How To Identify And Cope With PTSD Triggers
What Is PTSD?
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that often occurs in people who have experienced or witnessed traumatic events. These events include, but are not limited to, wartime trauma, serious accidents, natural disasters, and sexual violence. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 3.5% of American adults live with PTSD with women of color showing disproportionately high rates. A new 2021 study shows racial trauma, such as prolonged exposure to racism, can also lead to PTSD. People living with PTSD experience disturbing obsessive thoughts and may experience flashbacks or nightmares of the traumatic event spurred on by PTSD triggers. Physical symptoms of PTSD may include racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, trouble sleeping, upset stomach, and shakiness. Emotional symptoms can include panic, avoidance, being easily startled, and feeling guilt or shame.
What Does It Mean To Be Triggered?
Although the term “triggered” is now thrown around in casual conversation as a joke, PTSD triggers are a serious matter. PTSD almost always links back to a super-specific event or series of events in a person’s life. In light of that, someone with the disorder will usually have certain “triggers” or stimuli that will set off their PTSD symptoms.
The list of possible PTSD triggers is both extensive and subjective and can include anything from loud noises to certain places. Because PTSD is a DSM-5 recognized psychiatric disorder, getting triggered is not the same as being “too sensitive”. Triggering PTSD can lead to other serious mental health issues such as depression, panic attacks, self-harm, and drug abuse or relapse. In light of its seriousness, knowing your PTSD triggers and adapting coping mechanisms is a significant part of the healing process.
Internal Triggers vs. External Triggers
Triggers can both come from within as well as be brought on by an outside source. Internal triggers refer to thoughts or emotions that trigger PTSD. These include:
External triggers refer to situations or activities that trigger PTSD. Just like internal triggers, external triggers are subjective and can be anything from:
- A specific smell
- Someone raising their voice
- Witnessing a similar traumatic event to your own, either in real life or on television/film
How To Identify PTSD Triggers
To help identify your triggers, try tracing your thoughts back to what initially lead to the triggering. Was it something someone said? Something you saw? Ask yourself these questions: What is happening around me? What kind of thoughts am I having? What emotions am I experiencing? How does my body feel? Keeping note of your surroundings and emotions will help you find the commonalities between the times you feel triggered.
5 Coping Strategies For PTSD Triggers
PTSD triggers are vast and subjective, so it’s important to identify what works for you. Here are 5 coping strategies recommended by mental health professionals.
- Mindfulness – When your PTSD is triggered, the mind and body believe your past trauma is still currently happening. This is why remembering to stay present is so vital to the healing process. Focus on your breathing, feel the ground beneath your feet, and be cognizant of your thoughts. Remind yourself that you are safe and no longer in harm’s way.
- Self-soothing – In times of anxiety, having an arsenal of self-soothing methods is the key to relaxation. Remember to speak gently to yourself as you would your best friend. Engage your five senses with aromatherapy bubble baths, comfort food, your favorite music, and an upbeat film.
- Talking – Sometimes just talking about your feelings can help you make better sense of them. Reach out to someone you trust, like a close friend or family member, or look into speaking with a mental health professional. PTSD is an unfortunately common affliction among young women, and there is a wealth of professionals trained to support those living with it.
- Journaling – If you don’t feel comfortable talking about your trauma or triggers, adapting a regular journaling practice is shown to significantly reduce stress and anxiety. PTSD can often result in trust issues, so it’s understandable if you don’t feel ready to share your story or feelings. Journaling is a great way to communicate your emotions without the fear of judgment or misunderstanding.
- Distraction – Finding positive go-to distractions is a good way to safely disengage from your triggers. Healthy distractions include doing puzzles, cooking a meal, cleaning your room, or counting backward from a large number. These will occupy your mind and allow you to continue moving forward.
Again, For The People In The Back
As young women, it’s important not to confuse PTSD and its triggers with being “too sensitive”, which is something women (especially women of color) are too often told. Having trauma in your past can still have major effects on the mind, body, and spirit. At times, it seems women of color oscillate between being commended on how strong we are and being shamed for how emotional or reactionary we are. Remember, there is no shame in asking for support or taking time out for self-care.
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