Key Takeaways Key Takeaways
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) triggers can be unexpected and differ from person to person.

  • Recognizing these triggers and being equipped with coping mechanisms can drastically improve daily living.

  • Understanding both the prominent and subtle triggers is essential for individuals with PTSD to navigate their triggers effectively and to develop coping strategies that empower them to lead fulfilling lives.

How to Deal with PTSD Triggers to Regain Control of Your Life

Common PTSD Triggers and How to Control Them

Navigating life with PTSD is like trying to find your way through an unpredictable maze.

PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is classified as a Trauma Disorder. It is a mental health condition that occurs in response to experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Trauma disorders, including PTSD, are characterized by the emotional and psychological distress that arises from exposure to events that involve a serious threat to one’s life, physical integrity, or emotional well-being. PTSD symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, avoidance behaviors, and negative changes in mood and cognition.

According to the National Center for PTSD, 5% of adults in the U.S. have a PTSD diagnosis in any given year, and while each person’s experience is distinct, one commonality remains—mental intrusions that momentarily take people back to the traumatic event. Understanding and navigating these triggers is crucial to progress and healing. This article sheds light on the nature of triggers for PTSD including fewer known ones, helping people living with PTSD to recognize them and equip themselves with effective coping strategies.

Join us as we explore this topic, highlighting some PTSD triggers and ways to manage them.

What are PTSD Triggers, and How Can They Affect You?

Imagine sailing in calm waters, then suddenly a rogue wave, completely unexpected, disrupts your peace. PTSD triggers act in a similar fashion. They’re reminders of a traumatic event that provoke an intense emotional pain or physical reaction, even when no real danger is present. The scent of a specific perfume, a particular song, or even a date can bring back memories of trauma, sending individuals into the emotional depths of their traumatic experiences.

While some triggers are more commonly recognized, such as certain sights, sounds, or anniversaries associated with the trauma, there exists a category of subtler triggers that might not be as widely acknowledged. These lesser-known triggers can include nuanced sensory cues, subtle changes in environment, or even certain thought patterns. These subtle triggers may not be immediately apparent to the person experiencing them, making them potentially more challenging to identify and manage. Understanding both the prominent and subtle triggers is essential for individuals with PTSD to navigate their triggers effectively and to develop coping strategies that empower them to lead fulfilling lives.

6 PTSD Lesser-Known Triggers You Should Know About

  1. Being subjected to or witnessing a violent crime can act as a powerful catalyst for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The shock and horror of such an event can imprint deeply, causing intense emotional reactions, persistent distressing memories, and recurrent flashbacks. These triggers often lead to heightened anxiety and a profound sense of vulnerability. Coping with the aftermath requires strategies to manage the surge of emotions and memories, fostering healing and resilience in those affected.
  2. Enduring the aftermath of a natural disaster can emerge as a trigger for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The upheaval, danger, and loss can imprint traumatic memories, manifesting as heightened anxiety, flashbacks, and avoidance behaviors. Survivors may grapple with recurring distress and a sense of vulnerability. Acknowledging these effects and seeking support are pivotal in mitigating the long-lasting impact and fostering recovery.
  3. Bearing witness to or becoming a victim of a terrorist attack can serve as a profound trigger for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The shock, fear, and horror of such an event can imprint lasting traumatic memories, giving rise to recurring distress, nightmares, and heightened anxiety. Coping with the aftermath involves navigating emotional turmoil, fostering resilience, and seeking professional support to address the psychological scars left behind by the traumatic experience.
  4. Being involved in or witnessing a severe car accident can trigger Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The impact, fear, and helplessness experienced during such an event can imprint traumatic memories, leading to recurring distress, flashbacks, and anxiety. Coping with this trauma involves addressing emotional upheaval, seeking support, and implementing strategies to manage triggers. Acknowledging the potential long-lasting effects and seeking professional help are crucial for navigating the psychological aftermath of the accident.
  5. Experiencing train derailments, plane accidents, or other disasters can induce Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The chaos, danger, and sense of vulnerability during such events can leave lasting traumatic imprints, causing recurring distress, vivid flashbacks, and anxiety. Coping involves managing emotional turmoil, seeking assistance, and developing strategies to handle triggers.
  6. Coping with the abrupt loss of a loved one can emerge as a trigger for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The shock, grief, and emotional upheaval that accompany such an event can imprint traumatic memories, leading to persistent distress, intrusive thoughts, and anxiety. The process of navigating this loss involves managing intense emotions, seeking support, and implementing self-care strategies.


Recognizing these triggers can empower individuals to be proactive about their Mental Health and learn how to cope with PTSD triggers. If they find themselves exposed to any of these situations, they can promptly seek professional help, employ coping mechanisms, or lean on their social support systems. Foreknowledge of triggers aids in anticipating possible emotional responses and ensures that those affected are better prepared to address their feelings and reactions constructively.

How Do I Know If I Have PTSD Triggers?

What happens when PTSD is triggered can vary from person to person. You might experience an unexpected surge of emotions, flashbacks, or even physical symptoms like shaking. Maybe visiting a particular location, encountering a specific scent, or hearing a certain sound makes you feel suddenly uneasy or panicked. Remember, it’s not just about the big reactions. Sometimes, the signs can be subtle but deeply unsettling.

