For survivors of trauma, coping with the effects of triggers can feel like an insurmountable obstacle that can send them into the depths of depression. But there are a few effective strategies for coping with trauma triggers so that they don’t worsen the emotional impact of trauma.
Let’s first take a look at trauma triggers. A trigger is anything that serves as a troubling reminder of the traumatic event. Triggers can be both external and internal.
External Trigger Examples
- Relationship conflicts
- A conversation (even a benign one)
- A news story
- A movie or a song
- A smell or texture
Internal Trigger Examples
- Feeling lonely
- Racing heart
- Muscle tension
Any of these triggers (or combination of them) can exasperate post-traumatic stress disorder and prolong your healing process. Many trauma survivors might respond to triggers the same way they responded to the original traumatic event—withdrawal, confusion, disassociation, drug use etc. That’s why it’s important to deal with triggers with as much vigilance as you would any other threat. Remember, triggers are a threat to your emotional, psychological, and physical health. That’s why the ideal strategy for dealing with triggers is to avoid them, but that’s not always possible. Fortunately, there are a few different (and healthy) ways you can cope with trauma triggers. Just remember, since each trauma survivor is unique, all coping strategies will not work for everyone.
- Express your feelings. Write in your journal or talk with a friend or therapist about what you’re experiencing. If you’re talking to a person, make sure they can be trusted and will listen in a non-judgmental way.
- Stay grounded in reality. When faced with trauma triggers, especially flashbacks, you may feel like you’ve become disconnected from your surroundings. Get grounded in reality by focusing on the present moment—the sights, sounds, smells, and textures.
- Socialize. You can minimize the negative impact of trauma triggers by connected with your social support group. Put into place a plan for who you will call when triggers become too much to handle.
- Get physical. Exercise, both vigorous activity like running and more relaxing activity like yoga, can help you counter the effects of trauma triggers.
- Self-care. Sooth yourself physically and emotionally by pampering yourself. Take a hot bubble bath, engage in positive self-talk, treat yourself to high-quality, healthy food. Treating yourself well can go a long way in countering the effects of trauma triggers.
As part of your plan to cope with trauma triggers, understand what triggers you and then create a plan for dealing with the impact.