How to Deal with Trauma Triggers: A Practical Guide

Uncover effective strategies on how to deal with trauma triggers, manage responses, and seek help. Empower yourself in your healing journey today.

Picture this: you’re strolling through the park, a light breeze rustling the leaves. Suddenly, an unexpected sound echoes — maybe it’s a car backfiring or a dog barking fiercely. In that moment, your heart starts pounding and panic seizes you.

This is what it feels like to encounter a trauma trigger.

We all have past experiences that shape us in profound ways. But for some of us, these memories aren’t just uncomfortable — they’re debilitating reminders of traumatic events we’d rather forget.

You might be wondering how to cope with such triggers? And how can you possibly anticipate them?

This blog post will explore how to deal with trauma triggers — whether it’s from a significant trauma with a big “T”, or a more subtle trauma with a little “t”. 

I’ll guide you through recognizing your personal triggers, understanding their physical impact on your body, and learning effective coping mechanisms to help you manage and overcome them.

What Are Trauma Triggers?

Trauma triggers are reminders of past traumatic experiences that can provoke intense emotional and physical reactions. They’re often tied to the senses, so a certain smell, sound, or sight could act as a trigger.

These triggers can cause a person to feel like they are living through the traumatic event again — not just recalling it. That’s because our brains store traumatic events differently than regular memories.

The brain’s fear center, the amygdala, works overtime during a traumatic event. It makes sure we remember everything about it to help us avoid similar situations in the future — like an overprotective friend who means well but isn’t actually all that helpful.

The amygdala, located deep within your brain, is like your personal alarm system. When it perceives danger — even if that “danger” is actually safe — it sets off alarms throughout your body.

This alarm sends adrenaline pumping through your veins and sends your heart racing — a process known as the fight-or-flight response — which prepares you for immediate action against perceived threats.

The fight-or-flight response has helped humans survive since prehistoric times by preparing them to either confront or run away from danger instantly — but it can also lead to misfires when faced with trauma triggers.

In other words, sometimes harmless situations get mistaken for life-threatening ones, which can cause panic attacks or other distressing emotional reactions.

Understanding your triggers is a critical first step to managing them. With knowledge and support, you can learn how to navigate your unique triggers effectively and regain control over your emotional responses.

How to Recognize Your Personal Trauma Triggers

Recognizing personal trauma triggers can be challenging. You often know they’re present because your can feel their impact, but seeing them directly is tricky. 

The first step in recognizing your triggers is becoming more aware of how you react physically and emotionally in different situations. Notice when feelings of discomfort arise unexpectedly. Is there a common theme or situation that causes these feelings? If so, this could be one of your triggers.

Ask questions about what’s going on internally when emotions flare up without obvious reasons. By being present with yourself in this way, you might start noticing patterns between certain stimuli — like places, people, sounds — and emotional discomfort or distress.

You might find clues from past traumatic events that still cause stress today, or seemingly innocent moments that somehow stir anxiety within you. 

This is where keeping track becomes invaluable. Try journaling about these events as they occur; writing things down can help bring clarity and identify patterns over time.

If unearthing hidden traumas feels too overwhelming alone, professional trauma therapy can provide needed support through this journey. Professionals may use talk therapy, cognitive processing therapy, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) to help safely process potential triggers.

Remember, recognizing triggers isn’t about assigning blame or dwelling on past pain. It’s a step towards understanding yourself better, so that you can create healthier responses to these triggers over time.

Key Takeaway: Becoming more self-aware and acting like an emotional detective can help you spot your personal trauma triggers. Keep track of moments that stir unexpected discomfort, looking for patterns or common themes. If the task feels overwhelming, don’t hesitate to seek professional support.

Your Physical Response to Trauma Triggers

When you come across a trauma trigger, your body can respond in ways that may feel strange or scary. These reactions, though potentially unsettling, are typical and part of the body’s natural defence system.

Your stress response system (the fight-or-flight response) kicks into high gear when faced with danger. Your heart rate quickens, pumping more blood to muscles. Your breathing speeds up to supply more oxygen needed for energy.

And you might experience more overt symptoms as well, such as:

  • Panic Attacks – These involve intense feelings of fear accompanied by physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, or shaking.
  • Nausea and Digestive Issues – Stress hormones slow down digestion causing nausea or stomach upset.
  • Sweating – This is a common symptom due to increased adrenaline release during stressful situations.

Your body’s reactions to external triggers is an old survival instinct. Imagine our ancestors spotting a lion – their bodies would react instantly, preparing them either to fight or run away.

