More than two-thirds of kids experience at least one traumatic event by age 16, and nearly 10% of U.S. adults will develop post-traumatic stress disorder in their lifetime.
Whether this trauma was psychological, physical or sexual, many of those who experience it will also develop trauma triggers. Often, these triggers serve as self-preservation tactics because they stimulate your fight or flight response.
However, they aren’t always so useful.
For instance, if a memory, experience or event reminds you of past trauma, it may trigger an intense emotional reaction, regardless of your current mood or whether the situation calls for such a response.
Becoming more aware of these triggers can help you uncover their roots so you can heal from trauma, learn to manage your emotions and live a happy, healthy life.
Triggers, Cravings and Addiction
Your trauma and subsequent triggers may never prompt drug or alcohol abuse. However, many people do develop addictions as a way to cope with or avoid their triggers.
More than 42 million adults have a mental illness and 18.2% of them struggle with substance abuse disorders on top of it. These co-occurring conditions often stem from trauma and can quickly turn into a cycle of craving and addiction if you allow triggers to control you.
Here’s how it works:
- You experience a trigger and it reminds you of a traumatic experience or drugs or alcohol.
- You develop a craving for these substances because of a previous addiction or a desire to temporarily numb negative emotions associated with your trauma.
- You either resist the craving and stay sober or give in and reinforce addictive behaviors.
Of course, staying sober is the best way to break the cycle for good and ultimately heal from your trauma. However, you must know what your triggers are if you’re to stay strong and resist temptation.
Expecting the Unexpected
While you can’t control or predict every aspect of your life, you can set yourself up for success by preparing to either avoid or face potential triggers. Learn to expect the unexpected by becoming more aware of your triggers.
Tuning into your physical sensations is a great place to start because they can clue you into which situations, topics, memories, words or behaviors trigger unwanted reactions.
For instance, sweaty palms and a tight chest may indicate a trauma trigger. When you notice these sensations, stop to consider why your body might be responding in such a way. Then, trace the reaction back to its origin by recalling situations where you experienced similar sensations.
Often, this exercise will reveal deeply-rooted trauma and triggers so you know what might prompt certain emotions or physical reactions in the future.
Once you know your triggers, you can work to become more aware of them in everyday life.
More importantly, you can imagine yourself in different scenarios before they happen so you can respond more calmly in the moment rather than let your emotions dictate your reaction.
Sometimes, it’s best to avoid certain triggers, especially if they prompt substance abuse or fuel addictive behaviors. In this case, you should stay away from people, places and things that might push your buttons or tempt you beyond self-control.
Reroute walks and drives to bypass certain areas that may bring up traumatic memories. Change your contact information and cut ties with friends who may have a poor influence on you.
You can even create temporary boundaries within your support system so you don’t have to deal with triggers in the short term. However, you will eventually want to work through these triggers and learn to manage your reactions if your main goal is to heal from your trauma.
Avoiding triggers can help you stay sober and avoid uncomfortable social situations.
However, facing your triggers head-on can help you develop coping strategies so you don’t have to avoid things. This strategy supports resilience, long-term sobriety and healing. Of course, you must practice implementing these coping mechanisms in a controlled environment with ample support.
Otherwise, you could give into harmful emotional reactions that exacerbate the cycle of craving and addiction.
Eventually, exposure therapy will give way to real-life situations where you’ll have to rely on your preparedness to cope. However, you may still struggle with cravings in the very beginning.
In these instances, it’s crucial that you reach out to a friend, family member or therapist for help and support. They’ll talk you through any emotions that come up so you can respond in a healthy, controlled manner.
They can also help validate your feelings or get you back on track after a relapse or out-of-control response.
Coping vs. Healing
Roughly 70% of those dealing with mental health issues find treatment helpful.
Therefore, if you’re struggling with trauma and debilitating triggers, you may benefit from speaking with a therapist or physician. While you can learn coping strategies on your own, they’re only meant to serve as a short-term solution on your way to long-term healing.
Consulting a professional will help you determine the root cause of your trauma so you can overcome, heal and get back to enjoying your life.