what is a PTSD trigger?

What is a trigger?

A trigger is what happens when your brain or body is reminded of a past traumatic event. The reminder can cause distress for a person and emotions such as anxiety, fear, panic, sadness, anger. It is possible that being triggered can cause intrusive thoughts, feelings, memories, or flashbacks.

What are examples of a PTSD trigger?

  • This can be a veteran experiencing flashbacks on the fourth of July when fire works go off
  • The smell of a cologne may trigger a sexual assault survivor  to remember their attack
  • An anniversary of when the trauma happened. 
  • For someone, increase in stress or anxiety may trigger an increase in PTSD sx. 
  • For some, it can be a certain time of day such as nighttime that is triggering if it was never safe for them. 
  • Eating or drinking something that you had before or after the traumatic event may be triggering. 

What is happening when I am triggered? 

  • Encounter the Trigger
  • You have implicit or explicit Reminder of event 
  • You have Emotions & beliefs ( ex: feel fear because I am in danger)
  • You have Sensations (ie: what you feel in your body: shakiness, muscle tension)
  • Your Reaction (yelling, running away)
  • Then you may try to avoid future triggers
PTSD trigger

Can I track my triggers? 


What do I write?
  • What the specific image of the trigger is
  • What negative beliefs/thoughts came up (about yourself, or the world)
  • What the feeling was
  • what sensations you had.

How does this help you? The goal is NOT to avoid future situations where triggering might happen. However, if you know what your triggers are you can cope with them ahead of time before encountering them. 

What is a trigger warning?

Sometimes you will see trigger warnings in the beginning of a book or movie. Essentially it is a notice that content can be triggering for certain people who have experienced a trauma. It allows someone to make a conscious decision on whether or not they want to prepare and continue with the content or do something different. 

What do you do after being triggered?

  • Butterfly hug or tapping 
  • Cold water 
  • Breath work
  • Grounding
  • Dual awareness.
  • Acupuncture points  
  • Social supports 

Blog Disclaimer – These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.


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