PTSD triggers may be all around you. Even though it may sometimes feel like PTSD symptomscome out-of-the-blue, PTSD symptoms rarely spontaneously occur. Instead, whether you are aware of it not, PTSD symptoms are often triggered or cued by something in our internal (anything that happens within your body, such as thoughts or feelings) or external (anything that happens outsideyour body, such as a stressful situation) environment.
Because certain thoughts, feelings, or situations can bring up uncomfortable PTSD symptoms, such as memories of a traumatic event or feelings of being on edge and anxious, one way of coping with these symptoms is by increasing your awareness of these triggers. You can prevent or lessen the impact of certain PTSD symptoms by identifying what specific types of thoughts, feelings, and situations trigger them, and then, take steps to limit the occurrence or impact of those triggers.
Kinds of Triggers
Triggers can fall into two categories: Internal Triggersand External Triggers. Internal triggers are things that you feel or experience inside your body. Internal triggers include thoughts or memories, emotions, and bodily sensations (for example, your heart racing). External triggers are situations, people, or places that you might encounter throughout your day (or things that happen outside your body). Listed below are some common internal and external triggers.
- Internal Triggers
- Feeling lonely
- Feeling abandoned
- Feeling out of control
- Feeling vulnerable
- Racing heart beat
- Muscle tension
- External Triggers
- An argument
- Seeing a news article that reminds you of your traumatic event
- Watching a movie or television show that reminds you of your traumatic event
- Seeing a car accident
- Certain smells
- The end of a relationship
- An anniversary
- A specific place
- Seeing someone who reminds you of a person connected to your traumatic event
Identifying Your Triggers
Try to think of when your PTSD symptoms usually come up. Ask yourself the following questions to identify your triggers: What types of situations are you in? What is happening around you? What kind of emotions are you feeling? What thoughts are you experiencing? What does your body feel like? Get out a sheet of paper and write down as many internal and external triggers as you can.
Coping with Triggers
Now, the best way of coping with triggers is to avoid them altogether. However, this is almost impossible to do. Why? Well, you cannot really avoid your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. Much of these are out of our control. In regard to external triggers, we can take some steps to manage our environment (for example, not going to certain places that we know will trigger us), but we cannot control everything that happens to us.
Many persons in our society experience a traumatic shock sometime during their lives. Fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, bombings, murders, war, rape, child abuse, spousal abuse, car accidents, and many other terrifying occurrences can force their way into our lives. In fact, events such as this may occur to 70% or more of us. Trauma is believed to be significantly underestimated, and the true prevalence is probably even higher. While all of us would like to believe that we are going to escape the occurrence of terrible events in our lives, the chances are that any one individual will experience at least one major trauma.
Emotionally overwhelming events can send shock waves through every aspect of our lives. They can damage our psychological stability and take away our sense of well being. Uncontrollable, devastating experiences usually generate feelings of being unsafe, powerless, and vulnerable. They can cause a group of symptoms called Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which is as powerful and difficult to cope with as any other psychological disorder.
A traumatic event may be a one time occurrence, such as a serious car accident, witnessing a murder, or being raped. Or it can be a series of repetitive events such as ongoing incest or combat. Trauma may be physical, psychological, or a combination of both.
Some people react more strongly to such events than others. Or two people may develop different types of psychological symptoms in reaction to trauma. This is because the impact of negative events is heavily influenced by the way in which it is perceived. For example, suppose that two different persons are involved in a car accident. Afterwards, one is frightened and has difficulty riding in automobiles because they are convinced that they are going to die. They have difficulty driving and are bothered by images of another car running into them head on. They may blame themselves for reacting slowly and not getting out of the way in the original accident. Another person may react differently. They may totally blame the other driver who hit them. Their reaction may be one of anger and retaliation through lawsuits. For them, the accident may prove that life is unfair and that others cannot be trusted. While they continue to be preoccupied bythewreck,theymayhavelessanxietyanddepression. Theymayinsteadfeelprimarilyangry.
Did You Know?
–In North America, 17,000,000 people experience traumatic events each year, and of those, 25% go on to develop PTSD.
–Forty percent of Americans have been exposed to a traumatic event before the age of 30, and of these one in four will develop PTSD.
–Current estimates are that 45% of women will be raped at some point in their lifetime. The lifetime rate of occurrence of PTSD in rape victims is 35%.