Psychiatry Associates Blog

PTSD Triggers: Ways to Identify & Cope

PTSD triggers combat-201972-editedPosttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common mental illness impacting those who have experienced or witnessed particularly traumatic events.  While it is commonly associated with combat veterans, anyone can suffer from PTSD.  Events such as assaults, car accidents, or natural disasters can all leave a lasting impact on the brain, leading to problems such as anxiety, insomnia, agitation, and self-destructive behaviors.  At times, these symptoms may be worse than others.  This is often due to thoughts or events that serve as “triggers.”  Learning how to identify these triggers and cope with them effectively is an important step in living a healthy, successful life with PTSD.

Common PTSD Triggers

Spotting PTSD triggers requires a bit of self-inventory.  What were you doing or feeling at the time that your symptoms began?  Were you feeling particularly anxious, angry, or sad about something?  Did they occur after an argument, witnessing a car accident, or catching a whiff of a familiar smell?  Any and all of these things could be potential triggers.

Triggers can be either internal or external.  Those that are considered internal are the thoughts, emotions, and memories that have the potential to put you back into a frame of mind similar to that at the time of your trauma. External triggers, on the other hand, are events or situations that have the same effect.  Hearing fireworks on the 4th of July, for instance, may be reminiscent of gunfire heard during combat.

Identifying Your PTSD Triggers

In order to determine which internal and external triggers are at play in your own case, you must reflect back on the instances when your symptoms have appeared.  Chances are, you will identify more than one trigger, although there may be some to which you seem particularly vulnerable.  Grab a pen and paper, and jot down what you remember seeing, hearing, smelling, thinking, or feeling in the moments leading up to PTSD symptoms.  Once you have your list, you will also have a good idea of the triggers you should be prepared for in the future.  However, keep in mind, that your list will likely not be complete and that new triggers may be identified and added in the future.

Coping with PTSD Triggers

From the outside looking in, it may be easy to assume that PTSD sufferers should simply avoid all of their triggers, but this is nearly impossible in most cases.  After all, how could you possibly avoid all feelings of sadness or all sudden, loud noises?  Instead, the most effective way for sufferers to overcome PTSD triggers is to develop healthy coping strategies for when they arise.  These may include:

  • Mindfulness
  • Grounding
  • Journaling or Positive Self-Talk
  • Connecting with a Support Network

The key to determining which method is best for any given individual is self-awareness.  No one knows better than you what you find to be most calming.  While for one patient, mindfulness and deep breathing may work wonders, others may find that they are most successful when they are able to connect with an understanding peer.  Identify what works best for you and your personality, and practice it regularly in order to maximize both its usefulness and your own capabilities.

Living well with PTSD requires some work.  From self-identifying triggers to finding the most impactful coping method, sufferers must be willing to acknowledge their condition head-on before positive strides can be made.  Still, with the right methods at your disposal and the best team in your corner, PTSD does not have to be overwhelming. 

If you are suffering from PTSD and would like to minimize the impact it has on you, contact Psychiatry Associates of Baton Rouge.  Our board-certified psychiatrists can help you better understand your condition and triggers and help you explore the various treatment and coping methods that may be best for you.

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Topics: PTSD