Symptoms can come-and-go with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but many people are aware that certain triggers can set off PTSD, bringing back memories, as if you’re living through your trauma all over again. Some triggers are obvious, others less so, and making yourself – and those around you – aware of those triggers can help you cope.
How Do Triggers Develop?
Your body prepares itself to fight, flee, or freeze when presented with danger. Your heart beats faster, senses move to high alert, and the brain pauses many of its functions to face with the situation. But with PTSD, the brain doesn’t process the event correctly, and doesn’t store it as being a past event, and as a result, you have a tendency to feel stressed and frightened even in a safe situation.
The brain attaches sights, smells, and emotions to that incorrect memory, and these become PTSD triggers. And when a trigger is pulled, the brain switches to danger mode, causing ‘flash back’ symptoms as if you were still in the traumatic situation.
Types of Trigger
Anything that reminds you of the traumatic events can be a trigger. Usually tied to your senses and emotions, you may see, feel, smell, touch, or taste something that brings about your PTSD symptoms.
Here are some of the most common PTSD triggers:
- People: Seeing people or a person with similar features that are related to the event may bring back memories and set off PTSD symptoms.
- Emotions: PTSD reactions can be caused by the thoughts and emotions you felt during the traumatic event.
- Items: Seeing items that remind you of the event can be a trigger.
- Smells: Scents and smells are strongly tied to memories, and may become triggers for your PTSD symptoms.
- Places: Returning to the scene of a trauma is a very common trigger.
- TV programs and movies: Watching similar events on screen can often set off symptoms, especially intense movie scenes or news footage.
- Feelings: Sensations are definitely triggers, especially when related to physical pain and violence.
- Sounds: Specific noises, voices, and sounds may bring back memories of the trauma.
- Tastes: Tastes can remind you of the events of a trauma.
- Situations: Scenarios can be attached to your trauma, for instance, being behind a locked door could remind you of being trapped in a burning building.
- Calendar dates: Anniversary dates are very often tied to triggers as dates are often ingrained within us; we remember the date, then the trauma that occurred on that date..
- Words: Certain words could be a trigger for your PTSD symptoms.
How to Recognize Triggers
With some triggers being subtle and other glaringly obviously, it’s not always easy to detect your actual triggers; you may not realize something is a trigger until a reaction is provoked, and your PTSD symptoms may seem random. The truth is, they’re usually caused by a trigger.