Skip to content

What Are PTSD Triggers? How to Deal with PTSD Triggers?

PTSD triggers can cause a person to re-experience a traumatic event. Read to learn about common PTSD triggers and how to treat them.


By We Level Up FL Treatment Center | Editor Yamilla Francese | Clinically Reviewed By Lauren Barry, LMFT, MCAP, QS, Director of Quality Assurance | Editorial Policy | Research Policy | Last Updated: January 23, 2023

What Are PTSD Triggers?

PTSD triggers are usually everyday situations that cause a person to re-experience the traumatic event as if it were reoccurring in the present or related symptoms. These symptoms might include strong memories, feelings, or emotions.

When an individual has posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the symptoms can come and go. For example, a person who has this mental condition might feel fine until they hear a car backfire loudly. Then, suddenly, the person becomes very afraid—images of a soldier’s time-fighting in a war flood back [3].

Specific PTSD triggers can set off your PTSD. They bring back strong memories. A person may feel like they’re living through it all over again. Triggers can include sounds, sights, smells, or thoughts that remind the person of the traumatic event somehow.

Some PTSD triggers are evident, such as seeing a news report of an assault. Others are less evident. For instance, if a person was attacked on a sunny day, seeing a bright blue sky might upset them. Knowing a person’s PTSD triggers can help them better cope with their condition.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a mental health disorder that some individuals develop after they experience or see a traumatic event. PTSD triggers are traumatic events that may be life-threatening. Such as natural disasters, combat, car accident, or sexual assault. But sometimes, the event is not necessarily a dangerous one. For example, the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one can also cause PTSD.

It’s normal to feel afraid during and after a traumatic event. The fear triggers a “fight-or-flight” response. This is the body’s way of helping to protect itself from possible harm. In addition, it causes changes in your body, such as releasing certain hormones and increases in alertness, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing.

In time, most people recover from this naturally. But people with PTSD don’t feel better. Instead, they feel stressed and frightened long after the trauma is over. In some cases, the PTSD symptoms may start later on. They might also come and go over time [2].

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) [1], researchers don’t know why some people get PTSD and others don’t. Genetics, neurobiology, risk factors, and personal factors may affect whether you get PTSD after a traumatic event.

What is Complex PTSD?

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) is closely linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, it usually develops due to reprised trauma over months or years rather than a single occurrence. Most people are knowledgeable about PTSD, an anxiety disorder that results from a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster or car accident.

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as C PTSD, occurs when someone has dealt with long-term trauma. This means the trauma happened over a long period or covered repeated events. Examples might include being a soldier during war or a prisoner of any type: in war, in a concentration camp, and cases of human trafficking. 

What are the Complex PTSD Triggers?

If you live with C-PTSD, you might find that certain emotions or situations can bring on intense symptoms related to your trauma.

What triggers this response for you will probably look different than what triggers it for someone else. This is largely because a trauma trigger is related in some way to the original trauma.

For example, it could be something you picked up with one of your five senses when the trauma was taking place. Some common triggers include:

  • specific physical sensations or pain
  • intense emotions like fear, sadness, or anger
  • a breakup or divorce (my husband triggers my PTSD)
  • specific smells, sounds, or tastes
  • a month, date, or time of year
  • reading a book or watching a movie that makes you think of the trauma
  • specific places, like the dentist’s office or church

What are the Complex PTSD Triggers in Relationships?

  • Overwhelming emotions
    • Feeling misunderstood
    • Feeling invalidated
    • Feeling helpless
    • Feeling confused
    • Guilt
  • Shame spiral
    • Feeling like you are inadequate, bad, unworthy
    • Feeling like this for hours and days at a time
    • Difficulty separating feelings from thoughts
    • Feeling disconnected from your true Self, emotions, and body
  • Lack of boundaries
    • Someone touching you without permission
    • Someone yelling at you for something that isn’t your fault
    • Someone blaming you for their emotions
    • Someone putting their responsibility on you
  • Too much stimuli
    • Loud sounds
    • Bright lights
    • Crowds of people

How to Identify PTSD Triggers

Some triggers for PTSD are subtle. Others are obvious. In fact, triggers for PTSD may be all around you, and you may not realize something is a trigger until you have a reaction. Even though it may sometimes feel like PTSD symptoms come out of the blue, PTSD symptoms rarely spontaneously show [4].

Instead, whether you are aware of it not, PTSD symptoms are often dictated or triggered by something in our external (anything that happens outside your body, such as a stressful situation) environment or internal (anything that happens within your body, such as thoughts or feelings).

