man wearing hat walking outside

Identify and Cope With PTSD Triggers

For some Veterans, memories of their wartime experience can still be upsetting or traumatizing even if they served many years ago. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an intense physical and emotional response to thoughts and reminders of a traumatic event, either experienced or witnessed, that lasts for many weeks, months or years after the event. Some examples of a traumatic event include a serious accident, a terrorist act, war and combat, sexual assault, a natural disaster or a serious injury. Treatment with special types of therapy and sometimes medication can help you cope with these overwhelming feelings and emotions. The earlier you receive treatment, the better your chance of recovery.

contemplative womanWhat Can Trigger Someone With PTSD?

PTSD triggers can cause a strong negative reaction and can come from both internal feelings and thoughts, or from the external environment such as a loud noise, a specific place, weather conditions, a piece of clothing, certain smells or anything that held significance leading up to or during the trauma. The brain creates an association between the trigger and danger to serve as a warning signal, even though the danger is in the past. People with PTSD often go out of their way to avoid their triggers, which can delay or prevent emotional recovery and healing.

Identifying PTSD Triggers

Learning to identify your PTSD triggers is not always easy. For some, it might be obvious, but others might not be aware of what brings up their feelings of fear, panic or anger. When your PTSD symptoms show up with intensity, try to notice what’s happening around you and see if you can associate the conditions with the trauma you experienced. Take a pen and paper and write down as many possible triggers as you can. Getting support from a mental health care professional and using a combination of talk therapy and observation can help identify your triggers. Family members and close friends may also be able to help by noticing what’s going on when you have a reaction.

Coping With PTSD Triggers

You can minimize your exposure to PTSD triggers, once you’ve identified them, and learn coping strategies for when things happen outside your control.

Controlling your environment and avoiding triggers one hundred percent of the time is impossible, but you can minimize your exposure to triggers once you’ve identified them and learn coping strategies for when things happen outside your control. Trauma-focused therapy administered by a mental health care professional can help you learn how to control your triggers instead of them controlling you. Other coping strategies include peer support groups, practicing mindfulness, yoga and learning relaxation techniques. Simply being more aware of your triggers can be helpful. As your awareness increases, you may begin to feel more in control and your emotional reaction may be more predictable, which can have a positive impact on your overall well-being.

You can read more about PTSD triggers and treatment in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) monthly PTSD newsletter. You can also visit the VA’s National Center for PTSD website for information tailored specifically for Veterans and for their family and friends.

Tell us what you think.

* Required form fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.