We have a teenager. It seems like every other day something in school or some other average daily thing has her “triggered.” Not surprising, she’s 13 and very tightly wound. But that word holds a lot of weight for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). No Zoomers, you didn’t make up that word.
Triggers are "usually tied to your senses. You may see, feel, smell, touch, or taste something that brings on your symptoms. While triggers themselves are usually harmless, they cause your body to react as if you’re in danger” (WebMD 2019)
The person in my life who has PTSD has been slipping in and out of PTSD for the last few weeks. He’s has been triggered.
My husband was a contractor in Afghanistan during one of the most dangerous times in recent history. We live in a state where it snows. When the snow melts, things that that have been trapped under the snow, seem to magically appear.
As strange as it sounds, this was a trigger for my husband. Things laying in or on the side of the road reminded him if IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). Recently we were driving my daughter to sports practice and he said, in an almost joking way, “why are there IEDs all over the road.”
He then started explaining IEDs to her. The humor was gone from his voice, and I knew he was triggered. We spent about two weeks after that dealing with intermittent PTSD episodes. Trash on the road is such a simple, everyday occurrence; unless its your trigger.
It’s a good to be aware of what kinds of things work as triggers for the trauma survivor. With awareness, some triggers can be avoided. It’s also good to get an understanding of what each trigger means for your loved one and the family around them.
For example we don’t watch war movies in our house, in fact we don’t even watch the news. Other things are less preventable. Smells can be a huge problem. It seems like they come out of nowhere and can be one of the most powerful triggers.
Once the trauma survivor is triggered, it can be hard to pull them back from a PTSD episode. It is important to remain calm and support the survivor. Support might come in the form of helping them leave a situation, creating positive distractions, or keeping everyone safe, if there is a PTSD meltdown.
We have been living with PTSD for over 11 years. As we get further in the journey of living with PTSD, everyone involved has become more aware of what kind of stimuli will create triggers. You will start recognize when the trauma survivor is more susceptible to being triggered.
Trauma anniversary dates, lack of sleep, external stress, and seasonal changes are just some of the things that make people more vulnerable to being triggered into a PTSD episode. Sometimes we just need to ride out the episode. I have become quite skilled at helping my husband decrease the intensity of an episode but some intense episodes are going happen no matter what you do.
We can’t prevent every trigger. We will win some and lose some. It’s okay. We are in extreme life situations doing the best we can. Celebrate the wins and let the rest move into the past. Tomorrow is another day.
Donniel Robinson is a Certified Health Coach at Robinson Wellness. She is the wife of a man with a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and severe PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). She is the creator of the program PTSD Survival Guide for Families. She writes and coaches on the topics of PTSD, Brain Injury, supporting children in PTSD homes, and holistic health and healing.