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PTSD Triggers

What is PTSD? How to identify PTSD? How to Cope with PTSD?

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.

People who experience PTSD may have persistent, terrifying memories and thoughts of the events, experience sleep problems, feel numb or detached, or maybe easily startled

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.

How to Identify PTSD Triggers

Some are PTSD triggers are subtle. Others are obvious. In fact, PTSD triggers 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.

What happens when PTSD is triggered and how to cope with PTSD

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 PTSD triggers, 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 PTSD triggers 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.

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.


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, 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. 


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 similar shaped nose or a distinctive walk — to the person who caused their trauma.  


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. 


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. 


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


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


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

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.

Revisiting the trauma location

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


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

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

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
We Level Up Inpatient rehab provides 24/7 care and support from both medical and therapeutic staff.


[1] NIH –

[2] NIMH –

[3] US Department of Veterans Affairs –

[4] NCBI –

[5] NIH –