How to Cope with PTSD Triggers - Practical Tips for Everyday Life

How to Cope with PTSD Triggers - Practical Tips for Everyday Life

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Are you wondering what is causing your Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms to occur? It may feel sudden or random, but usually, symptoms arise due to PTSD triggers. Recognizing these triggers is one of the first steps to treating PTSD.

PSTD impacts 3.6% of the US population, which is around 9 million people. PTSD can affect people in different ways, often impacting daily functioning and causing unpredictability. The good news is that PTSD treatments are out there to help manage symptoms.

Read on to learn everything you need about treating PTSD and practical tips for managing everyday life.

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition usually triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. People have different perspectives on what trauma and traumatic events mean, with PTSD often being associated with War. However, many traumatic events can lead to a diagnosis of PTSD.

These traumatic events include:

  • Sexual abuse or assault
  • Military combat
  • Sudden death of loved ones
  • Crashes and other accidents
  • Physical abuse
  • Childhood neglect
  • Childbirth trauma
  • Mass casualty events

There is a lot of research that demonstrates trauma's negative impact on physical and mental health. However, not everyone then develops PTSD.

There are many factors that can lead to PTSD, including what happens during the traumatic event and a person's mental health history. For example, PTSD often occurs after a sudden or shocking traumatic event where there are feelings of helplessness and a lack of control.

PTSD Symptoms

PTSD symptoms can occur within the first few weeks after a traumatic event, months, or even years after. PTSD symptoms can severely impact everyday functioning, which makes recognizing symptoms the first step in managing PTSD. It is essential to seek a professional evaluation if you are experiencing symptoms:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma, such as through nightmares or flashbacks
  • Physical discomfort such as shaking, pain, or nausea
  • Hyperarousal
  • Emotional numbing or destructive behavior
  • Alcohol or drug addiction
  • Isolation
  • Low mood
  • Sleeping problems
  • Difficulty concentrating

These are just a few of the many PTSD symptoms that can occur. PTSD symptoms occur because your brain remains in 'fight mode' after the event, so the body continues sending stress signals.

Often people will start to isolate themselves or emotionally numb themselves through substance abuse and other destructive behaviors, especially if the PTSD symptoms begin to become overwhelming.

PTSD Triggers

If you have a diagnosis of PTSD, you may wonder whether there is a pattern to your symptoms. Many people feel their symptoms come and go randomly; however, usually, PTSD triggers are often the cause. PTSD triggers can be separated into internal and external triggers.

Internal triggers are things you experience inside your body that can trigger a trauma response, such as your heart racing or a particular emotion. External PTSD triggers happen outside of your body, including many different places, things, people, and situations.

Common PTSD triggers include:

  • Loud sounds
  • Certain tones of voice
  • Emotions such as anger or panic
  • Specific words
  • Physical traits
  • Music
  • Smells
  • Touch
  • Locations
  • Time of day
  • Colors

PTSD triggers impact different senses. They can be anything that brings memories or reminders of the event, making some triggers easy to identify and others more challenging.

For example, similar locations to the place you experienced trauma may be easy to recognize. However, details such as certain smells, like cigarette smoke, may be harder to identify as a PTSD trigger initially.

Beginning to identify personal PTSD triggers is essential to help manage everyday life. If you recognize PTSD triggers, you can start to plan for potentially stressful situations and have strategies to help manage them.

If you are unsure where to begin identifying PTSD triggers, make a list. You can also keep track of your experiences and when PTSD symptoms occur to help identify triggers.

Working with mental health services is also vital to get the professional support you need to understand PTSD triggers. Identifying PTSD triggers can also be distressing, so doing it in a calm and safe space is important.

How To Cope with PTSD Triggers

Once you begin to identify PTSD triggers in your life, you can begin to apply practical tips to help manage it. It can be tempting to isolate or avoid triggers; however, isolation and avoidance can worsen mental health conditions. It is crucial to develop strategies to manage everyday life and enjoy it to the fullest.

Have Grounding Aids

Many different tools can help you manage symptoms and PTSD triggers in your everyday life, such as sleep disturbances, which can often worsen PTSD symptoms. Research has found that weighted blankets can help improve sleep disturbances and help a person feel more secure.

Other tools can include items that help ground you or bring back fond memories. These may include certain textures, such as wood or a gift from a loved one. Certain smells, such as perfume or incense, can also help center you when PTSD triggers occur.

Grounding aids help counteract the impact of PTSD triggers and help bring you back to the present moment. They can help remind you that you are now safe and secure.

Have a Daily Movement Practice

Studies have found that movement can help reduce PTSD symptoms and signal to the nervous system that it does not need to be in trauma response.

It is also important to implement changes to your routine that help prevent PTSD triggers from causing an impact instead of simply focusing on ways to manage PTSD symptoms when PTSD triggers occur.

Daily movement practice can include gentle exercises, such as walking or yoga. You may also feel comfortable trying activities such as running, weight training, or swimming. Exercise helps you focus your attention on movement and your body in the present moment, which is a great practice to train your nervous system to not remain in an immobilized stress response.

