How to Deal With Triggers From Trauma

Coping With Lingering Traumatic Reactions

How to Deal With Triggers From Trauma? At some point in their lives, most people go through a traumatic experience. Experiences of this type strain your normal ability cope emotionally.

In most cases, people exposed to trauma will naturally regain their sense of emotional balance.

However, this does not always happen. Instead, a significant number of exposed people develop lasting and damaging traumatic reactions.

If you are affected by a long-term traumatic reaction, you may re-experience feelings of that reaction. And like the original trauma, these feelings can interfere with your normal ability to function. The things that cause you to re-experience traumatic feelings are often referred to as trauma triggers.

Fortunately, with proper treatment, you can learn to cope with the effects of these triggers. 

What is Trauma Anyway

What is Trauma Anyway

What is trauma? At its core, it’s a natural human reaction to certain major, distressing events that overwhelm our normal emotional controls. The list of these events typically includes such things as:

  • Sexual assault and rape
  • Physical assaults
  • Child abuse and child neglect
  • Combat exposure
  • Earthquakes and other natural disasters
  • Secondhand exposure to violence
  • Serious accidents
  • Exposure to acts of random violence or terrorism

Roughly 60% of American men will experience a traumatic event in their lifetimes. Half of all women will have similar experiences. 

Common Reactions to Trauma

No matter the source of trauma, most people react at first in fairly predictable ways. One of the most common reactions is shock at having gone through such an experience. Following that shock, there is a tendency to deny the reality of what has happened to you.

In the large majority of cases, these feelings do not remain for long. As time passes, you make unconscious emotional adjustments to your trauma exposure. These adjustments help you recover your sense of equilibrium and well-being.

Less Common Reactions to Trauma

The longer you continue to react to a traumatic event, the harder it is to predict the form of that reaction. Some people experience unusual mood swings. Others have difficulty blocking out memories of a traumatic event.

In addition to your mental state, lingering trauma can affect your physical health. 

Trauma and Mental Health Issues

Lingering trauma is the root cause of a number of diagnosable mental illnesses. The best known and most widespread of these illnesses is posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Another condition, called acute stress disorder, or ASD, produces the same kinds of symptoms as PTSD. However, these symptoms occur within a shorter span of time than PTSD symptoms. 

Both PTSD and ASD belong to a group of illnesses known as trauma- and stressor-related disorders. Additional conditions in the same category include:

  • Disinhibited social engagement disorder
  • Adjustment disorder
  • Reactive attachment disorder

Trauma and Substance Abuse

There is a clearly identified connection between trauma and substance abuse. Both men and women with histories of trauma exposure have higher chances of using drugs or alcohol. In turn, they have higher overall risks for transitioning into abuse of these substances.

The same findings hold true teenagers who went through traumatic experiences as younger children. 

Diagnosable substance problems frequently occur in combination with separate mental illnesses. Specialists have a term for this combination: dual diagnosis. As a rule, cases of dual diagnosis are more difficult to treat than standalone cases of addiction or mental illness.

One of the most common forms of dual diagnosis is drug or alcohol addiction combined with PTSD. Research shows that the presence of PTSD substantially escalates risks for serious substance problems. 

Defining a Trauma Trigger

Defining a trauma trigger is an important step in understanding the impact of lingering trauma. Experts use this term to describe something that either:

  • Brings you back to a trauma-related memory
  • Causes you to recall a particular detail or aspect of a traumatic experience
  • Produces a sensory “flashback” that causes you to re-live a traumatic event

It does not matter what causes such memories or recollections to recur. In fact, sources vary from person to person. As long as the end result is a re-experiencing of trauma, anything can serve as a trigger.

Types of Trauma Triggers

This means that there are many different types of trauma triggers. Potential examples include such things as:

  • Returning to a place where a traumatic experience occurred
  • Being in a situation that resembles the setting for a traumatic experience
  • Smelling odors you associate with a past trauma
  • Seeing clothing that reminds you of what you wore during a traumatic event
  • Hearing certain words or phrases
  • Having to face stressful situations

Many times, triggers are time- or date-related. For example, if you were traumatized in summertime, your memories may resurface during that season. The yearly anniversary of a traumatic event is another common trigger.

Additional examples in this same category include:

  • A particular time or portion of the day
  • A holiday or other annual event

Identifying Your Personal Triggers

You may be aware that a given thing serves as a trauma trigger. However, it is common to have little or no understanding of why you are re-experiencing a traumatic event. This lack of understanding can lead to serious distress.

It can also contribute to the onset of a trauma-related illness. And in people already affected by such an illness, unidentified triggers can contribute to ongoing symptoms. 

