How to Cope with Trauma Triggers
You’re having a normal day until you suddenly become scared or intensely sad. Your breathing accelerates and you feel on edge. Other times you may become tired with things around you feeling foggy and dreamlike. Noises sound far away, like they’re coming from a tunnel.
If you’ve experienced the above, you may be having a trauma flashback. A flashback occurs when you relive parts of a traumatic incident or feel as if the trauma is happening again in the present. Flashbacks are usually triggered by something that reminds the brain of an upsetting memory. When triggered, the brain has trouble distinguishing the past from the present, causing you to feel disconnected, scared, or anxious.
What are Trauma Triggers?
Trauma triggers are any thing that involuntarily cause an individual to recall a disturbing or upsetting event. Triggers can include smells, images, activities, sounds, thoughts, places, or people. It is helpful to identify triggers so that you can learn how to cope with them. Writing down thoughts, actions, and anything else preceding a flashback is a helpful way to recognize trauma triggers.
How Mindfulness Helps Manage Trauma Triggers
Mindfulness is the act of practicing present moment awareness by focusing your attention on whatever is happening in the moment. Mindfulness reassures the mind that you are safe in the present and not back in the past. Mindfulness also involves the practice of accepting your emotions without judgment so that you feel less disturbed by intense feelings.
Therapy Exercises for Managing Trauma Triggers
There are many exercises and techniques to help you strengthen mindfulness skills. Below are some introductory exercises to start practicing mindfulness. These exercises can be helpful when experiencing anxiety, intrusive thoughts, worry, or flashbacks.
5 and Describe: Engage each of your five senses to increase your awareness of the present moment. List and describe 5 things you can see, touch, smell, hear, and taste in the present. Having mints or candy on hand can be helpful for engaging the sense of taste.
Deep Breathing: Slowing down your breathing can help calm the nervous system. Focus on your breathing and pay special attention to how the air feels in your lungs as you slowly inhale and exhale. When you find your attention drifting to troubling thoughts or memories, gently bring your attention back to your breathing.
Anchors: Select neutral objects in your home or workspace that can be used as “anchors” to secure or anchor you to the present. When triggered, focus your attention on one of your anchors until you begin to feel a sense of calm.
Stretching: Being aware of body sensations is another way to stay present in the moment. Engage in some gentle stretching while being cognizant of how your muscles and body feel during each movement. Gently twisting the spine is a great way to increase the brain’s alertness and your awareness of the present.
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