10 Keys to Manage Trauma Triggers, Flashbacks and Dissociation

Identifying trauma triggers, flashbacks, and dissociation can help reduce the events and help build better coping skills. Read more about tips on identifying, reducing, and coping with triggers, flashbacks, and dissociation.

Metaphor Image: Road Trip & Triggers

road trips and triggers: a trauma metaphor

Well, consider a visual image of going on a road trip.  As you see signs, you know which directions to take and how to get to your destination. So, if you see a Stop sign, you know to stop your vehicle.

Let’s say that on a past road trip, you were in a car accident at a railroad crossing when another vehicle hit you suddenly.  Therefore, every time you are driving near a railroad crossing, you feel very sick to your stomach and tense as you go into a panic.  You are afraid you’ll be hit by another car suddenly.

Fast forward to this current road trip you’re taking.  Every time you drive near a railroad crossing, you are going to be triggered and the past memories of the car accident will flood your current thoughts, emotions, and responses.

In this article:

This article gives tips on identifying and coping through Trauma Triggers, Flashbacks, and Dissociation.

Disclaimer: This article has educational resources about restoring wellness through trauma recovery, and is based on my research and my experiences.  This information is not meant to take the place of medical treatment, counseling or therapy.  If it would be helpful to talk to someone, wellness resources has information on how to contact a mental health professional in your area.

  • PTSD & Trauma Triggers
    • What are PTSD & Trauma Triggers?
    • What happens when you are triggered? 
  • Flashbacks & Dissociation
    • What is a trauma flashback?
    • What is Dissociation? 
  • 10 Keys to Manage Triggers, Flashbacks, & Dissociation
    • Learn Trigger Coping Techniques
  • Trauma Therapy Recovery

PTSD & Trauma Triggers

what are trauma triggers

What are PTSD & Trauma Triggers?

There are many different types of triggers, for this blog we are focusing on triggers associated with trauma.

Triggers = events or situations that remind the survivor of a past trauma.

Triggers usually re-awaken and re-stimulate past trauma memories. Therefore, I call them trauma triggers.

Does PTSD have triggers?

Yes, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) survivors may have triggers that re-awaken past traumatic event(s) .

What happens when you are triggered?

The trauma survivor perceives current threat(s) through an altered memory lens of past trauma.

Good Therapy explains that when a survivor is reminded of the trauma, this is what is happening inside automatically:

  • Their body responds as if the past trauma is happening in current time
  • The nervous system automatically goes into fight-flight-freeze mode
  • Emotional reactions bring on intense and usually overwhelming feelings

What does being triggered feel like?

An emotional reaction occurs immediately after being triggered, and can cause feelings of anxiety, fear, and panic.

When triggered, you may experience discomfort, distress (emotional, physical), or danger.

What triggers traumatic memories?

The trauma response, triggers, can be awakened and re-stimulated anything that reminds the survivor of the past traumatic memory.  Common triggers are awakened by:

  • Sights
  • Sounds
  • Smells 

Common Trauma Triggers

Knowing what common trauma triggers are can help you prepare ahead of time and be better able to handle a trigger when it happens.  

Here are some common trauma triggers:

  • Anniversaries
  • Significant life events
  • Sensory overload
  • Loneliness
  • Separation or Loss
  • Lack of power or control
  • Transitions and schedule disruptions
  • Feelings of vulnerability or rejection
  • Feelings of being threatened or attacked

Flashbacks & Dissociation

trauma triggers: flashbacks and dissociation

So, when a person is triggered, they may experience re-occurring flashbacks and dissociation.

What is a trauma flashback?

A flashback is a re-occurring symptom of PTSD, where you feel like you are re-living the traumatic event. 

How does a Flashback feel?

During a flashback, the person is triggered and feels as if the traumatic event is happening again.  They’re literally re-living the trauma again.

All the same feelings, hormones, body reactions, and thoughts suddenly flood the survivor like they did when the traumatic event happened originally.

The flashback can seem like you’re sent back in time to the past traumatic event, and you may not even be aware of your current surroundings.  Or the flashback can be like you’re in two time periods at the same time: the past traumatic event and the current situation.

Patterns of Flashbacks

It can be helpful to explore the patterns of trauma flashbacks as well as dissociation. Identifying your experience of a flashback can provide helpful information:

1)    How a flashback happens (triggers) 

2)    The internal experience (thoughts, feelings, sensations)

3)    External reactions (coping)

This can lead to beginning to understand healthier ways to manage this intense experience. 

This information about flashbacks was developed by Manitoba Trauma Information and Education Centre (MTIEC).

What is Dissociation? 

Dissociation is when a person feels disconnected from themselves and their surroundings.

What does Dissociation feel like?

When a person experiences a trigger and is dissociating, they may feel like they’re in a daydream, or being outside of their body.  

This can happen quickly and can last a few minutes or longer.  Some people may not remember the time span in which they were dissociated. 

keys to manage trauma triggers

10 Keys to Manage Trauma Triggers, Flashbacks, and Dissociations

Let’s talk about how to manage triggers, flashbacks, and dissociation.

With greater awareness, you can learn to sense the triggers forming and improve your coping skills. 

Learning how to identify triggers and gain coping skills can help you decrease the intensity and persistence of the triggers.

Keep reading to learn 10 Keys to Manage Triggers, Flashbacks and Dissociations:

  • 2 Keys to manage Triggers
    • How to recover from triggers
    • Reduce Triggers = Identify Early Signs
  • 5 Ways to identify early Trigger signs
  • 3 Keys to manage a Flashback

2 Keys to Manage Triggers

In Psychology Today, there are 2 keys to identifying triggers, including flashbacks and dissociation.

