1. Health
Send to a Friend via Email

How to Identify and Cope with Your PTSD Triggers

By

Updated November 05, 2008

PTSD triggers may be all around you. Even though it may sometimes feel like PTSD symptoms come 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 outside your 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 Triggers and 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
    • Anger
    • Anxiety
    • Sadness
    • Memories
    • Feeling lonely
    • Feeling abandoned
    • Frustration
    • Feeling out of control
    • Feeling vulnerable
    • Racing heart beat
    • Pain
    • 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
    • Holidays
    • 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. For example, you might inadvertently come into contact with a news story or conversation that reminds you of your traumatic event.

Because we often cannot avoid triggers, it is important to learn ways of coping with triggers. Effective, healthy coping strategies for lessening the impact of triggers include:

The more strategies you have available to you, the better off you will be in managing your triggers. In addition, the more coping strategies you have, the more likely you will be able to prevent the development of unhealthy coping strategies, such as alcohol and drug use.

Further, simply being more aware of your triggers can be beneficial. As a result of this increased awareness, your emotional reactions may begin to feel more understandable, valid, predictable, and less out of control. This can definitely positively impact your mood and overall well-being.

Some Final Important Information About Triggers

Although it is important to increase your awareness of your triggers, doing so can cause some distress. Some people might actually become triggered by trying to identify their triggers. Therefore, before you take steps to identify your triggers, make sure you have a safety plan in place in case you experience some distress.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD)
  4. Coping
  5. Coping with PTSD and Anxiety
  6. PTSD Triggers - Coping With PTSD Triggers

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.