Because certain feelings, thoughts, or situations can bring up painful PTSD symptoms, such as memories of a traumatic event or feelings of being anxious or on edge, one way of coping with these symptoms is by increasing your awareness of these triggers.

You can prevent or lessen the impact of certain PTSD symptoms by identifying what specific feelings, types of thoughts, and situations trigger them and then, take steps to limit the occurrence or impact of those triggers.

Get Help. Get Better. Get Your Life Back.

Searching for Accredited Dual Diagnosis Mental Health Centers Near You?

Even if therapy failed previously, or are in the middle of a difficult crisis, we stand ready to support you. Our trusted behavioral health specialists will not give up on you. When you feel ready or just want someone to speak to about counseling alternatives to change your life call us. Even if we cannot assist you, we will lead you to wherever you can get support. There is no obligation. Call our hotline today.

FREE 24/7 Dual Diagnosis Mental Health Services Hotline

C-PTSD Diagnostic Criteria Facts

Is C PTSD a Disability

What is C-PTSD? C-PTSD definition and the term “complex PTSD” first emerged in 1992 in Dr. Judith Herman’s book “Trauma and Recovery.” It’s commonly abbreviated as CPTSD or C-PTSD. CPTSD derives from trauma resulting from repeated or ongoing traumatic incidents, usually over the course of several months or years.

C-PTSD Mortality Rate & Disability

Is C-PTSD a disability? Yes. Since people with complex post-traumatic stress disorder qualify for a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, the Social Security Administration will consider them disabled.

Chronic and complex PTSD has been shown to increase the risk of various health issues and decrease life expectancy.

In civilians with PTSD, one study observed a 54% higher risk of all-cause mortality, a 72% higher risk of cardiovascular mortality, and a 2-fold increase in the risk of external-cause mortality.

All-cause mortality was significantly higher for veterans with PTSD compared to the U.S. population.

C-PTSD and Interpersonal Relationships

How do C-PTSD and dissociation affect relationships?

  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Feeling unsafe
  • Using drugs, alcohol, or behaviors to numb anxiety or distress
  • Avoiding friends, loved ones, or activities you used to enjoy.

C-PTSD Quotes

 “It becomes difficult to deal with everyday life because you have hid your soul in a dark corner so it doesn’t have to face the dangerous world of the Trauma.  Without your soul, you are only half a person, a machine who is constantly running from reality.”

– Another common manifestation of PTSD is avoiding certain events and feelings, fearing they will trigger an episode. In Art With Impact’s exclusive interview with Amy Oestreicher, a Broadway performer who endured severe medical trauma, she discusses how she completely turned off her artistic side for a time. You may also find many helpful C-PTSD books from your therapist’s recommendations.

PTSD Statistics

According to the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, cumulative adulthood trauma was associated with PTSD and CPTSD; however, cumulative childhood trauma was more strongly associated with CPTSD than PTSD. Among traumatic stressors occurring in childhood, sexual and physical abuse by caregivers were identified as events related to risk for CPTSD. In contrast, sexual assault by non-caregivers and abduction were risk factors for PTSD. Adverse childhood events were associated with both PTSD and CPTSD, and equally so. Individuals with CPTSD reported substantially higher psychiatric burdens and lower levels of psychological well-being compared to those with PTSD and neither diagnosis. [4]


3.8%

A population-based study of complex posttraumatic stress disorder in the United States reported the prevalence rates were 3.4% for PTSD and 3.8% for CPTSD.

Source: NCBI

12 Million

About 12 million adults in the U.S. have PTSD during a given year. 

Source: NCBI

6 out of 100

About 6 out of every 100 people (or 6% of the population) will have PTSD at some point.

Source: NCBI


What Happens When PTSD is Triggered and How to Deal with PTSD Triggers?

The best way of dealing with PTSD triggers is to avoid them altogether. However, this is almost impossible to accomplish. Why? Well, you cannot really avoid your emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Much of these are out of our control.

With respect to external triggers, we can follow some steps to manage our surroundings (for instance, not going to particular places that we know will trigger us), but we cannot control everything that happens to us. For instance, you might inadvertently come into contact with a conversation or news story that reminds you of your traumatic event.

Because we usually cannot avoid triggers for PTSD, it is crucial to learn ways of coping with triggers. Effective, healthy coping measures for reducing the impact of triggers include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Mindfulness
  • Expressive writing
  • Grounding
  • Self-soothing
  • Relaxation
  • Social support

The more techniques you have available to you, the better off you will be in handling your triggers. In addition, the more coping techniques you have, the more likely you will be capable of preventing the development of harmful coping strategies, such as drug and alcohol use.

