Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people. The survivor may begin to avoid situations and stimuli that he thinks triggered the flashback. He will react to this flashback/trigger with an emotional intensity similar to that at the time of the trauma.
A person’s triggers are activated through one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.
Sight: Any place or situation where the trauma took place; house, family events or social settings.
Sound: Anything that sounds like anger; raised voices, arguments, bangs and thumps or something breaking.
Touch: Anything that resembles the trauma; certain physical touch or someone standing too close.
Smell: Any smell that resembles the place or situation where the trauma occurred; food cooking, after shave or perfume.
Taste: Anything that is related to the trauma; certain foods, alcohol or tobacco.
As a person experiencing mental health symptoms, you will most likely have certain mental health triggers. You just may not know it. Part of treatment is to learn and identify personal triggers so you can prevent an episode or have a plan in place if symptom occur. This can make them more manageable so that they don’t control your mental well being when they come up.
During support groups we often talk about our triggers and what it means for us. We agree that triggers are unwelcome disturbances in our lives. And we acknowledge the challenges associated with it.
One challenge is confronting the negative self talk. Many of us have low self-esteem already. The negative self talk does not help. Another challenge is facing the triggers and not let them take control of our lives.
Reacting to triggers is normal. The trick is to recognize them and respond to them appropriately. Otherwise they may cause a downward spiral, making you feel worse and worse.
A coping mechanism can be to develop plans to avoid or deal with triggering events. This can be done by creating a list of triggers and how you can address them.
Individuals feeling triggered have trouble coping with their normal daily tasks. They key is to prevent triggers from disrupting your normal routine. It takes practice. Practice mindfulness. This focuses the mind on the here and now and clears out clutter.
—By Susan C. Mader, MSSW