Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, affects nearly 3.5% of adults in the United States each year. While we most commonly associate PTSD with military members who have seen active duty, this disorder can impact people of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds. Traumatic experiences that may result in PTSD include domestic violence situations, natural disasters, and other types of scenarios like accidents or losing a loved one. Living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a different experience for each person diagnosed, and their symptoms and PTSD triggers are unique to each person. 

This disorder leaves its victims reeling and can result in flashbacks, nightmares, depression, and in some cases, may leave the survivor with suicidal thoughts. For some people, the potential of being exposed to PTSD triggers can keep them from taking part in things they once enjoyed, while others may be able to avoid these triggers altogether. Let’s talk about PTSD triggers and how we can help our loved ones cope with their previous traumas.

PTSD Triggers – What are they?

The memories surrounding a traumatic event are linked to sensory responses. This means when we experience a trauma, our brains associate the smells, sounds, lights, etc., with those memories. In individuals with PTSD, being in a situation where those same sounds, smells, and lights are found can trigger an extreme trauma response. This causes the person’s brain to make them feel as if they are right back in danger again, and can cause panic attacks or even extreme and dangerous actions. 

My heart starts to race, things tighten up, muscles tighten up. – PTSD Triggers from About Face Veterans

For some people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, triggers are minimal, and it may be easier for these victims to avoid situations that trigger their PTSD. They may avoid talking about the event or may avoid the area where their traumatic event took place. However, for others, avoidance may not be possible, which can mean they have to completely alter their daily routines and may stop going out into the world altogether. 

Some examples of PTSD triggers include:

Taste – In a case like domestic violence, eating food or consuming a beverage that the person may have had before the traumatic event took place may trigger a trauma response. 

Smell – Sometimes, we forget just how impactful sensory memories are on our brains. Great memories of baking in your mom’s kitchen as a child can bring back great memories. For PTSD survivors, these same smells can trigger traumatic memories. 

Sound – As is often the case, when someone experiences a traumatic event, there are a variety of sounds going on around them. For example, veterans are commonly triggered by the sound of fireworks, a domestic violence victim may become triggered after hearing a man yelling, or a woman screaming.

Situational – Certain times of day, or groupings of people, even attending an event that may have the same atmosphere, can all cause situational triggers for someone living with PTSD.

To help our loved ones cope with the mental and emotional fallout a traumatic event has forced them to live with, we can support them and avoid exposing them to any known triggers while they seek out medical help.

recognize PTSD triggers

How Can You Help Someone Suffering From PTSD?

In many cases, those who have lived through a traumatic experience can return to a normal life, and trauma symptoms dissipate within a few weeks or months. However, it is important that anyone who continues to experience these symptoms seek help if the symptoms persist

There are a variety of therapies available, but the medical community recommends anyone suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome seeks psychiatric help as soon as possible. Trauma professionals, counselors, social workers, and even bereavement counselors, can help people process their feelings and hopefully get past the memories of these traumatic events. 

As a loved one, it is hard to watch someone we care about go through such difficult times. To help them navigate their traumatic experiences and validate the way they feel, being socially and privately supportive can be a huge step in their recovery. Simply being there and being present can be pivotal for those who feel ashamed, or who may withdraw due to their feelings of despair and helplessness.

Listening to your loved one’s needs is another great way to help support them. Sometimes, talking through their issues and feeling heard means they may gain the confidence to seek further help or to work through any issues they may be having. Be sure not to push or force them to take risks that may set back their progress. This also shows them that you’re there for them, and you’re willing to stand by them no matter what. Be prepared for outbursts and erratic behavior; sometimes these symptoms are hard for people with PTSD to control.

Helping your loved ones avoid and stay away from known or potential triggers is also a tremendous help to their mental health progress. By remembering and looking out for PTSD triggers that may set them back or may cause a relapse or traumatic response, you can help them lead a healthier, happier life. It’s also important to support any efforts and steps their medical professionals recommend; in doing this, you’re assuring them they’re doing the right thing for their mental health and healing.

Watching someone we love suffer from symptoms of PTSD can be difficult, but the burden that our friends and family go through when living with this disorder is unimaginable to those who haven’t experienced PTSD firsthand. Offering your everlasting support and love will help them get through this time in their lives.

Please know that you are not alone, you are loved, and the world is a better place with you in it. For a list of helpful mental health resources, please click here.

For information on upcoming and current research projects, including those that assist in improving mental health, visit our research projects here. For updates on the United Brain Association’s news, events, and blog publications, sign up for our email list here

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