Practice Breathwork

Breathwork can also help deactivate your body's 'fight or flight' response, helping relieve physical PTSD triggers and ground you when external triggers arise. There are many different types of breathwork to try, including:

  • Holotropic breathwork
  • Box breathing
  • Alternative Nostril Breathing
  • Bhramari breath (bee breathing)

Holotropic breathwork should be done under the guidance of a trained facilitator. However, breathwork practices such as box breathing can be practiced alone. This is where you visualize a square in your mind, breathing in for a set count, holding for the same set count, exhaling for the same set count, then holding the exhale for the same count, such as four seconds.

Many pranayama exercises from yoga traditions can also help soothe the nervous system. These include Bharamari breathing and Alternative Nostril Breathing. Simply learning to take deep breaths into your stomach instead of shallow and fast-paced chest breathing can also relieve PTSD symptoms.

Focus Your Mind

When you cannot avoid PTSD triggers, you can try some exercises to help you stay present and grounded to let the moment pass. These also work for managing other mental health conditions, cravings, and urges. These exercises include:

  • Thinking about something positive such as an animal you love
  • Counting backward from 100
  • Naming as many states as possible
  • Expressive writing
  • Art
  • Learning a new life skill

These techniques can help distract you in a potential moment of distress. They are techniques that do not emotionally numb you but can help you cope if a PTSD trigger arises, especially sudden triggers. Art and writing are also fantastic ways to express your emotions creatively.

Relaxation Exercises

Implementing relaxation exercises into your daily life can be a helpful way to manage PTSD triggers. Relaxation exercises are partly down to personal preferences. However, evidence has found the following exercises helpful for different mental health difficulties, including PTSD:

  • Meditation
  • Muscle relaxation exercises
  • Soothing music

When PTSD triggers occur, there can be a timeframe when your body begins to tense and enter a trauma response. Muscle relaxation exercises can help soothe the body. These exercises include body scans, repeating the word 'relax' to each joint, and tensing your entire body before releasing.

Meditation is also a practice that can benefit your life in many ways, including training yourself to stay in the present moment. There are many guided meditation practices online as a way to get started.

Soothing music can also help activate your parasympathetic nervous system, so you do not remain in your sympathetic nervous system, which can trigger PTSD symptoms if triggers arise.

Soothing music may include music that invokes fond memories or evidence-backed music, such as binaural beats. You can create a playlist on your phone or music device to play whenever you experience PTSD triggers.

Know Your Senses

Just as PTSD can impact all your senses, your senses can also help you stay grounded in moments of distress. Knowing your senses and tuning into them can help you stay present. For example, you can try mindfulness or self-soothing exercises that focus on all the senses.

Mindfulness exercises include naming things you can see, feel, hear, smell, and taste. You can choose a specific number for each sense, such as five things you can see, four you can feel, three you can hear, two you can smell, and two you can taste.

Self-soothing exercises include:

  • Holding ice in your hands or running your wrists under cold water
  • Having a sour candy
  • Using a stress ball
  • Having a warm bath
  • Reading a good book

Self-soothing exercises can also include grounding aids, such as special items that appeal to a specific sense. This may include a photo of a loved one or a particular texture to feel. Practicing connecting to your senses can take time but will help manage your everyday life with PTSD triggers.

Get Outside

Research has found that spending time in nature can reduce PTSD symptoms and help everyday functioning. There are many reasons for this, including the Earth's grounding energy, reducing overstimulation from technology, provoking feelings of awe, and reducing general stress levels.

Being outside and trying new activities, such as hiking or another sport, can also help empower you. It is important to find activities that are safe to do, such as with local recreational groups. However, a good start is simply going for a walk in nature and focusing on everything around you.

Confide in a Loved One

You do not have to manage PTSD triggers alone. Manage PTSD triggers by also confiding in someone you can trust who can support you. This can help reduce your isolation and avoidance of a specific PTSD trigger.

For example, a loved one might be able to accompany you if you have to go to a location that reminds you of the traumatic event. Over time, you will feel more comfortable going alone, especially if you get mental health support that includes exposure therapy, which a therapist and loved one can help you with.

Join a Support Group

There are also PTSD support groups that can help you manage your everyday life and not feel alone. Feeling isolated can increase helplessness and reduce the ability to cope with PTSD. Finding peers who have gone through similar experiences to you can help support, uplift, and empower you.

Support groups may be focused on a specific type of trauma, such as groups for veterans of War. They may focus on managing symptoms such as drug or alcohol addiction or specific ways to help manage PTSD triggers.

Take the time to find a reputable support group that can provide a safe and healing space. Many groups are confidential and are led by people impacted by PTSD who have trained to facilitate group PTSD work.

Find Professional PTSD Treatment

These tips will help you begin to identify PTSD triggers and learn how to manage them. However, you should also consider support from mental health services. Mental health services can provide other PTSD treatments, such as therapy and medication, which can be invaluable in your healing journey.

PTSD can often be part of a dual diagnosis, such as with drug or alcohol addiction. Embark Recovery in Prescott, Arizona, provides licensed psychiatric services for dual diagnosis and other substance abuse programs. Contact us today to learn more.

Begin your road to recovery