This is why you don’t have control over how your body responds initially, but there are steps you can take once you become aware of it. 

Coping Mechanisms to Deal with Trauma Triggers

Dealing with your triggers takes patience and self-compassion. But you don’t have to go through it alone or unprepared — there are practical strategies that can help. Naturally, coping mechanisms are not one-size-fits-all. So test out different strategies to identify what works for you.

1. Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing exercises, often used in yoga and meditation, provide immediate relief when faced with a trigger by helping calm the body’s fight-or-flight response.

You might think of it as hitting the pause button on a scary movie scene — it doesn’t make the monster disappear, but gives you space to collect yourself before deciding what action to take next.

Two common deep breathing exercises are the box breathing technique and the 4-7-8 technique:

a) Box Breathing Technique

This technique involves taking slow, deep breaths and counting to four at different stages of the breath. Here’s how to do it:

  • Begin by exhaling all the air from your lungs.
  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose while counting to four.
  • Hold your breath and count to four.
  • Exhale fully from your mouth, counting to four.
  • Keep your breath out and count to four.
  • Repeat this cycle for as long as necessary.

The box breathing technique helps regulate the autonomic nervous system and reduces anxiety.

b) Biofeedback Breathing Technique

This technique is based on consciously coordinating your breath with your body’s natural physiology. You have what are known as chemoreceptors located around your neck that monitor oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your body.  These chemoreceptors will trigger you to inhale and exhale based on what they detect.

Biofeedback breathing helps you become more in-tune with this natural rhythm, and it works like this:

  • Exhale all the air from your lungs.
  • Hold your breath at the end of the exhale until you feel the urge to take a deep breath.
  • Inhale naturally through your nose while counting to four.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a “vooo” sound to a count of eight.
  • This completes one breath. Now, hold your breath until you naturally want to inhale again and repeat the cycle.

I recommend starting with a count of four as you breathe in, and a count of eight as you breathe out.

But this technique can be done with different counts, as long as you breathe out for twice as many counts as you breathe in. For example, you can breathe in for two, and exhale for four. Or breathe in for a count of six, and out for a count of twelve.

Also, the first one or two deep inhales after holding at the bottom of your exhale may be deeper than usual — but that’s okay. Keep extending the exhale for double what you inhaled, and continue pausing at the bottom of the exhale until the natural impulse to take an inhale arises again. Soon you’ll fall into a rhythm that is very calming for both your mind and nervous system.

Woman practicing breathing for trauma trigger

2. Mindfulness Practice

Becoming an observer of your own experience, rather than being swept away by it, can be very empowering. Mindfulness involves focusing on your immediate experience in any given moment or situation.

You can start by noticing the sensory details around you, like the texture of fabric beneath your fingers, what you’re currently looking at, or what sounds you’re hearing. 

Also try paying attention to what’s going on internally. What are you thinking and feeling? How does your body feel in the moment — are you aware of any tension or other sensations?

Being mindful of exactly what’s going on in your body and mind will help anchor you in the present moment — which, in turn, will bring you out of the fight-or-flight response.

Mindfulness practice empowers you to stay open and aware, rather than being overwhelmed by a triggering situation. Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine can progressively help you regain control over your reactions, while fostering greater resourcefulness and resilience.

3. Body-Based Movement Practices

Body-based movement practices, such as trauma-informed yoga, tai chi, or dance therapy, are excellent strategies for managing personal triggers. These practices often focus on grounding — which is a technique that helps connect you to the physical reality around you and promote a sense of safety and stability. 

You may not realize that your muscles actually hold a lot of your mental patterns. As you grow up, your muscles tend to store your personal tendencies, like whether you’re a giver or a taker, overly responsible or less responsible, or more romantic versus more sexual. They also hold tendencies and memories related to physical and psychological traumas. 

For example, whether you’re about to get hit by a bus — or you’re stressed and metaphorically hit by a bus — the first thing that happens is your pelvis tightens, your shoulders cave in, and you try to protect your core. That’s why many people with chronic, unresolved trauma triggers have symptoms like pelvic pain, difficult intercourse, or hip pain. Because the inner core is the first thing that freezes and tightens to brace for impact — whether the impact is psychological or physical.

That’s why body-based movement practices can be so deeply healing for trauma-related issues.

Trauma-informed yoga, for example, can be particularly beneficial. Unlike traditional yoga, trauma-informed yoga emphasizes choice, safety, and control, integrating physical postures, breath work, and mindfulness exercises specifically designed for trauma survivors. 

