma triggers you’re aware of, or that you think may exist, so that you can avoid them in the future.
So, go ahead and note down (on your phone, in your journal, or even just in your head), potential trauma triggers. Then, take a look at the list and see if any of these triggers occur regularly - if they do, you may want to make some changes to your lifestyle to reduce the likelihood of being triggered regularly.
Creating a list of your trauma triggers can be triggering in itself, so make sure you take great care of yourself during this exercise or do it alongside a mental health professional or trusted loved one if you feel like you would benefit from support.
Additionally, it’s important to be able to recognise when you have been triggered so that you can link the experience you have to the specific trigger and recognise it or avoid it completely in the future.
Signs Your Trauma Has Been Triggered:
If you’re not quite sure how to tell if you’ve been triggered by something, or you experience these symptoms regularly but you’re not sure what’s behind them, here are just a few of the most common signs that your trauma has been triggered:
- Immediately feeling very sensitive
- Immediately feeling angry and out of control
- A sudden change in mood
- Feeling foggy, confused, and “out of it”
- Freezing up
- Suddenly feeling physically different: in pain, heart palpitations, faint, dizzy, extremely hungry, headaches, etc.
- Uncontrollable behaviour, such as crying
How To Cope With Trauma Triggers
Coping with trauma triggers can be tough, especially because even after you have identified your triggers and you’re actively avoiding them, things may still come up that trigger you - after all, some things are just out of your control.
So, here are 4 coping skills for dealing with trauma triggers:
Being aware of yourself, your emotions, and knowing the signs that you have been triggered by something, are paramount in helping you move past trauma triggers.
Whilst you might not be able to pinpoint the trigger, knowing how you physically and emotionally respond to triggers can help you to understand what’s happening and face the situation with clear acknowledgement, rather than panic.
Seek professional support
Whilst you certainly can move past trauma triggers and work on yourself independently, seeking professional help is a great idea if you are struggling with trauma triggers or any type of trauma.
Mental health professionals can give you tools and coping skills that are specific to your trauma and what you’ve experienced, whilst also giving you the opportunity to work through your trauma long-term.
Use mindfulness practices
I’m not here to tell you that meditating or going for a walk sporadically will help you avoid trauma triggers (trauma is serious business).
However, if you support your mental health to be at an optimum by practising mindfulness practices on a regular basis (daily and consciously), you may not get triggered as easily or you may be able to move past the trigger in a healthier, less impactful way.
Create a safe space or safety plan
If you do get triggered, knowing that you have a plan in place to work through your emotions and regain a calm state of mind can be of great help.
Creating a safe space for you to retreat to (this could be a physical space or the comfort of a trusted loved one), or creating a safety plan (such as taking deep breaths, practising a specific habit, or using ground techniques) can be incredibly impactful.
Knowing that you have a go-to plan can help you from exasperating what you’re feeling when you’re triggered and calm you, rather instantly. So, create a plan or safe space that you can always retreat to if needed.
Trauma isn’t a joke - it’s a serious issue that so many of us deal with, sometimes even without acknowledgement.
Educating yourself about trauma and trauma triggers, as well as learning about the coping skills you can use if you are triggered, will not only help you better understand yourself, but it’ll keep you safer and more mentally healthy too.
So, learn about it, learn about yourself, and reach out for support if you need it - it really can change your life!