Trauma triggers can be a challenging experience for anyone who has gone through a traumatic event. Whether it’s the sound of a car backfiring, a smell that reminds you of the traumatic memory, or seeing a person who was involved, triggers can be both sudden and entirely unexpected.
When triggered, intense feelings of anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, or dissociation can disrupt your daily life, making it hard to work, or go to school, or maintain healthy relationships. But with consistent effort and support, you can learn to manage these symptoms and learn from the trauma.
Understand Your Triggers to Create Lasting Change
In this video, move into deeper relationship with how your past may be impacting your present day life. Knowing what it feels like when you are triggered is extremely important for making healthy and sustainable change.
Our body usually carries a physiological marker (e.g., feeling hot, irritated, flushed, a crackling in our chest, tension in our shoulders, etc.) which then begins our behavioral cycle leading to less-than-preferable coping behaviors such as substance use, overeating, Netflix binging, etc.
Tips for Managing Trauma Triggers
- Identify Your Triggers
The first step to managing your triggers is to identify them. Understand the experiences, stimuli, or situations that lead you to be triggered and make a list of them so that you can be prepared. It may take some time, self-awareness, and self-exploration to uncover them. Still, once you have identified your triggers, it will be easier to develop coping strategies.
Understanding Trauma Flashbacks
In this psychoeducation video, learn why if we’ve ever had a flashback, we know how awful and terrifying they can be. A flashback can mean reliving one of the scariest moments of life, reliving many of those moments, or re-emerging in the trauma of the past.
Why is this something that our brain creates? How is it supposed to help us? In a traumatic encoding, our brain remembers all of the contextual cues and complex content elements of the moment, and any of those experiences in the future can trigger us into a flashback.
In the moment of a flashback, our brain is being taken over by the trauma stimuli. The past can feel like it’s always present. How do we help ourselves get back into the present moment? If we’re being hijacked into a state of threat or our timekeeper is offline, this can be an important question. So, how do we engage our sensory system in a different way?
This is similar to how we ground ourselves out of dissociation: we can use ice cubes or sour candy. Our body and brain remember things all the time, and if we’ve survived really big things, that data will get priority processing. This causes other things to go offline, but sensory interaction helps bring us into the present moment. We can come back to self and remember that we’re here in the present. When our amygdala runs the show there is no sense of time. Anything we can use to redirect and bring us back to the present will help, and then we can bring in CPR for the Amygdala. If you’re not familiar with CPR for the Amygdala, I invite you to watch this video Titled, Introducing CPR for the Amygdala–Tools for Immediate Anxiety & Stress Relief.
- Practice Relaxation Techniques
There are several relaxation techniques that can help calm your body and reduce the intensity of your symptoms when you are triggered. You may try deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery – whichever one works best for you. Another helpful relaxation technique includes grounding yourself by using your five senses to bring yourself back to the present moment.
Healing Trauma Triggers With Self-Havening
A trauma trigger is actually an opportunity for proactive healing because our brain is letting us know it’s concerned about something in the environment. CPR for the Amygdala is a great opportunity to regulate ourselves during a trauma response and proactively heal our brain.
CPR for the Amygdala, which is a combination of havening touch and cognitive distraction can help us in a myriad of ways. It can down-regulate the amygdala with a distraction, empower an electrochemical cascade in our mind/body system, and help our brain down-regulate to a delta or theta wave state. It can also release serotonin, GABA, and oxytocin while decreasing norepinephrine and cortisol.
Consistent use of CPR for the Amygdala is also a great way to release stress, build resilience, and cultivate a sense of safety, all of which can actually heal our brain. So when those trauma triggers come up, we can be intentional about utilizing CPR for the Amygdala. At the end of the day, we can also circle back to the tough moments that came up and give them the acknowledgement they deserve.
- Talk to a Trusted Person
Talking to someone you trust about your trauma can help you process the experience and start to develop a path toward healing. Therapists, counselors, and trusted family members or friends are great options for a listening ear. When you share your feelings and experiences, you also gain perspective and a better understanding of your triggers.
- Engage in Self-Care Activities
Self-care plays a pivotal role in our overall well-being, especially when navigating the terrain of trauma triggers. It acts as a buffer, safeguarding our emotional and physical health against the unexpected surges of emotions and memories. Help manage trauma triggers with self-care such as eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and doing things that bring you joy. It’s important to be kind to yourself and recognize that self-care is not an indulgence but a necessity, especially when healing from trauma.
- Challenge Negative Thoughts
Confronting and altering negative thought patterns is a cornerstone to trauma recovery and emotional resilience. These thoughts can manifest as deep-seated beliefs or fleeting judgments, often surfacing during moments of distress. Challenging negative thoughts is crucial to overcoming trauma triggers. When we’re triggered, we may have negative thoughts that can be disabling and self-destructive. Try to counter them by replacing them with positive, realistic, and helpful ones.
Remember that while it’s natural to experience negative thoughts, especially following trauma, they don’t define your reality. With consistent effort and the right tools, you can reshape these thought patterns, fostering a more optimistic and grounded perspective on life.
- Be Patient with Yourself
Healing from trauma is a journey, not a destination, and like all journeys, it requires time, perseverance, and self-compassion. Patience with oneself is more than merely waiting for healing to happen. It’s an active, compassionate approach to personal growth and recovery. As you navigate your healing journey, remember that your efforts, even on the toughest days, contribute to your overall well-being and growth.
- Seek Professional Help
While personal resilience and support from loved ones play a crucial role in healing, there are times when professional guidance becomes indispensable. Managing triggers on your own can be challenging and at times overwhelming. If you’re struggling, it’s vital to seek professional help from a trusted therapist who can teach you coping skills and help you develop a treatment plan tailored to your unique needs. Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone, and seeking professional help is a sign of strength.
Trauma triggers are tough to handle. When triggered, they can bring up a range of intense physical and emotional symptoms, making it difficult to engage in daily activities. Managing trauma triggers requires consistent effort, patience, and self-care. The goal is to practice strategies tailored to your unique needs, remain open to learning about yourself, and stay hopeful that overcoming trauma triggers and healing are possible.
Understanding and navigating the complexities of trauma can be overwhelming, but remember, you’re not alone on this journey. If any part of this article resonates with you or if you believe you need professional guidance to overcome trauma triggers, please contact us at the Trauma Counseling Center of Los Angeles today 310.720.8200 for an initial consultation.
Our compassionate team is ready to listen, support, and guide you towards a brighter, healing path. You deserve care, understanding, and empowerment.
- Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books.
- Foa, E. B., Keane, T. M., Friedman, M. J., & Cohen, J. A. (Eds.). (2008). Effective treatments for PTSD: Practice guidelines from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. Guilford Press.