Also, simply being more aware of your triggers for PTSD can be useful. As a result of this increased awareness, your emotional reactions may start to feel more valid, understandable, predictable, and less out of control. This can definitely positively influence your mood and overall well-being.

8 Top PTSD Triggers FAQs

  1. How to get over PTSD triggers?

    Deep breathing can help calm your body’s stress response when you encounter a triggering situation.

  2. Is PTSD domestic violence triggers risky?

    People with PTSD also have been found to be more likely to be aggressive and engage in intimate partner abuse than people without a PTSD diagnosis.

  3. What is PTSD sexual assault triggers?

    Triggers are things that transport a survivor back to their sexual abuse. A triggered memory can lead survivors to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

  4. How to combat PTSD Triggers?

    Avoid blame as much as possible. Anger and blame toward others have been shown to increase Veterans’ stress symptoms.

  5. What is infidelity PTSD triggers?

    A partner betrayed by infidelity may experience symptoms similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder. Intrusive thoughts and an inability to stop scanning for new data that could cause distress are two symptoms characteristic of being cheated on.

  6. Is PTSD triggered?

    Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

  7. What are some PTSD triggers list?

    Triggers are anything that might cause a person to recall a traumatic experience they’ve had. For example, graphic images of violence might be a trigger for some people. Less obvious things, including songs, odors, or even colors, can also be triggers, depending on someone’s experience.

  8. What is sexual assault PTSD triggers?

    Certain stimuli can force sexual-assault survivors to relive their trauma.

Ryan Zofay forming a circle and hugging friends.

End the Emotional Pain. Get Your Life Back.

Feeling Depressed, Anxious or Struggling with Mental Health Illness? Get Safe Comfortable Mental Health Dual Diagnosis High-Quality Therapy From Counselors That Care. Begin Your Recovery Now.

Hotline (855) 940-6125

Types of PTSD Triggers

PTSD triggers can differ from person to person. Certain lifestyle factors — like not having enough social support — can exacerbate PTSD triggers. 

Below are 20 specific examples of PTSD triggers that can set off PTSD symptoms. Please keep in mind everyone’s experience with PTSD and its symptoms is unique. Therefore, someone’s PTSD triggers may differ from the specific examples listed below.

Panic

Several years ago, someone was in a car crash in which they struggled to open the door latch. That person was stuck in the car for a short yet terrifying time. In the present moment, that same person is unable to open the door latch to a public restroom stall. As that person remembers the car accident from several years ago, panic may come over. 

Medical care

After a person’s cancer diagnosis, scheduling a routine check-up with a healthcare provider triggers the PTSD symptoms. As a result, that same person may avoid all appointments after encountering medical trauma.

Loud sounds

If a person battled or lived in a war zone area, that same person may feel jumpy, on edge, and easily alarmed by unexpected, loud noises like fireworks or a car backfiring. 

Emotional pain

Seeing someone being racially discriminated against reminds the individual of the racial trauma that the same person endured over the years. 

Words

A person hears words — even phrases like “I love you” — similar to those whispered or spoken during physical abuse. or sexual assault.

Voice tone or style

A person encounters someone with a tone of voice or accent similar to their perpetrator’s. 

Angry voices

When someone raises their voice or speaks in a way that sounds angry, it makes the person suffering from PTSD remember when they were verbally abused as a child. 

Physical traits

An individual suffering from PTSD sees another individual who bears some physical resemblance — such as a similarly shaped nose or a distinctive walk — to the person who caused their trauma.  

Music 

Hearing a specific song, like the one that was playing at the bar the night a person experienced a sexual assault or that was popular on the radio at the time a person survived a natural disaster. 

What are PTSD triggers? Many different dangerous or life-threatening events might cause someone to develop PTSD. As with most mental health problems, PTSD is probably caused by a complex mix of stressful events, inherited mental health risks, and the way your brain controls the chemicals and hormones in your body.
What are PTSD triggers? Many different dangerous or life-threatening events might cause someone to develop PTSD. As with most mental health problems, PTSD is probably caused by a complex mix of stressful events, inherited mental health risks, and the way your brain controls the chemicals and hormones in your body.

Smell

The smell of whiskey reminds the person of the alcohol he smelled during an incident. Or, the smell of burning coal reminds a person of the fire she survived. 

Touch

A friend places their hand on your shoulder and it reminds the person struggling with PTSD of when she was sexually abused. 

Taste

Eating spicy foods reminds the person suffering from PTSD of when his abuser forced him to eat something just as spicy. 

Objects

A kitchen knife reminds someone of when a mugger wielded a knife at him. 

