Emerging Victorious: Conquering Trauma Triggers for Those Recovering from Catastrophe

When recovering from traumatic events, one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome is known as “triggers”. These triggers can be something you see, taste, feel or hear that immediately brings a rush of emotion that can cause severe stress or even panic attacks.

Although these triggers may seem inescapable, there are ways to recognize them and learn techniques for coping with them so they no longer hold us back. Overcoming emotional turmoil is key to structuring a healthy, happy life. In this blog post, we will explore what trauma triggers are; how to identify when they occur; and tips on how to manage their effects on your daily life to regain control of your own emotions.

What are Trauma Triggers & How They Impact Recovery

Trauma triggers are reminders of past traumatic experiences that can cause strong emotional and physical reactions. These triggers can be anything that our senses perceive as similar to the original traumatic event. Sounds smells, or even particular contexts can trigger us. We can be triggered by the environment around us or simply by ruminating on our anxieties. Both internal and external triggers can give us trouble.

Often, these triggers can cause us to feel emotionally overwhelmed, leading to intrusive thoughts and physical sensations such as a racing heartbeat, nausea, dizziness, or intense fear. This can be a major obstacle to recovery as it often leads to avoidance behaviors and impairs our ability to move forward in our lives.

Dealing with trauma triggers is crucial in the recovery process, as they can cause intense anxiety and fear, and disrupt healing. Triggers are as unique as people; just as traumas are different, so are their effects on us. Figuring out what triggers you is the first step to combating triggers.

Identifying Your Trauma Triggers

Trauma triggers can cause a range of symptoms that can make it difficult to cope. Identifying your triggers is crucial to ensure that you can manage them effectively. Traumatic events often trigger us when we haven’t dealt with the event, or are avoiding our memories. Since triggers are so unique, we’ll look at some of the more common ones.

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 you might encounter throughout your day (or things that happen outside your body).” –Matthew Tull for VeryWellMind

Some common internal triggers that people often face are anger, anxiety, abandonment, pain, or memories of the traumatic event. Some common external triggers are stressful life events, witnessing an accident, or even seeing something that reminds you of the event.

This causes a physical response in the body and an emotional response in the mind. You might be nauseous, short on breath, or sweaty. Headaches or dizziness are also common. Emotionally, you might cry, or be angry, or anxious. You could even flashback to the traumatic event. These symptoms of stress outside of a stressful situation let you know that you’ve experienced a trauma trigger.

It’s essential to pinpoint what triggers your past trauma to understand the emotions and physical sensations you experience and help you develop strategies to deal with them. Once you recognize the symptoms that arise when one of your triggers is present, you can work on calming yourself before the anxiety or panic becomes overwhelming.

How to Cope with Trauma Triggers

Coping with trauma triggers can be a difficult and overwhelming process, but some strategies can make it easier. Because trauma manifests in both the body and the mind, there are ways we can use both mental and physical coping strategies to mitigate the worst of our symptoms.

a. Physical Coping Strategies

When dealing with trauma triggers, it’s important to remember that our bodies can hold onto a lot of tension and stress. That’s why utilizing physical coping strategies can be incredibly helpful in managing the impact of these triggers. Taking a few deep breaths helps calm down the autonomic nervous system. When triggered, your body enters a fight-or-flight state. Using breathing techniques to bring yourself back down to earth is a good first step.

Physically moving to a quiet and more soothing space can also be helpful; if you’ve been triggered by the environment around you, then changing that environment is key to recovering from the episode. You might use a weighted blanket or listen to soothing sounds. Whatever you use to get your senses away from the trigger works; just grounding yourself in the present instead of in a flashback is a big step to overcoming a trauma episode.

b. Mental Coping Strategies

Being triggered is an incredibly stressful thing, and it can make you feel like the world is falling apart around you. It can be easy to feel crazy or alone. But this is a normal response to trauma. You aren’t alone.