This practice can help you reconnect with your body in a safe way, learn to trust your body again, and cultivate an enhanced sense of control over your bodily responses.

Similarly, dance therapy encourages expression and processing of emotions through movement, helping practitioners recognize and release the physical manifestations of their trauma. The rhythmic movements involved in dance therapy can soothe the nervous system and foster a sense of balance and calm.

Also, tai chi’s gentle, flowing movements combined with deep breathing can help restore harmony in the mind and body, and reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and PTSD triggers. 

Incorporating body-based movement practices into your routine can help to gradually reduce the intensity of trauma memories and triggers, and over time, foster a greater sense of empowerment over your own body. 

Always remember to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new practice.

4. Spiritual-Based Practices

Many different spiritual practices and traditions also help manage trauma triggers. The main way they work is by providing a larger perspective. A big issue with trauma triggers is that we get stuck in the minutiae of a situation and all our negative thoughts about it. 

However, the 30,000-foot view that spiritual dimensions provide often allows you to get unstuck from the minutiae of the trigger by lifting you up and showing you more options. 

This can include traditional practices, such as shamanism or astrology, or more formal religions like Islam or Christianity. Whatever your personal spiritual beliefs are, these can be a source of strength and wisdom when facing triggers.

Key Takeaway: Dealing with trauma triggers might feel overwhelming at times, but practical strategies exist. Deep breathing can offer immediate relief by calming your fight-or-flight response. Mindfulness techniques help you become an observer of your experience, providing grounding in reality. Body-based practices build bodily autonomy and resilience over time, and spiritual practices can provide a much-needed larger perspective. Remember, everyone’s journey is unique — experiment until you find what works best for you on your healing path.

When to Seek Professional Help for Trauma Triggers

Knowing when to seek professional help for your triggers is vital. If your internal triggers start affecting your daily life, or if they cause severe distress, then it might be time to speak to a mental health professional. 

You also need to consider seeking help if self-care practices aren’t helping enough, or if you’re starting to feel isolated from others due to your struggle with trauma triggers.

But remember, asking for assistance doesn’t mean failure — it means strength. It demonstrates that you have the courage to acknowledge your struggles and the determination to work towards healing trauma. 

Getting professional help can also give you personalized strategies and coping mechanisms tailored to your unique experiences and reactions. 

Finding the right type of professional support can make all the difference in dealing with trauma triggers effectively. Therapists specializing in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), for example, can teach techniques designed specifically to manage trauma responses.

A practitioner experienced in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) could also be helpful. EMDR is another therapeutic approach shown to be effective against post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, including persistent triggering events.

You can also explore in-person or online group therapy for trauma, which can offer a supportive environment where sharing experiences becomes easier because everyone understands what you’re going through.

No single approach to therapy is suitable for everyone. It’s about finding what works best for you, so investigate your options and make the decision that feels right for your healing journey.

Long-Term Strategies for Managing Trauma Triggers

Managing your personal triggers is more of a marathon than a sprint. It takes consistent effort and patience. Let’s explore some effective long-term strategies that can help.

1. Lifestyle Changes

The way we live our lives can have an enormous impact on how we handle our triggers. This means making healthier choices like eating balanced meals, getting regular exercise, and ensuring you get enough sleep.

Studies show that these factors contribute significantly to emotional well-being and resilience against stressors like trauma triggers.

2. Regular Therapy Sessions

Talking with professionals trained in dealing with trauma symptoms is invaluable for managing trauma triggers over the long term.

Sessions provide safe spaces to discuss your feelings, learn coping skills, understand your responses better, create a safety plan, and set realistic goals towards improvement.

3. Prioritize Self-Care

Keep in mind that it’s okay — more than okay — to take breaks and regularly schedule downtime for yourself. Prioritizing self-care helps replenish emotional energy needed to manage trauma reactions effectively. 

Self-care can encompass various activities that promote relaxation and reconnection with yourself, such as engaging in hobbies, practicing meditation, taking nature walks, or even enjoying a warm bath. 

4. Practice Gratitude

Practicing gratitude can help shift your focus away from negative emotions linked to triggers, to more constructive ways of viewing a situation. 

Humans naturally have what’s known as a negativity bias, where we tend to look for what’s wrong or threatening in our environment. This is an important survival adaptation that helps to keep us safe. But it also keeps us locked into an often negative viewpoint on life.

However, this negativity bias can easily be interrupted once you’re aware of it. If you find yourself falling into a negative response, try asking yourself questions like, “What went well today?”, or “What did I enjoy about today?”

