It is an unfortunate and common part of some people’s life to experience some levels of stress and trauma. However, a small percentage of those people go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is a psychiatric condition that develops in some people following a traumatic or stressful experience. PTSD can also develop in people who witness a traumatic event or hear about the trauma secondhand.
The distress following from traumatic events can last for years, and in some cases, the extreme emotions and symptoms can be brought on or worsened by triggers that remind a person of the trauma they experienced.
PTSD triggers can vary depending on the type of trauma experienced and can be directly related to the trauma, or something seemingly unrelated.
Some example PTSD triggers include:
- People related to the traumatic event
- Specific objects
Some people that recognise their triggers may go to great lengths to avoid them. They can even become anxious or avoidant if they fear that they may encounter those triggers.
PTSD triggers can be common in war veterans, people with substance use disorders or those exposed to stressful environments.
What causes PTSD triggers?
PTSD triggers are developed before or during a traumatic event and can include the feelings or moments that occurred during the lead up to the event.
For example, a person may smell a certain smell that leads up to a traumatic experience. During this moment, the brain associated a trigger with an upcoming threat or danger; this usually serves as a warning signal to the individual.
Some triggers are not related to a traumatic event which the brain creates associations. It is through this association that a person can re-experience their trauma if they encounter that specific trigger. The experiences can be extremely emotional, anxiety-inducing and can be very debilitating.
It’s important to note that people’s reactions to triggers vary. For example, triggers may cause:
- Vivid flashbacks or dreams of the traumatic experience
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Violence or aggression
- Extreme bouts of sadness
- A heightened startle response
- A need to lessen (or numb) the pain through substance abuse
7 Different Types of PTSD Triggers
PTSD triggers depend on the people, sounds, scents or sights that are around a person leading up to or during a traumatic event.
Although many people are aware of their particular triggers, some people may be unsure about what causes them to relive their traumatic experience.
PTSD Triggers are associated with an extreme fear response. Below we list the 7 different types of PTSD triggers:
- People: People who were near an event that was traumatic, or were perpetrators of trauma can evoke distress
- Places: People with PTSD might relive their trauma when revisiting places that are linked to a traumatic event
- Particular feelings: like panic or stress, can remind a person of how they felt during the traumatic experience, causing them to re-experience their trauma
- Objects: Certain objects that were present or implicated in a traumatic experience can trigger an emotional response related to PTSD. This could be an item of clothing, a model of vehicle, or anything that held significance leading up to or during the trauma.
- Smells: A certain smell can also trigger traumatic memories as scents are believed to have a stronger connection to memory than other senses.
- Sounds: Sounds that are the same or similar to a sound that was part of a traumatic event can be extremely triggering. Sound-based triggers are particularly common among victims of violent crime and ex-army veterans.
- Significant dates: Knowing the significant dates surrounding a traumatic event can be anxiety-inducing for people with PTSD. The awareness of a significant date can bring on thoughts, feelings and memories related to trauma.
Identifying and Recognising PTSD Triggers
It is not always easy or obvious to identify PTSD triggers. A person with PTSD might not be aware of what provokes their feeling of fear, avoidance and panic or anger and aggression. This is more common with sensory triggers like smells, sights, taste or touch.
To recognise the triggers of PTSD, you may require a combination of observation and therapy. A psychiatrist will help you to examine parts of the environment that provoke an emotional response.
Although some people may be able to recognise their triggers, others may not. In these cases, specialist psychiatrists, family and friends may be needed to help to identify triggers.
How to Cope With PTSD Triggers
Although avoiding triggers may seem like the best way to avoid re-experiencing the trauma, it’s unlikely to help with symptoms of PTSD in the long term.
Exposure therapy helps individuals to gradually expose themselves to triggers. Often, this is the most common and effective treatment for PTSD. This is because prolonged exposure can help to remove a trigger from the traumatic context and place it in the present, where it no longer holds any value.
People can also cope with PTSD triggers through mindfulness strategies and relaxation exercises. In many cases, a combination of personal coping strategies and therapy can be beneficial.
Some of the treatment options for managing PTSD triggers include:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Exposure therapy
- Talking therapy
- Family therapy
- Group therapy
Dealing with PTSD triggers can be challenging. If you or someone you care about is struggling with PTSD, contact us today to discuss treatment options for PTSD