You may be wondering, “what are trauma triggers”? You may have heard about it, but aren’t clear about what a trigger really means.
Trauma is defined as a deeply disturbing and terrifying event that is outside the realm of usual experience. It could be a car accident, a natural disaster, or a medical procedure. It can also take the form of assault, emotional or physical abuse or being in combat. Trauma can also come from seeing someone else experience any of the above.
What Are Trauma Triggers
There are many ways that you can re-experience trauma and as a result, feel triggered. When something happens that reminds you of the traumatic event, this is called a trigger or being triggered.
You might not even be aware of what is happening, you just suddenly react, and you find yourself in the middle of something that you don’t understand. It is common to not even realize you’re being triggered.
You suddenly feel so mad, sad, scared or frustrated and can’t figure out why. The reason is that something happens in you present day life that reminds you of the trauma, and then triggers the same emotions you had during the traumatic event. What happens in the present might make you frustrated at a level 3 out of 10. But the feeling of frustration triggers, or reminds your brain of how you felt frustrated during the trauma. During the trauma, you felt frustration at a level 9 out of 10. So suddenly, in the present day, you are way more frustrated than you need to be. The frustration triggered you and now you feel it at level 9 instead of 3.
Identifying Your Trauma Triggers
Here are some examples of what can happen and why. That way you can start to identify your own triggers.
You may be replaying the memory of the traumatic event in your head. You can’t stop thinking about it and feel completely consumed by it. This does not leave much energy for much else and can cause you to be much less tolerant than usual.
You may even have nightmares where you re-experience the feelings you had during the trauma. For example, being chased in your nightmare might be so triggering that you wake up and it’s hard to go back to sleep.
Your nervous system can be highly activated, making you feel hypervigilant, or ‘on guard’, even when you just run to the grocery store or go out in public. So just going out of the house can trigger you, causing you to feel the world is a dangerous place. You may startle easily and you just don’t feel safe.
You might also experience flashbacks. This is when you re-live the event. For example, you might have been in a terrible car accident, and when you get into a car you start feeling like you are re-experiencing the accident all over again. So, in this example, the car or driving a car will be your trigger.
You can also get triggered by reactions in your body. These are body memories. For example, you go to the movies and feel a jolt of fear or excitement during a scene. That feeling in your body ‘triggers you’ and brings you right back to how you felt during a traumatic event. You are having a flashback and may need to leave the theater. Some people cannot go to action movies for this reason.
Body Memories As Triggers
Other body reactions to trauma are sweating, panic, racing heart beat, pain and muscle tension. Being short of breath and feeling out of control are also feelings that can trigger body memories of a past trauma.
When you feel yourself being triggered, it is common to start avoiding places where you might get triggered. You might even feel so unsafe that you no longer want to do things you normally enjoy. It might be difficult to trust people, too.
Being triggered is so frustrating and makes you feel out of control. But, avoiding life is not a practical solution. It can be very limiting to be avoiding places and people that might cause you to re-experience the trauma.
Your nervous system can be so activated that you have a hard time sleeping. You might be reacting to normal life events with more emotion than normal. It is common to feel anger, anxiety and sadness and for those feeling to be at the surface more than normal.
Going through a trauma can make you feel vulnerable and more sensitive, so your reactions might be heightened. Any little thing can trigger you.
If you are frustrated by how someone is driving on the road, you might react with more anger than is necessary. So emotions can be triggers as well. If you are overreacting, this can be a sign that you are being triggered.
Your Nervous System On Overload
In neuroimaging studies where the brains of those who have experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are compared with brains who have not been exposed to PTSD, we can see that the brain is trying to function, but is having a very hard time. PTSD brains show that the amygdala is overactive and medial prefrontal part of the brain is under active.
Sometimes a traumatic event is so stressful that anything, even calling a plumber when the drain clogs, or taking out the trash, can feel overwhelming and unsafe. These seemingly simple tasks can be too much for your already overtaxed mind.
If a close friend, loved one or work colleague is telling you that you seem on edge, they may be noticing that you are being triggered. You might not be aware of it, so if you are getting this kind of feedback, you may want to start thinking about what are trauma triggers.
Healing Begins As You Recognize What Are Trauma Triggers
Some things that you can do to cope with being triggered are deep breathing, mediation, yoga and talking to a trusted friend or loved one. Sharing what you are feeling, and not bottling it up inside, is important to healing.
There are several techniques that can help heal your nervous system. Don’t blame yourself. This is not your fault. Your nervous system has been injured by trauma, and just like you would have to seek treatment if you broke your leg, seeking good trauma treatment is key to recovery.
Therapy can help you find out what are your trauma triggers and how to start healing them. One excellent treatment is neurofeedback. Neurofeedback heals the nervous system and helps calm the emotional reactivity that trauma triggers bring on. It helps calm the feelings of fight, flight or freeze that you feel physically, as well.
As you become more resilient and your nervous system calms, sometimes you might feel that you don’t need to talk about as much as you thought you might have to. And, what you do need to talk about is much easier to process and discuss.
EMDR For Discovering What Are Trauma Triggers
EMDR Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is also an excellent technique for healing trauma. In this method, you hold an image of the traumatic event in your mind while watching the therapist do a back and forth hand movement. You move your eyes back and forth, and this helps process trauma between the two sides of the brain.
It is thought that this is what happens during rapid eye movement REM sleep. The eye movement helps your mind process the events of the day. But traumatic events can’t be fully processed during REM sleep, and trauma often disturbs sleep. So EMDR helps the mind desensitize and heal.
Therapy also needs to focus on trauma reactions in the body. This creates a feeling of fight or flight. You can also feel frozen in place, or trapped. Somatic Experiencing helps you process these body memories and finally complete the escape so you feel safe again.
If you think that therapy might help you heal from your trauma and you want to know more about what are your trauma triggers, please reach out to me by leaving a confidential voice mail 310-314-6933 or email me firstname.lastname@example.org.