8 common trauma triggers.

Some context on memories.

All memories take on a spiderweb-like fashion. You have the core of the event, the crash. What branches off that are the people around, details of your surroundings, sounds, smells, thoughts, etc. If something causes you to recall any part of that spiderweb, it will likely lead you back to remembering the core event.

Properly stored trauma can and still will be remembered. When that happens, you do not become flooded with panic, overwhelm, your heart does not start to race, and you do not feel like you are reliving your traumatic experience again. All of that happens when the pieces of the memory become stuck. When something in your environment triggers the fragmented memories, your brain thinks you are reliving the trauma experience over again, hence the name trauma triggers.

The trauma memory gets stuck in the right side of your brain as those fragmented pieces I talked about in my previous post. Your brain cannot decipher now that you are not back in the traumatic event. Here’s why. The left side of your brain is offline, which would take those fragmented pieces, formulate them into a consolidated memory and store it in a filing cabinet with the date and time of the event.

When that is unable to happen and one of those fragments of memory is triggered, your brain thinks that it is reliving the traumatic event again. You can and likely will experience all the same physical symptoms and emotions again as if you were right back at the scene of the car crash.

Trauma triggers may include:

Trauma triggers can catch you off guard because you may not realize what all is associated with the traumatic event.

People: this is often people who were present during the traumatic event or immediately following the event. If you were in a car crash, the other driver, bystanders, firefighters, or EMTs may become trauma triggers.

Places: the place a traumatic event took place can be a strong trigger, however, your brain may over-generalize and find similar places triggering. The traumatic event may have been a car accident in Denver Colorado, but other big cities may also be triggering.

trauma triggers include crowded places.

Media: movies, tv shows, news articles, social media images or clips with scenes like your traumatic event may also be triggering.

Situations: similar situations can become trauma triggers, and the same situation is often a trigger. Like the places example, the traumatic event may have been a car crash, but tires squealing, a horn honking, or cars driving fast past you may also be triggering.

Sounds: sounds could be specific to the traumatic event, like a car horn, tires squealing, emergency sirens, or cars crashing together. But it could also be something small like birds chirping if say you were sitting in a park while talking to the police officer providing your statement and birds were chirping in the background.

Smells: very similar to sounds. Smells can be specific to the event like rubber burning or smoke. It could also be things like fresh cut grass if day again you were in the park giving your statement and the grass had just been cut. Trauma triggers like this can be extremely frustrating as they seem to not be related to your trauma at all, but were merely part of the environment.

Thoughts: this can be alarming trauma triggers because one moment you are sitting on your couch thinking about how you need to get milk from the grocery store and your thoughts immediately jump to the car crash. Most of the time it’s hard to remember what you were thinking prior to the traumatic event, but your brain never forgets. Unfortunately, some things that seem completely disconnected from the trauma may be a trigger.

Feelings: the feelings of panic, fear, sadness, adrenaline, or any other feelings that you felt at the time of the car crash may become a trauma trigger. This can get complicated as sometimes exercise can be a trigger if the feeling of adrenaline is strongly associated with the trauma.

Sometimes our brain can process those fragmented pieces and store them properly when it is out of survival mode. This can often happen during REM sleep, which is why sometimes we go to bed feeling one way and wake up feeling completely different. Other times our brain gets overloaded any time it tries to process those fragmented pieces and we stay stuck in survival mode and stuck getting triggered repeatedly.

How you can fix it.

Engaging in stress relieving activities several times a day can help to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which pulls you out of survival mode. These activities also teach your mind and body that you are safe and no longer in harm’s way. This is a fundamental piece in healing your trauma and overcoming your trauma triggers. If you do not feel safe and are constantly in survival mode, your brain cannot properly process memories and will continue getting triggered.

  • Take a bath
  • Journal
  • Spend time in nature
  • Meditate
  • Spend time with pets
  • Cuddle with a loved one
  • Yoga
  • Listen to music
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Grounding techniques

Eye Movement Desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is also a highly effective way to overcome your trauma. The bilateral stimulation in EMDR therapy keeps the left side of your brain activated while you recall the traumatic event for proper reprocessing and storing of the memory. You can read more about EMDR therapy here.