Trauma can happen to anyone, with many people experiencing numerous traumas over their lifetime. It can be challenging to identify a personal experience as trauma if we are unsure how to categorize trauma itself. The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event.”
With that being said, trauma is not one-size-fits-all. Taking that definition apart, we can see that both emotional responses to experiences and defining a “terrible event” are both subjective. Similarly, trauma is subjective. Trauma is not something to be discussed quickly, and many need time to process their experiences before they are ready to talk about them and navigate through them. If we bring awareness to the physical and mental responses that our bodies have to trauma, it may be easier to recognize traumatic triggers and seek out help for them.
Trauma triggers can occur both internally, inside the body, and externally, from outside sources. Internally, triggers may look like disturbing thoughts or uncomfortable feelings. Examples of internal triggers may include:
- Anxiety or stress
- Disturbing memories
- Negative thoughts
- Feeling abandoned or lonely
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Increased perspiration
- Intense breathing
By recognizing internal triggers, one may be more curious to identify where these triggers come from and perhaps why they began in the first place. Maybe one is unsure that they had experienced a traumatic event in the past and is experiencing trigger symptoms now. Reflecting on these sensations and thoughts and identifying why they exist can be a new beginning for individuals looking for relief from these symptoms.
Internal and external triggers share similarities, but external triggers can be more unpredictable. Some examples of external triggers may include:
- Specific sensations such as a scent
- Reading about specific traumatic events
- Witnessing disturbing experiences
- Arguments or increased volume during conversations
- Specific places
- Watching a movie that reminds one of their trauma
How Trauma Works Inside of the Body
It is essential to understand how trauma can affect both the mind and body in order to validate the emotional responses that may come with experiencing a traumatic event. Physical symptoms may begin with a fight-or-flight response from the body, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, rapid breathing, perspiration, slowed digestion, and pupil dilation. These symptoms initially take place during stressful experiences and tend to reappear when specific emotional triggers arise.
As individuals all have personal fears, they also have personal triggers unique to them from their past experiences. Our fight-or-flight response is triggered by anxiety-inducing experiences. If these symptoms are not brought conscious awareness, they could increase the sense of overwhelm as time continues. Internal physical triggers are often initiated by uncomfortable mental triggers, such as thoughts and memories. Though it is challenging to change the thoughts that arise in one’s mind, identifying the initial cause of these thoughts may pave the mental path to healing.
Trauma Outside of the Body Identified by the Mind
Natural body processes cause the fight-or-flight response to kick in from both internal and external sources. Trauma is often triggered outside of the body as well. The unpredictable nature of the world makes it challenging to prepare for triggers that may arise. With that being said, many are unprepared to face these triggers in public places, social events, or other experiences outside of the home.
As mentioned previously, these triggers are subjective to each person. When a specific scent, visual experience, or other external trigger arises, think of these questions:
- What is my current situation?
- What specific sensations or thoughts are making me uncomfortable?
- What is my body feeling?
It may help to write down triggers in a list format to track how often they occur and where and why they arise. Surfacing triggers may help to identify initial causes, which fosters personal reflection and growth.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma
Although everyone may experience trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be diagnosed if a specific past event or experience is causing extreme disturbances in one’s current daily life. Specific criteria are measured in severity by a psychiatrist to a client, with categories such as intrusion, avoidance, alterations in cognitive functioning and mood, and alterations in arousal and activity. Such symptoms must be met for at least one month and show significant distress in an individual’s daily functioning. PTSD is a co-occurring disorder, meaning that it is often related to other conditions such as depression, substance use, issues with memory, and other physical and mental health conditions.
Coping With Trauma and Trauma Triggers
The first step in coping with trauma and triggers would be to identify triggers. While one can avoid triggers for quite some time, avoidance is not a long-term solution. In this case, an action one could take would be to manage their environment. For example, bring along someone you trust when you run errands that may cause triggers to arise. One could also avoid watching or reading triggering content. While one of the most successful forms of coping may be therapy, there are many coping strategies one can start doing today to lessen anxieties and stressors. Examples may include:
- Expressive writing
- Deep breathing and meditation
- Practicing mindfulness
- Read educational books on how trauma works
- Practice other forms of grounding
- Engage in group therapy or other social support
- Find other relaxing coping mechanisms
Trauma is experienced by everyone differently. Trauma triggers can become deeply rooted, leading to negative coping mechanisms if not brought to awareness. Reflectingting on internal sensations brought on by trauma triggers may allow easier reflection of the trauma itself. These triggers can interrupt both internal processes, such as thoughts and physical sensations, and external environments that lead to avoidance. Trauma can develop into stress disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD if not identified and treated. If you or someone you know is experiencing unresolved trauma, many resources can help. At West Coast Recovery Centers, we offer many treatment options that may fit the experience you are looking for with recovery. Our goal is to connect you with various traditional and non-traditional recovery methods to help you navigate your personal rehabilitation journey. Our support team is here to help every step of the way. For more information about the programs we offer, call us at (760) 492-6509.