How to Deal with PTSD Triggers

Recognizing and understanding your triggers is the foundational step to knowing how to deal with PTSD triggers. From there, it’s essential to actively acknowledge them. For instance, keep a journal detailing instances when you felt triggered. This could be as simple as noting down a sudden noise that startled you or a specific scene from a movie. Over time, these notes will reveal patterns, allowing you to proactively manage and prepare for situations or stimuli that could be triggering.

Managing PTSD triggers on the spot through self-help techniques can be effective in reducing distress. Here’s how:

  • Deep Breathing: Focus on slow, deep breaths. Inhale deeply through your nose, hold for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth.
  • Grounding Techniques: Engage your senses to stay present. Describe five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
  • Positive Affirmations: Repeat positive phrases or mantras to counter negative thoughts and promote a sense of control.
  • Safe Place Visualization: Mentally transport yourself to a safe and calming place through vivid imagery.
  • Mindfulness: Focus on the sensations of the present moment, such as your breathing, the feeling of your feet on the ground, or the texture of an object.
  • 5-4-3-2-1 Technique: Acknowledge five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
  • Relaxation Exercises: Tense and then release different muscle groups, starting from your toes and working your way up.
  • Breath Counting: Count each breath, which can help divert your attention and calm your mind.
  • Counting: Count objects around you or recite a series of numbers to focus your mind.
  • Use Physical Objects: Carry a small object with a calming texture or scent that you can hold when triggered.
  • Positive Self-Talk: Remind yourself that you are safe and that the trigger is a response to past events, not a current threat.
  • Move Your Body: Gently move your body by stretching, tapping, or doing light exercises to release tension.
  • Emergency Contacts: Have a list of people you can reach out to for support during difficult moments.
  • Create a Distraction Kit: Pack a bag with comforting items, like a favorite book, soothing music, or a stress ball.

It’s important to remember that self-help techniques can be effective but may not work in every situation.

While avoidance shouldn’t be a long-term strategy, it can be beneficial in the short term. For instance, if watching news about terrorist attacks is a trigger, consider limiting your exposure until you’ve developed stronger coping mechanisms. Overcoming your triggers will take time, and pushing yourself too far in the early days can have a detrimental effect, heightening the symptoms of PTSD.

Managing overall stress can dampen the intensity of triggers and improve overall Mental Health. Meditation, for example, takes just a few minutes a day and can help calm the mind through mindfulness exercises. Building a habit of daily meditation can improve memory, boost mood, and equip people with better focus throughout their day.

Physical activity can release endorphins and alleviate stress, whether it’s a brisk walk, yoga, or a gym session. Consider integrating more physical activity into your daily life by starting up a hobby that involves a sport. If sports aren’t your thing, painting, reading, and even cooking can act as therapeutic outlets, providing a sense of accomplishment and a distraction from potential stressors.

Dealing with PTSD triggers is an intensely personal journey. What works for one individual might not necessarily resonate with another.

Managing PTSD triggers over the long term with professional help involves a comprehensive approach tailored to your individual needs. Here’s an outline of how it can be achieved:

  • Therapy: Engage in evidence-based therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). These therapies help you process traumatic memories, challenge distorted thoughts, and develop coping skills.
  • Trauma-Informed Care: Work with a therapist who specializes in trauma and understands the complexities of PTSD triggers.
  • Safety and Stability: Establish a sense of safety and stability through therapy, allowing you to explore triggers within a supportive environment.
  • Exposure Therapy: Gradually confront triggers in a controlled manner to reduce their intensity and associated distress.
  • Medication: Consult a psychiatrist for medication options that can help alleviate symptoms, if appropriate.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, balanced nutrition, sufficient sleep, and stress reduction techniques.
  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Engage in mindfulness practices to cultivate awareness and manage distress.
  • Support Network: Build and maintain a strong support network of friends, family, and support groups.
  • Emergency Plan: Develop a plan with your therapist for managing triggers that become overwhelming.
  • Self-Compassion: Practice self-compassion and self-care to foster resilience and emotional well-being.
  • Progress Tracking: Regularly assess your progress with your therapist to identify areas of improvement and areas that need further attention.
  • Relapse Prevention: Develop strategies to prevent relapse and manage setbacks that may arise.
  • Communication: Communicate openly with your therapist about your progress, challenges, and any changes in your symptoms or triggers.

It’s crucial for each person to explore, experiment, and ultimately determine the coping strategies and techniques that best align with their unique experiences and needs. As healing and coping are individual processes, carve out your own path toward well-being.


Navigating PTSD triggers is a different experience for everyone, and sometimes it can take time to identify those that affect you. If you are struggling or feeling overwhelmed, remember that it’s okay to seek assistance. At LifeStance, we’re here to guide and support you. Read more about how PTSD affects daily life or explore the possibilities of Telehealth treatment for PTSD.

Authored By 

LifeStance Health
LifeStance Health

LifeStance is a mental healthcare company focused on providing evidence-based, medically driven treatment services for children, adolescents, and adults suffering from a variety of mental health issues in an outpatient care setting, both in-person and through its digital health telemedicine offering.

Reviewed By

Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S
Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S

Nicholette is a faculty member at John Carroll University’s Clinical Counseling program, and she is also the host of the LifeStance podcast, Convos from the Couch.