Sites, sounds, smells, resemblances, specific topic matter, any number of things can trigger someone with PTSD. Once triggered, symptoms can be a rapid heart rate, sweating, tremors, terror, anxiety and muscle tension.
Personally, I am triggered by violence on tv or the news, other survivors telling their story, something someone brings up in conversation and even certain artistic representation that depicts violence and being silenced.
Another major trigger for me is when someone passes away, cancer related or not. This triggers my survivor’s guilt, anxiety, and my relentless internal critic who starts asking the “why” questions.
As much as I want to avoid being triggered, learning to cope once triggered has helped me to heal. Sometimes coping can be as simple as changing the channel to something that will make me laugh. Other times talking to Dave, my amazingly supportive husband, helps. Some of my best writing has come from times that I was coping with being triggered. How each person copes will be different, but learning healthy coping skills, versus turning to drugs and alcohol, is extremely important. Here are some suggestions:
Mindfulness: Make yourself aware of where you are, and return to the present moment. In the present moment you are safe and can cope with the anxiety that has surfaced.
Reach out to a friend: Talk to someone who is supportive and understands your PTSD. Try video chatting so that you can see them and not just hear their voice. So much of how we communicate is relayed through body language. Seeing their smiling face can really help to diffuse the moment.
Identify what is real: Once triggered you may feel that you are in danger or that you have been transported back to the traumatic event that has caused your PTSD. Remind yourself that you are safe now and though your anxiety and fear are very real, they are not necessarily the ideal reaction to the current situation. You can use positive self-talk, to reassure and boost yourself up. I rely heavily on journaling as a way to get out my thoughts and reconnect with the present and what is real.
Ground yourself: The focus is on getting back to the present moment and you can use your senses to get there. You can listen to music, taste or smell something with a strong flavor or scent (Frankincense, Peppermint or Orange Essential Oil are great for this), hug or hold onto a friend or loved one, step outside into the fresh air and breathe deep, take a close look at your surroundings and try to find as many things with the color blue that you can. Blue is considered to be the most calming color, however pick the color that works best for you.
Although you are undoubtedly tempted to run away from a trigger, running will only help you in the moment and not long term. Working through the situation, using coping skills and seeking professional help to do so, will ultimately help you get better.