Recognizing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Triggers
As a veteran tries to assimilate back into the civilian world, certain “triggers” – situations, sights, or smells – can intensify Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If you, a friend, or loved one has PTSD, it is important to be able to recognize what triggers are. After all, how can we avoid something of which we are unaware? This article can offer you an idea of what to be ready for on a daily basis.
Certain images can bring about traumatic memories. These images might be in person or even on a device showing news, television shows, movies, or an internet channel. You can always do something less stressful than bombarding your senses with violent movies, so feel free to skip a war or action movie because it may be too emotional and stimulating to the brain. Other potential triggers might include spotting wild dogs running about or seeing certain vehicles. You might experience an unexpected flashback, leading to a zoning out or a functional blackout upon viewing people in ethnic dress of the region in which you served. You have to remind yourself that you are not back in the war zone, and that the people may actually be refugees from the war. They would probably want to thank you if they knew you helped their country.
Smell, too, is a very powerful sense. A visit to an emergency room and the scent of blood and disinfectants might be overwhelming enough that you have to step out and take a break. The smell of burning materials, uncollected trash, sewage, and of course gunpowder can quicken your pulse. You may not even realize what is happening at first. But again, you can be prepared to realize your reaction to these triggers is normal for someone who suffers from PTSD.
Finally, certain noises can prove to be triggers as well, often immediately: the sound of a helicopter buzzing above at the lowest allowed altitude, spot lights, gun shots, explosions, and fireworks. One way to reduce these triggers might be to move to a better neighborhood, but more realistically, you want to avoid places where these sounds are likely to occur. A good set of ear protectors can help minimize stress at noisy gatherings, and even a set of simple, less conspicuous ear plugs may work fine.
Combinations of sight, smell, and sound can often work together to create triggers as well. Seeing, smelling, hearing, body shock, and even tasting an explosion from one incident is very common – a buffet of stressful triggers coming at you. So what should you do if you start feeling adrenaline pulsing through your veins and you feel as though you are back in combat? Stop what you are doing and determine if a real threat exists. If you are indeed in a true life-or-death situation, trust your instincts and training. This reaction is different when you, but no one else, is reacting to the trigger. In this case, breath deeply, and if necessary calmly remove yourself from the situation until your senses return to normal.
After such an incident, write it down and share it with your care team or support group. They may offer some strategies to defeat the trigger in the future. Most importantly, recognize that it is okay to experience triggers, and it is part of the process for the treatment of the PTSD. You don’t have to isolate yourself from society, but do not expect society to cater to your needs. Only you can take care of yourself and avoid situations where triggers are likely to be present.