What is a PTSD Trigger?

April 1, 2016

OFCThough an “invisible injury”, PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder becomes visible when “triggered”. In simple terms, a PTSD Trigger is a particular sight, smell, or sound that sets off a cascade of symptoms, many of which vary between each person. Before your eyes, your family member goes on alert, they may have a surge of survival hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) that cascade on the spot – and which exhaust afterward. Others react with stillness, isolation, and emotional detachment or numbness. PTSD is complicated and is much better managed with treatment.

If you are living with someone with PTSD, depending on the severity and the point in the healing/recovery phase, you already know of specific triggers – or launching points – that affect your family member. It’s even possible to go for a time before something triggers a reaction. This explains why PTSD is tough to explain to friends and family who think things are better now… PTSD lingers invisibly.

Other things trigger memories or emotions you might not expect. Some of these are calendar dates – of an Alive Day, the anniversary of a battle where they experienced trauma, seeing a news report, and or even a picture posted on Facebook. A reunion with a close battle buddy may be a good one, but later on, nightmares return, since an intense event they experienced together is resurrected from the visit.

As caregivers, awareness of the “known” triggers for your family member is key. You might be able to avoid the Fourth of July fireworks that are difficult for many, but what about a child setting off caps in the driveway next door? A backpack dropped at a local mall, sudden shrieking from overexcited kids, even seeing someone they thought they may have known can throw things off. Noisy crowds are tough on the entire family. PTSD is complicated and with treatment, veteran and family coping skills can better manage the condition

Try to make PTSD decisions together; you don’t need to shoulder this alone, and building choice and independence into discussions may help family relationships. Discuss how dinner reservations can be made at your local café, selecting the table where he or she can sit with their back against the wall at a time with fewer customers. If sleep and noise where you live are problematic, ear plugs can help, and when escape is the only option, create a safe corner or room at home to weather the tough moments.

Plan for the known triggers and discuss new ones at a calm time afterward. Growing awareness, strategies, and the understanding of family and friends will help to live a more routine life and raise your family’s confidence. Most of all, be kind to yourself; you’re doing a great job!

Here are some additional resources on PTSD.

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