First-class Facilities & Amenities

World-class High-Quality Mental Health Services & Behaviroal Health Substance Abuse Treatment

Rehab Centers Tour

Renowned Mental Health Centers. Serene Private Facilities. Inpatient Rehab Programs Vary.

Mental Health Helpline (855) 940-6125

Proven recovery success experience, backed by a Team w/ History of:

  • 15+ Years Experience
  • 100s of 5-Star Reviews
  • 10K+ Recovery Successes
  • Low Patient to Therapist Ratio
  • Comprehensive Dual-Diagnosis Treatment
  • Complimentary Family & Alumni Programs
  • Coaching, Recovery & Development Events
  • Comfortable Onsite Medical Detox Center

Revisiting the trauma location

Traveling past the same building in which an individual was assaulted brings back (emotionally and mentally) the experience. 

Similar places

Going to the beach or lake reminds the person of a time he nearly drowned, even if it’s not the exact same location where they experienced the trauma. 

Time of day

The person’s traumatic event happened at 11 p.m. Ever since, whenever it gets close to 11 p.m., that same person starts recalling the incident.

Age reminders

Your child just turned the same age that you were when you experienced a traumatic event, which can trigger your PTSD symptoms. 

Disagreements or arguments

Whenever the person suffering from PTSD has an argument or disagreement with someone, he remembers the verbal conflicts he had with his ex-spouse and the domestic violence he may have endured.

Loss of a loved one

When your friend loses someone close to them, you remember the grief you felt after losing loved ones during community violence.  

Colors

You see a car with the same color as the one you were driving when you had a motor vehicle accident. 

World-class, Accredited, 5-Star Reviewed, Effective Mental Health Dual Diagnosis Programs. Complete Integrated Inpatient Rehab with Free Post Discharge Therapy Planning.

CALL (855) 940-6125

End the Emotional Pain Rollercoaster. Gain Stability & Happiness Through Recovery Treatment. Start Mental Health Counseling Today. Get Free No-obligation Guidance by Behaviroal Health Specialists Who Understand Mental Health Recovery.

Kinds of PTSD Triggers

PTSD triggers can fall into two categories: External Triggers and Internal Triggers.

External triggers are people, situations, or places that you might experience or encounter e throughout your day (or things that happen outside your body). 

Internal triggers are things that you experience or feel inside your body. Internal triggers include emotions, thoughts or memories, and bodily sensations (for instance, your heart racing).

Listed below are some common external and internal triggers.

Internal Triggers

  • Anger
  • Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling abandoned
  • Feeling lonely
  • Memories
  • Feeling out of control
  • Feeling vulnerable
  • Muscle tension
  • Frustration
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Sadness

External Triggers

  • An argument
  • An anniversary
  • Holidays
  • Certain smells
  • End of a relationship
  • Reading a news article that reminds you of your traumatic event
  • Seeing someone who reminds you of a person connected to your traumatic event
  • Watching a movie or television show that reminds you of your traumatic event
  • A specific place
  • Witnessing a car accident

PTSD Treatment

PTSD cannot be cured. However, it can be treated and managed in several ways. The main treatments for PTSD are psychotherapy, medicines, or both. PTSD affects people differently, so a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. So, If you have PTSD, you need to work with a mental health professional to find the best treatment for your symptoms.

Psychotherapy can teach you about your symptoms. In short, you will learn how to identify what triggers them and how to manage them.

Medicines can help with the symptoms of PTSD. Antidepressants may help control symptoms such as sadness, worry, anger, and feeling numb inside. Examples are paroxetine, mirtazapine, amitriptyline, and phenelzine.

Self-management strategies, such as self-soothing and mindfulness, are helpful to ground a person and bring her back to reality after a flashback.

Service animals, especially dogs, can help soothe some of the symptoms of PTSD.

The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that nearly 8% of adults in the United States have experienced a traumatic event in their lifetime. This is approximately 12 million people. Approximately 2.8 million adult Americans have been diagnosed with PTSD.

Experience Transformative Recovery at the We Level Up Treatment Center.

See our authentic success stories. Get inspired. Get the help you deserve.

We Level Up Treatment Centers for Drug Alcohol Rehab Detox Behavioral Mental Health Dual Diagnosis Therapy We Level Up Treatment Centers for Drug Alcohol Rehab Detox Behavioral Mental Health Dual Diagnosis Therapy We Level Up Treatment Centers for Drug Alcohol Rehab Detox Behavioral Mental Health Dual Diagnosis Therapy
Hotline (855) 940-6125
Voluntarily testimonials from the We Level Up Treatment Center network vary. Not intended as a guaranteed treatment or outcome as each person's journey is unique.