“What you have experienced is real and hurtful. Having the name or context of traumatic stress/PTSD lets you know you that how you feel is not your fault. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with you. What you’re going through is actually a normal response to abnormal experiences. It’s important to remind yourself of this as you go through challenging symptoms because self-validation is an important piece of healing.” – Adena Bank Lees for NAMI

Knowing that you are enough, that you are normal, and that you are not alone is an important thing to remind yourself. Trauma is scary, but you’re not the first or last person to go through it. It can feel like you aren’t yourself, but that’s a normal way to feel after a catastrophe. It’s okay not to be okay.

Distracting yourself at the moment can be helpful. Grounding techniques like noticing your environment can be helpful. A common technique involves objects and numbers. Take a few minutes to name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. Thinking of pleasant memories can also be a good way to bring your brain out of a triggered state and calm yourself down.

Recovery Strategies After an Episode

After experiencing a mental health episode, it’s important to take time to focus on recovery strategies. One key element in this journey is practicing self-care. Traumatic stress or PTSD is incredibly exhausting; take some time to journal, take a bath, talk to a friend, or do anything else that relaxes you.

It is okay if it takes time for you to recover and move forward from an episode; there is no timeline for healing. You have been through so much already; it’s okay if recovery takes a while. Be kind to yourself as you learn how to cope better and remember that you are strong enough to get through this.

Working through triggers is important to do for long-term relief from trauma symptoms. The temptation to avoid working through your feelings about a traumatic event is understandable, but you have to resist the temptation to isolate yourself and close yourself off to processing the event.

“It is not surprising and very reasonable that a person would want to avoid the strong emotional reactions stemming from thinking about or talking about a traumatic event or from encountering stimuli reminding oneself of the event. Unfortunately, avoidance is ultimately an unsuccessful strategy. In fact, it has just the opposite effect of making the negative memories, thoughts and images come into one’s mind even more often and with greater intensity.” –Dr. Patrick Keelan

How can we healthily do this? We want to take a third-person perspective on the triggering event. What triggered the episode? Was it something around you? Was it a memory you were thinking about? Triggers are as unique as we are; there’s no default answer to this question. Figuring out your reactions is key to understanding them. Journaling about them is even more powerful; externalizing your thoughts helps lessen their control over your mind.

Connection with others is very important for trauma recovery. While it can be helpful to talk about the traumatic event, it can also be very overwhelming if you try to approach that too soon. Human connection helps just by itself. Leaning on others is important for trauma; trauma is an experience too big for one person.

“Reaching out to others doesn’t necessarily mean talking about the traumatic event. Comfort comes from feeling connected and involved with others you trust. Talk about and do ‘normal’ things with friends and loved ones, things that have nothing to do with the event that triggered your traumatic stress.” –Smith, Robinson, & Segal for VeryWellMind

Learning about trauma and how it works helps too. It can be empowering to learn more about what you’re going through, giving you the knowledge needed to cope better with your reactions. Seeking out professional help or trauma support groups can aid in the recovery process. Understand that the recovery process takes time.

Working through your feelings with a therapist or even just writing about them in a journal can help you process the trauma and work through it. This will eventually lessen the frequency of triggers, as well as their intensity. You don’t have to go into the traumatic event itself if that is too difficult; instead, you can focus on other aspects such as how it made you feel, what coping mechanisms worked for you at the time, and how it has impacted your life since then.

Facing triggers head-on can be an incredibly empowering experience, and tackling these episodes can make a significant difference in improving symptoms of PTSD or traumatic stress. Taking steps to recognize our triggers and build strategies to cope with them is an important part of the recovery process. It’s a journey, but with time and dedication, you can manage your triggers to lead a healthier and more fulfilling life.

In conclusion, recovery from traumatic events can be an incredibly tough process. Trauma triggers can often stress us to the point of extreme discomfort and can ruin our chances of successful recovery. However, strategies such as identifying the triggers, using mental and physical coping strategies, taking control during episodes, and having a plan ready for afterward are all useful tools for overcoming triggers and pushing positively through recovery.

By learning to work with our bodies and prepare for potential triggers, we can take back control of our lives and move beyond trauma together.

For more information on overcoming trauma, check out Wesley’s interview with Tuê-Si Nguyen about Tuê-Si’s experiences with his own trauma. Tuê-Si shows us how moving beyond trauma and embracing self-love is an act of true authenticity.

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