If one of my PTSD triggers is activated, how do I deal with it?
In my essays for the PTSD Spirituality blog I often mention “PTSD Triggers” and how they may cause PTSD symptoms to arise. But what are they? What types are there? And, how do I deal with my PTSD triggers when they are activated?
Triggers Can Activate Happy or Horrible Memories.
Most people know that various stimuli will cause us to remember something that happened in our lives. When it is a happy memory we don’t even think that something right now in my present “triggered” me to remember something in my past. If it is a happy memory, we usually don’t find ourselves compelled to engage in negative behaviors. Given that my PTSD Spirituality essays tend to deal with aspects of PTSD, I usually encounter the idea of triggers as something that activates a trauma survivor’s PTSD.
Sounds and Noises: For military veterans the sounds of a car backfiring or fireworks can trigger memories of when they fired weapons or people fired upon them.
Fireworks and the 4th of July: I have lost count of how many veterans who have told me, or whom I have read about, who can’t stand the Fourth of July and the Independence Day firework shows. This is ironic as veterans are supposedly honored on Independence Day but it turns out to be a day that re-traumatizes quite a few. It’s not unheard of for a veteran who is sensitive to fireworks to spend the day in the basement wearing ear plugs and drinking heavily, trying to deaden the sound of the explosives. Some vets will go out to wilderness or state parks to try and avoid the sight and sounds of fireworks.
Air Shows and Helicopters: Where I live, there is also an annual air show where the Air Force pilots who are not good enough to fly in Iraq or Afghanistan on real missions fly over my house instead. Usually there are only a few hundred feet between their jet engines and the street. The noise is unbearable, shakes windows, terrifies my pets, and propels me to memories of places and times I would just as soon forget.
Some veterans have difficulty with the sound of helicopters as they are usually associated with medevac dust offs, air assaults, or gunships. Sometimes they can be remembered more politely in terms of mail delivery or resupply. Given that every ten cent radio and television station in the USA feel compelled to have their own “Chopper One Team,” there are often as many helicopters stacked up over a traffic accident in Milwaukee as there were stacked over a platoon level firefight in ‘Nam (to paraphrase St. Mark, “Let the reader understand.”). While we would certainly waste less gas and have fewer helicopter crashes if media people gave up their status-choppers, in the meantime, they serve to aggravate the PTSD of quite a few veterans.
Screaming and Loud Noises in General:
Some trauma survivors try to avoid loud noises in general and screaming in particular. While I have noticed this amongst military veterans, I know it is also true of people who suffer PTSD from other causes.
If a person was around dead or dying children, then the sound of a crying baby, could trigger PTSD symptoms. If a person was screamed at a lot by someone who had abused them, then they may be forever sensitive to the sound of screaming, even if the screaming or loudness is otherwise unrelated to their initial trauma. The same goes for slamming doors, slapping, and fists pounding the wall or table top.
Tomorrow, the PTSD Spirituality blog will post Part 2 of Understanding & Identifying Types of PTSD Triggers and discuss how smells and aromas may trigger PTSD.
Semper Pax, Dr. Z