Start a New Life

Begin with a free call to a behavioral health treatment advisor. Learn more about our dual-diagnosis programs. The We Level Up treatment center network delivers recovery programs that vary by each treatment facility. Call to learn more.

  • Personalized Care
  • Caring Accountable Staff
  • World-class Amenities
  • Licensed & Accredited
  • Renowned w/ 5-Star Reviews

We’ll Call You


PTSD Therapy Near You

PTSD is not a choice but an ailment usually caused by severe dramatic events(s). It has nothing to do with the person’s courage or strength. It is a mental health disorder that affects men, women, and children. Unfortunately, some individuals may not avoid or delay getting help with worsening symptoms because they fear the stigma of a mental illness.  One in five adults experiences a mental health condition in a given year. The medical community has reported that as many as eight million adults will have PTSD in a given year, and nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population will suffer from this condition at some point in their lives.

In other words, psychological problems like PTSD and conditions are commonplace in the U.S. as they are elsewhere in the world. In so many of these cases, the development of PTSD is entirely beyond the person’s control. Yet, individuals experiencing PTSD symptoms can exert some control by reaching out for help. Without treatment, PTSD can increase in severity. With treatment, it can be managed and overcome.

Treatments such as medications and therapy can significantly improve quality of life and help individuals cope with PTSD triggers when they arise. Without medical care, PTSD can become chronic and become a life-long condition. With high-quality mental health treatment, individuals can achieve full recovery. There’s no shame or stigma in admitting the presence of PTSD symptoms, but it would be a shame not to reach out for help. Contact us today here at We Level Up Mental Health Treatment Center for treatment plans that could work best for you, and to help you manage PTSD triggers.

PTSD Triggers Quotes: “Post traumatic stress injury isn’t a disease. It’s a wound to the soul that never heals.”
PTSD Triggers Quotes: “Post traumatic stress injury isn’t a disease. It’s a wound to the soul that never heals.”
  1. What triggers PTSD?

    Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it.

  2. How to overcome PTSD triggers?

    A super way to deal with triggers is cognitive therapy (CT). In CT, also called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), you work to rewrite troublesome thoughts.

  3. Is PTSD triggered by yelling?

    Andy Smith/Getty Images. Anger and irritability are hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD.

  4. What triggered PTSD?

    Triggers can include sights, sounds, smells, or thoughts that remind you of the traumatic event in some way. 

  5. What are PTSD triggers examples?

    A specific smell can trigger trauma symptoms. For example if you experienced abuse by someone wearing a particular type of aftershave when you smell this type of aftershave again it could trigger traumatic symptoms.

  6. What are the common triggers of PTSD?

    The most common PTSD triggers

  7. When PTSD is triggered?

    Loud noises and crowds are among the most common PTSD triggers.

  8. Can PTSD triggers at work?

    People with PTSD might be concentrating so hard on trying to control their hypervigilance that they can’t present work they’ve prepared. Thinking, or tasks that came easily to them before the event, might be impossible now.

  9. How to cope with PTSD triggers?

    You can prevent or lessen the impact of certain PTSD symptoms by identifying what specific types of thoughts, feelings, and situations trigger them and then taking steps to limit the occurrence or impact of those triggers.

  10. What is domestic violence PTSD triggers?

    Researchers have found a link between post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and domestic violence.1 Intimate partner abuse happens more than you may think.

Search We Level Up FL “What Are PTSD Triggers? How to Deal with PTSD Triggers?” & “Mental Health Topics & Resources
Sources:

[1] NIH – https://medlineplus.gov/posttraumaticstressdisorder.html
[2] NIMH – https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd
[3] US Department of Veterans Affairs – https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/cooccurring/marijuana_ptsd_vets.asp
[4] NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3051362/
[5] NIH – https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd
[6] Dye HL. Is Emotional Abuse As Harmful as Physical and Sexual Abuse? J Child Adolesc Trauma. 2019 Dec 10;13(4):399-407. DOI: 10.1007/s40653-019-00292-y. PMID: 33269040; PMCID: PMC7683637.c – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7683637/
[7] Effects of child abuse and neglect for adult survivors – https://aifs.gov.au/resources/policy-and-practice-papers/effects-child-abuse-and-neglect-adult-survivors
[8] Complex PTSD – PTSD: National Center for PTSD – https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/complex_ptsd.asp
[9] Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – https://www.mentalhealth.gov/what-to-look-for/post-traumatic-stress-disorder
[10] Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – NIMH – National Institute of Mental Health – https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd