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What To Do With PTSD Triggers?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) triggers represent any auditory, visual, olfactory, cognitive, or reminiscent stimuli of a traumatic event. These triggers can range from overt to subtle, making their identification more challenging. PTSD symptoms frequently arise in response to cues from both internal (such as thoughts or emotions) and external (such as stressful situations) environments.


Various thoughts, emotions, or circumstances can evoke distressing PTSD symptoms, including flashbacks or heightened anxiety. One coping strategy involves enhancing awareness of these triggers. By pinpointing specific thoughts, emotions, and situations that elicit symptoms, individuals can take measures to mitigate their impact or occurrence.


PTSD triggers can be categorized as either internal or external. Internal triggers manifest as inner feelings, memories, or physical sensations, while external triggers stem from environmental factors. Examples of both internal and external triggers are provided below:


Internal Triggers:

- Anger

- Anxiety

- Feelings of abandonment

- Loneliness

- Loss of control

- Vulnerability

- Frustration

- Memories

- Muscle tension

- Pain

- Increased heart rate

- Sadness


External Triggers:

- Anniversaries

- Conflicts

- Specific odours

- Relationship endings

- Holidays

- Media content reminiscent of the trauma

- Encounters with individuals linked to the trauma

- Specific locations

- Media depicting traumatic events

- Witnessing accidents


Identifying triggers may involve recognizing overt cues or discerning subtle reminders that provoke negative reactions. Reflecting on situations preceding PTSD symptoms can help with trigger identification. Questions such as those listed below can guide this process:

- What circumstances typically precede the onset of symptoms?

- What environmental factors are present?

- What emotions and thoughts accompany the symptoms?

- What physical sensations are experienced?


Documenting experiences and what was happening before the symptoms can help you better understand your triggers. While individuals can undertake this process independently, collaboration with mental health professionals can offer valuable support. Therapists can assist in trigger identification and they can teach coping strategies and their better management.


Coping with triggers primarily involves avoidance, although this is impractical because you often cannot avoid your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. Many of these are out of our control. While external triggers can sometimes be managed through environmental adjustments, complete control is unattainable. Consequently, learning and coping mechanisms is crucial. Effective strategies for mitigating trigger impact include:

- Employing deep-breathing exercises to alleviate stress responses

- Engaging in expressive writing to process emotions and memories

- Utilizing grounding techniques to foster present-focused awareness

- Practicing mindfulness to enhance self-awareness and being present

- Employing relaxation techniques to alleviate stress and anxiety

- Engaging in self-soothing behaviours during periods of overwhelm

- Seeking social support for encouragement and strength during distressing recollections


Heightened awareness of triggers can foster a deeper understanding of emotional reactions, promoting a sense of validation and predictability. This enhanced understanding can positively influence mood and overall well-being. To get help with triggers contact one of our counsellors at Trauma and Stress Counselling.



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