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Identifying Trauma Triggers

Understanding and Identifying Trauma Triggers: A Simple Guide

Navigating life after experiencing trauma can be like walking through a minefield blindfolded. You might feel fine one moment, but then a sudden sound, a particular image, or even a specific smell can catapult you back to those traumatic moments, bringing intense emotions and reactions that seem to come from nowhere. These experiences are known as trauma triggers. In this blog, we’ll break down what trauma triggers are, how to identify trauma triggers, and how to begin handling them in everyday life.

What are Trauma Triggers?

Trauma triggers are certain stimuli that set off a memory or flashback transporting a person back to the emotional state of their original trauma. Triggers can be very personal; different things trigger different people. They can be anything from a date on the calendar, a scene from a movie, certain words, a specific tone of voice, a particular scent, or even an emotion itself.

writings in a planner for trauma triggers
Photo by Bich Tran on

Practical Examples of Trauma Triggers

Let’s consider Emma, who was in a car accident. She might find that the sound of screeching tires on television, or even the sensation of braking suddenly in a car, sends her heart racing. These are her trauma triggers related to her accident.

Or take Sam, a veteran, who might find fireworks or loud noises trigger feelings of anxiety and stress due to their similarity to gunshots.

Then there’s Aria, who experienced bullying. She might find herself feeling frightened or defensive when she perceives someone’s tone of voice as mocking or aggressive, even if it’s in a completely benign context.

Identifying Your Triggers

The first step in dealing with trauma triggers is identifying them. This can take some detective work, as our reactions can sometimes seem mysterious or out of the blue. Here are a few steps to help identify your triggers:

  1. Keep a Journal: Start recording when you feel sudden changes in your mood or anxiety levels. Note what was happening around you, who was there, what you were doing, even what you were thinking right before the change.
  2. Look for Patterns: Over time, review your journal entries to see if patterns emerge. You might begin to notice that specific types of situations, conversations, or environments seem to precede your reactions.
  3. Body Awareness: Learn to pay attention to your body’s cues. Trauma often manifests physically, so sensations like a racing heart, rapid breathing, or feeling frozen can be clues to underlying triggers.
  4. Feedback from Friends and Family: Sometimes, others can see things about us that we can’t see ourselves. Trusted friends or family members might help identify moments when you seem to react out of proportion to the actual event.

Coping with Triggers

Once you start to identify your triggers, the next step is learning how to handle them. This can improve your quality of life significantly. Here are a few strategies:

  1. Grounding Techniques: When you feel triggered, grounding techniques can help bring you back to the present moment. This can be as simple as focusing on your breathing, counting objects around you, or feeling your feet on the ground.
  2. Self-care: Regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and healthy eating can strengthen your overall mental health and help mitigate some of the impacts of being triggered.
  3. Professional Help: Sometimes, the best approach is to work with a therapist. Therapies like Narrative therapy, Internal Family Systems therapy (IFS) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) are particularly effective for trauma-related issues.
  4. Communication: If you know certain situations are likely to be triggering, communicating your needs and boundaries to those around you can be a helpful strategy.

Understanding and dealing with trauma triggers is a deeply personal journey, and what works for one person might not work for another. The key is patience and persistence. Remember, identifying your triggers is not about eliminating emotions but managing them in a way that they don’t keep you from living your life to the fullest.

Navigating through your triggers can be challenging, but with the right tools and support, you can learn to manage them effectively. If you suspect you’re dealing with trauma triggers, consider reaching out to a mental health professional who can guide you through understanding and overcoming them. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help, and taking care of your mental health is a sign of strength, not weakness.

by: Julia Akins APC

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