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Self-Care Is A Lifestyle


PTSD: What Happens When We’re Triggered

This post contains affiliate links and book recommendations based on this topic.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health disorder that afflicts about 24 million Americans at any given time (National Institute of Health). Post-traumatic stress occurs, in short, when traumatic events are re-experienced due to external triggers, nightmares and/or reoccurring thoughts. Due to the frightening nature of “re-living” a traumatic experience, PTSD sufferers may avoid situations or places that arouse these fears or feelings.

Understanding someone’s triggers is important. Being sensitive to someone’s post-traumatic stress is the same as being sensitive to a child’s allergies. Click To Tweet

So what happens when we’re triggered?

  • We may dissociate or detach from our current reality and feel like we’re back in the traumatic situation (car accident, combat, abusive home, etc).

  • Our heart races, body temperature rises, we may start shaking or crying and we may fall into a fetal position.

  • We become hypervigilant to sounds, strangers, sights and smells. This hypervigilance can last for weeks or months after the event.

  • Our bodies tense up or we run away from the trigger, known as the fight or flight response.

  • Some people completely freeze in their location, which is an alternative to fight or flight. This is a natural response.

  • We may prepare to leave or stock up on resources in case of emergency. We charge our phones, pack a bag, make a packing list or look for backpacks/luggage. This gives us a sense of control.


These are only a few natural responses to traumatic stress.

I have counseled survivors of mass tragedies and I think of them every time another shooting occurs. I wonder if the breaking news alerts are triggers for them. In my current work with domestic violence survivors, I have noticed that their triggers are all different. I also have to educate them about triggers their children may face, as witness to abuse in their home.

My suggestion is to inform those closest to you what your triggers are and how to help you cope. I have faced scary situations in my life (armed robbery, burglary, large earthquakes, sudden deaths) and I cope with each of them in different ways. I recently had to have a conversation with my husband about my experience being robbed even though that was over 20 years ago. A few years ago we experienced a large earthquake together and we were understanding about each of our reactions to it.

Knowledge is powerful and will keep you from feeling all alone.

Speaking with a trauma trained therapist can help you or your loved one to process feelings or emotions that arise from triggers.

Besides, having comforting friends or loved ones can help you ride the wave of PTSD triggers and ground you back into the present day.


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Coping with PTSD



trauma quote

*No Spoilers I swear!!!*

I watched American Sniper this weekend and wondered how they would portray trauma. Based on the trailer I knew this was a true story of a U.S. Navy S.E.A.L. who fought in the Middle East.

The director, in my opinion, did a brilliant job of focusing on this soldier’s facial and body expressions during moments of despair. It was evident when he was experiencing flashbacks and/or detaching from reality. As a clinician, I have experienced moments when clients are detaching from the present and they emotionally transport back to that scary place.

Traumas happen everyday and in all situations. For children, trauma occurs the moment their sense of safety is disrupted. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, can occur for crime victims (burglary, assault, robbery), survivors of abuse, car accident victims, first responders,  nurses and people who have been abandoned by loved ones, just to name a few examples. A person can have close proximity to a traumatic incident and experience PTSD or secondary trauma.


How can PTSD survivors cope and heal from their trauma?


  1. Working with a therapist trained in trauma work is the first line of defense. Most domestic violence agencies have specially trained therapists who can deal with adulthood domestic violence as well as childhood traumas. Children can suffer from emotional trauma due to divorce, separations or overhearing arguments from family or parents. Most mental health professionals are trained in trauma-specific treatments.
  2. Grounding exercises orient a person with PTSD to the here and now. Wiggling your toes, running your hands under the faucet and rubbing a soft material or pillow have been helpful grounding methods.
  3. Breathing and meditation also help PTSD clients whether they are dealing with flashbacks or trying to adjust to a regular routine. Diaphragmatic breathing can help regulate blood pressure and cortisol levels. Yoga sessions have been tailored specifically for wounded troops and have been shown to be effective.


Here are some resources that may be helpful for you or someone you know:

PTSD Information email:

Veterans Crisis Line – 1-800-273-8255 or Text to 838255

Apps available on iTunes:

–  PTSD Coach

–  The Mindfulness App

–  Simply Being – Guided Meditation

In most cities you can call 211 from your phone for counseling centers near you.


Do you know anyone who has suffered from this? What methods have helped them?

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