For many people, the aftermath of a traumatic event can result in painful memories. Over time, these memories may fade for some of them, but for others, they may linger for months or even years after the event. Such a condition, which is diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), causes emotional devastation and carries a significant health care burden.
With an objective of spreading public awareness and highlighting effective treatment options for PTSD, the National Center for PTSD designated June as the PTSD Awareness Month in 2014. Observing the ongoing PTSD Awareness Month, here we discuss the factors leading to the serious condition and the ways to deal with them.
Coping with PTSD triggers – cues or stimuli that induce symptoms of PTSD – during recovery can be a challenging process. Although triggers are present everywhere, it may often seem like they have been activated unexpectedly. Places, people, things or situations can all be potential triggers. While it may appear impossible to anticipate or be prepared for them, effective strategies are available which can help in coping with the triggers.
Potential PTSD triggers can rekindle painful symptoms of the disorder, such as recollections of the trauma, nightmares or feelings of anxiousness and edginess. Increasing awareness of these triggers is one of the ways of coping with these symptoms. The impact of certain PTSD symptoms may be lessened by identifying the specific feelings, occasions or situations which activate them, and subsequently limiting their occurrence by adopting suitable approaches.
PTSD triggers can be internal or external
Although the reaction to a traumatic event varies from person-to-person, PTSD is usually characterized by typical responses like intense fear, unwanted memories, hyper-vigilance, ill temper, annoyance, physical pain and detachment. These responses are commonly observed in instances of physical abuse during childhood, sexual assault and violence at home. In the same way that reactions to trauma vary, what constitutes a trigger also differ among individuals.
The triggers can be categorized as internal and external. Internal triggers are those that are felt or experienced inside the body; they can manifest themselves as convictions, recollections, sentiments or physical sensations such as rapid heartbeat. External triggers are those that exist in the surrounding environments, and they can take the form of people, situations or settings that individuals run into during the daily course of life.
Common internal triggers include anger, anxiety and gloom, feeling lonely or deserted, frustration, feeling out of control, vulnerability, rapid heartbeat, physical pain and tense muscles. External triggers include news articles or online posts that serve as reminders of the traumatic event, watching a film or television show that refreshes memories of the trauma, specific odors or scents, a yearly recurrence such as an anniversary, vacation, specific place, and seeing someone who evokes memories of a person associated with the traumatic event.
Becoming aware of potential PTSD triggers is important since it may enable their avoidance completely, or allow for a better understanding of the responses when the triggers are encountered.
Coping with triggers during PTSD recovery
Feelings and thoughts cannot be avoided and sometimes they may go out of control. It is equally difficult to erase the presence of certain external, known triggers. Therefore, it is important to be aware of coping techniques which are effective during such situations. Some of these are:
- Mindfulness: This strategy requires individuals to pay more attention to the present moment and reconnect with the body. It also involves being aware of thoughts and feelings as they transpire during every moment. Living in the present moment compels individuals to stop taking things for granted and enjoy daily experiences, thereby reducing anxiety and fear.
- Personal support network: Triggers can be avoided by talking to someone who understands the individual’s PTSD symptoms and is empathetic during the recovery process.
- Positive self-talk: Positive self-affirmations can be helpful in boosting confidence and dealing with negative emotions. It is important to reassure oneself that the current feelings or situations being experienced, with the resultant fear and anxiety, are not the same as the traumatic event.
- Grounding skills: Grounding skills are used with the specific objective of purposefully avoiding certain stressful situations by directing one’s thoughts to a single calming activity. This helps in the development of a greater sense of control and in reducing feelings of panic.
- Mental activities: Engaging in mental activities diverts attention from PTSD triggers. Examples of mental activities include recalling humorous situations, drawing something that can evoke feelings of safety, or describing something extensively.
Triggers cannot be avoided, but responding to them is in our control. It determines the course of life ahead. While taking actions on a personal level to prevent the problem from going worse, it is important to seek help from a trained trauma treatment specialist who can facilitate recovery.
Sovereign Health of San Clemente, California offers a variety of customized and holistic treatment options for overcoming mental health illnesses and any underlying conditions. Our residential mental health facilities in California are among the best in the nation. Call our 24/7 helpline number or chat online to know more about undergoing a mental health diagnosis for any type of disorder.