  1. Intensity
  2. Persistence

When your response is extreme, your feelings will be way more intense and more persistent than usual. 

Decrease Intensity

Begin to decrease intensity of triggers by first identifying how intense the trigger was when it occurred. This will help you gain awareness.

For example, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst intensity and 1 being no intensity, what would your trigger intensity measure on the scale?

Decrease Persistence

One of the ways to decrease the persistence of Triggers is by gaining awareness of how often the triggers happen. The more aware you become about the trigger, the more you will be able to notice before it happens.

Decrease Triggers Intensity & Persistence

These are the two keys to identifying that a trigger has occurred, sometimes through symptoms such as a flashback or dissociation.

Read more about how to Identify the intensity and persistence of triggers…

How do you recover from triggers?

Remember the metaphor of the car accident.  Is it best to avoid railroad crossings? Well sure, if you can avoid them, that’s great. But it may not be possible on a road trip to avoid all railroad crossings.

Same with triggers, if you can avoid triggers, that would be less distress. Sometimes, you may be able to avoid triggering people and places with careful planning.  

NOTE: Sometimes, avoiding the railroad crossing can cause the trigger responses to build and interfere with your daily functioning.  This is one example when learning how to identify triggers can be helpful.

Prevent & Reduce Triggers:
Identify Early Signs

Preventing triggers is key to reducing triggers.  Therefore, identifying early signs of triggers is an essential skill that can be learned. 

If you want to have less triggers, it’s essential to know what they are first.

identify early symptoms reduces trauma triggers

Benefits of identifying triggers:

  • reduce triggers 
  • better prepare you to cope
  • reduce intrusive thoughts
  • reduce disturbing memories

Identify Early Signs of Triggers 

Sometimes, triggers may seem like they come out of nowhere and you’re swept away to memories of a traumatic event.

When triggers happen, there are usually early cues or signs that the traumatic memory is being triggered. The key is learning to identify those early symptoms.

5 Ways to Identify early Trigger Symptoms

Increase your awareness by identifying early trigger symptoms, by Very Well Mind.

  1. What happened right before the flashback or dissociation?  
  2. What were you feeling? Change in mood?
  3. What were you thinking? 
  4. What was happening around you or to you? Did the situation become stressful?
  5. How does your body feel when stressed?  Pressure in your chest?  Suddenly sweating?

The more you practice increasing your awareness of yourself and your surroundings, the more aware you will become.

3 Keys to Manage a Flashback

From personal experience and from experts, these are helpful ideas for managing a flashback:

  • NAME the experience as a flashback (example- this is a memory, NOT a recurrence of the actual event)
  • Use LANGUAGE that categorizes the flashbacks as a “memory” (example- I was attacked, rather than I am being attacked
  • Use the SENSES to GROUNDself in your CURRENT
    environment:

In summary, flashbacks and dissociation are symptoms of trauma triggers.

Learn Trigger Coping Techniques

Calm Trigger Responses

When experiencing a triggered response, how can you calm the response?  

We can be so hard on ourselves and others who are experiencing a trigger, which sets off more judgment and tension.  

To create a loving and healing environment, create a safe space and help the person feel supported and loved.

Coping Techniques for Triggers

Here are a few ways to calm a trigger response, suggested by Lucille Zimmerman:

  1. Give self-compassion and gratitude to your wounded self.  This really helps by being loving to yourself, even the parts that you may not like at the time.
  2. Allow your emotions by expressing them safely.  Cry to a sad song, yell or sing loudly in your car, laugh at a silly joke, be angry and throw eggs at a tree, 
  3. Deep breathing, walking, and yoga release your body hormones all bouncing around your body.  Release that tension and you’ll release positive, healing hormones.
  4. Surround yourself with safe people who support you.  Turn to a trusted friend, get a hug, talk to someone who will really listen to you and be there for you.
  5. Listen to your body, senses, needs.  Take a warm bath, cuddle up in a soft blanket, put on soothing essential oils, sit outside in nature for 15 minutes, play with or hold your pet who loves you.

Calming down a trigger response to a perceived threat can take minutes, hours, or days.  Give yourself time to recover from a trigger.

Calm down your mind-body-spirit during a trigger using one of these techniques in these related articles.

Safe Spaces

Coping Skills

Trauma Therapy Recovery

Trauma Therapy Recovery can help survivors learn how to identify signs of triggers, prepare for them, and cope with triggers in a healthy and more effective way.

  • Process your emotions and thoughts related to your memories
  • Learn new healthy coping skills in dealing with triggers
  • Identify and reduce unhealthy behaviors and unhelpful coping skills
  • Practice relaxation techniques and increase calming down skills

PTSD & Trauma Basics: Definitions, Effects, Symptoms

7 out 10 people have experienced a traumatic event during their lifetime, and 20% of those people may be suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms.

Identifying trauma triggers, flashbacks, and dissociation can help reduce the Trauma effects people many times and they don’t even know they have been through trauma.  They just know that they are having trouble sleeping, easily startled, and having trouble functioning with daily life. 

Read this article to learn tips on identifying the signs of trauma, types of trauma, and trauma therapy recovery.

SUMMARY OF THIS ARTICLE:

This article gives tips on identifying and coping through Trauma Triggers, Flashbacks, and Dissociation:

  • PTSD & Trauma Triggers
    • What are PTSD & Trauma Triggers?
    • What happens when you are triggered? 
  • Flashbacks & Dissociation
    • What is a trauma flashback?
    • What is Dissociation? 
  • 10 Key to Manage Triggers, Flashbacks, & Dissociation
    • Learn Trigger Coping Techniques
  • Trauma Therapy Recovery

RELATED ARTICLES:

Trauma & Intentional Transformations:

Trauma Therapy:

Safe Spaces:

Coping Skills

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