For these reasons, mental health experts place a heavy emphasis on identifying your personal triggers. When you take this crucial step, you begin to understand what is happening to you and why. You also make it possible to improve your ability to cope with triggering situations.

How do you learn to identify your trauma triggers? As a rule, the first step is learning more about what it means to be triggered. This knowledge will put you in a better position to recognize when a triggering event is occurring.

Once you take this step, you can begin to notice specific situations where traumatic memories, flashbacks or recollections resurface. At first, these situations may appear to be random.

However, as you observe them more and more, chances are that patterns will begin to emerge. 

Once you begin to spot the larger patterns, you can start breaking them down into more detailed observations. In turn, these observations will help you recognize:

  • Triggers that recur often and are fairly predictable
  • Less common triggers that may or may not be predictable
  • Major triggers that cause you high levels of distress
  • Minor triggers that do not affect you as severely

Therapy Approaches for Trauma Treatment

Therapy Approaches for Trauma Treatment

Psychotherapy is commonly used in trauma treatment. Among other things, this form of treatment can help decrease your sensitivity to trauma triggers. Not everyone receives benefits from the same kinds of therapy.

For this reason, there are multiple therapy approaches for trauma treatment.

Many of the most effective approaches belong to a treatment category called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. All forms of CBT aim to help you understand and change damaging:

  • Thought patterns
  • Emotional responses
  • Behaviors 

Two forms of CBT are especially useful for dealing with trauma triggers. The first of these approaches is stress inoculation therapy. This therapy acknowledges the role that stress can play as a trigger. During stress inoculation, your therapist exposes you to limited amounts of stress.

Like a flu shot, this limited exposure “inoculates” you. In other words, it helps you develop a higher level of tolerance for stressful situations. 

You may also benefit from prolonged exposure therapy. This therapy purposefully exposes you to your triggers under controlled conditions. This exposure can take the form of either:

  • Gradually increasing amounts of time in a triggering situation
  • A detailed mental exploration of what happened to you in a traumatic situation

Whichever method is used, it may help you gain a sense of self-control over your triggers. 

PTSD and Traumatic Event Recovery

Both prolonged exposure therapy and stress inoculation therapy are useful for treating PTSD. You may also benefit from something called cognitive processing therapy. This therapy helps you overcome the thoughts and feelings that help sustain your illness.

In addition, your therapy options may include such things as:

  • Psychodynamic therapy
  • Interpersonal therapy

Medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds may also be included in your treatment plan. 

Specific Tools and Methods for Coping

Specific tools and methods for coping with trauma vary from case to case. Things that may help you include:

  • Staying away from situations that you are not yet able to cope with
  • Preparing yourself in advance for triggers you cannot avoid
  • Improving the strength of your personal support network
  • Using self-talk to support a positive mental outlook
  • Practicing stress management or other relaxation techniques
  • Participating in tai chi, yoga or other calming exercises

Your therapist may also recommend doing things to distract yourself from any rising feelings of discomfort. 

Inpatient Trauma Treatment

Inpatient Trauma Treatment

Some people can get adequate help for their trauma triggers in an outpatient mental health program. However, you may need to enroll in inpatient trauma treatment instead. Inpatient care has a number of benefits.

For example, it will provide you with ample time for treatment. This may be particularly important if you suffer from dual diagnosis. 

Inpatient treatment also provides you with secure surroundings throughout the day. These surroundings help limit your exposure to your trauma triggers. In turn, they also help reduce your levels of stress and fear.

As a result, you may have an easier time focusing on your recovery.

Learn More Abut Dealing With Trauma Triggers With Help From Emerald Isle

Trauma triggers help create the conditions for mental illness by returning you in some way to a traumatic experience. Once present, they also help keep your illness active. PTSD is the most famous and common condition associated with trauma triggers.

However, you may also develop a range of other diagnosable problems.

Any two people may have very different trauma triggers. Until you become aware of your own triggers, your reactions to them may seem mysterious and random.

However, with help, most people can learn to detect and predict their unique trauma reactivators.  

Psychotherapy is an excellent place to learn about your trauma triggers. It can also help you diminish the effects of those triggers.

Several kinds of therapy may play a part of your trauma recovery plan. That plan may also include appropriate medication.

Some people get better while receiving outpatient treatment. Others need the additional benefits provided by inpatient treatment.

Want more information on coping with trauma triggers? Turn to the experts at Emerald Isle. We will help you understand the full process of uncovering your personal triggers.

Emerald Isle is also a top source for effective trauma treatment. With customized care and a variety of available programs, we’ll support your recovery from the effects of any trauma-related illness.