Reliving a bad memory is not a fun experience. Although you'll inevitably encounter triggers every once in a while, there are some things you can do to reduce the stress of these upsetting memories.
What is a Trigger?
A trigger is a feeling, memory, smell, sound or sight that triggers a bad feeling.
Trauma reminders can cause your body to react without much warning. Simple reminders of your traumatic experience, such as seeing or hearing something similar to your actual experience, can cause intense physical reactions. This in turn can increase stress.
Even thoughts about your trauma that come without warning can cause a strong physical response.
Are You Avoiding Memories?
Because trauma memories can be upsetting, an understandable way of dealing with them is to push them away and try not to think about them, but that just prolongs your recovery.
If you always avoid the memories, you won’t learn to control them, and you might miss out on parts of your life. Avoidance and fear can also turn into other emotions, such as anger and depression.
The questions below can help you identify if avoiding memories are costing you too much:
- Have you avoided things because they remind you of the trauma (for example, outings with family and friends)?
- Have you felt lonely or socially isolated?
- Have you shut down your emotions?
- Do you feel drained and tired by always trying to avoid reminders of the trauma?
- Do you go far out of your way to avoid reminders?
- Do you spend money to avoid reminders?
- Have your relationships changed because you are less engaged?
- Is your self-esteem worse since the trauma?
Identify and Manage Your Triggers
When you feel triggered, write down what you were doing, your reactions and thoughts that followed and whether it was difficult to manage your response. Here are some things that you might notice as triggers:
- Conversation topics
- People or their characteristics
- Your own stress level
- Photos or images
Use this three-step skill to rid yourself of uncontrolled responses to triggers:
Step 1: Relax.
Step 2: Identify what is triggering you.
Step 3: Decide how to react to the trigger.
Relaxation strategies such as muscle relaxation and positive mental imagery can help you manage stress reactions and allow you to cope with unexpected triggers.
Self-Care and Getting Support
Traumatic experiences often leave people feeling misunderstood and alone. This might lead to unhelpful behaviors such as:
Those behaviors will not help you recover. Instead, replace them with one of these strategies:
- Learn about PTSD and trauma.
- Talk to others.
- Talk with your doctor or counselor.
- Practice relaxation methods.
- Increase positive distracting activities.
- Start an exercise program.
- Volunteer in the community.
Over time, you will respond less intensely and less frequently to triggers. If you feel that your reactions to triggers are interfering with your life and are not decreasing over time, talk with a therapist.
Last Reviewed: November 2018