This is often enough to break the pattern of negativity and help your mind look for what’s going right, or what you might have to be thankful about. 

And if it feels appropriate, you can also try writing down things you’re grateful for each day. A simple gratitude list can help deepen a sense of positivity and resilience. 

Remember that it’s not about achieving perfection, but making progress each day towards healthier responses to trauma triggers.

The Role of Support Networks in Dealing with Trauma Triggers

Dealing with trauma symptoms may feel like an isolating experience. But you don’t have to face it alone — a strong support network can make all the difference.

Research clearly shows that people dealing with trauma tend to recover more quickly when they lean on their social connections for help, and that social support helps to prevent negative psychological outcomes from trauma, like PTSD or depression.

Social connections offer emotional support and practical advice, making traumatic experiences less overwhelming. They also give much-needed perspective, which can help you see that your reactions are normal and understandable.

Research shows that for those who experience a critical incident that could lead to trauma and potential PTSD, debriefing with other people who went through the same event is the most preventative to developing PTSD in the three months following the critical incident. 

By comparison, speaking to a therapist or counsellor who wasn’t involved in the critical incident actually elevates your risk of developing PTSD in the three months after the critical incident. 

In other words, the community you’ve gone through a trauma with is the most important debrief you’ll ever have. So don’t underestimate the value of speaking to others who have had the same, or similar, experiences as you.

And your support network doesn’t need to be large — it’s about quality over quantity here. Even one or two understanding friends can make a significant difference in how effectively you deal with your trauma triggers.

If you’re not sure where to find a support network, start by looking at your existing relationships — friends, family members, or colleagues who’ve shown empathy towards others’ struggles might be willing helpers during this journey.

If existing relationships aren’t an option, consider joining local or online support groups related specifically to coping with trauma triggers. This also gives you the opportunity pay it back and potentially help another who is not as far along the journey of trauma healing as you.

Research has shown that when trauma survivors engage in community efforts to help other trauma survivors heal, they have better outcomes and more meaning and satisfaction — and can more easily move towards post-traumatic growth versus post-traumatic deprecation, or even a clinical diagnosis of PTSD.

But if you’re interested in joining a group, it doesn’t have to be exclusively for trauma survivors. You can also simply get involved in community activities, such as local clubs or sports teams. This can open doors for building new supportive friendships, while having some fun in the process.

Key Takeaway: Dealing with trauma triggers doesn’t have to be a lonely journey. Leaning on your support network — friends, family, or colleagues, can provide emotional support and practical advice. It’s not about having a large network, but the right people who understand you. If personal connections aren’t available, consider joining support groups or engaging in community activities.

FAQs on How to Deal With Trauma Triggers

1. What to do when my trauma is triggered?

Focus on grounding techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, or simply naming five things you can see, hear, smell, touch, or feel. Acknowledge the trigger and remind yourself you’re safe now.

Try to reorient yourself by literally moving your neck around and looking left and right — also up and down, but mostly left and right. Paying attention to your feet on the floor is another good way to ground yourself.

If you’re more of a visual person, try to imagine putting your worries in a metaphorical balloon and letting it float away, getting smaller and smaller. You can also visualize cutting the edge of the picture you’re seeing that reminds you of the trauma and imagine emptying it into a running stream, as if the image turns to sand to be washed away.

Another option is to take a mental eraser and erase the image in your mind, and then paint over it with an alternate image your unconscious mind provides.

2. Do trauma triggers ever go away?

Trauma triggers can fade with time, therapy, and effective coping strategies. At the very least, they can decrease in intensity and frequency. And sometimes, with appropriate treatment, they can go away completely. 

One of the most effective types of treatment are body-based therapies, as discussed earlier in this blog post. These therapies focus on releasing stored trauma from the body — which not only helps heal issues from the past, but also helps prevent trauma from worsening and potentially becoming a bigger problem, such as PTSD. 

3. How do you release trauma from your body?

Mind-body therapies such as yoga or other styles of gentle movement, meditation, or EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) can help release stored traumatic energy.

Also, a skilled body psychotherapist who understands the subtleties and nuances of trauma and how it’s stored in the body and can help guide you in the process.

You can also develop greater nervous system regulation through ventral vagal activation or other programs like the Safe and Sound Protocol, or the use of pendulation with a skilled therapist.

4. How do I stop trauma reacting?

Becoming aware of your triggers helps in managing reactions. Self-awareness coupled with professional guidance are key to mitigating intense responses.

One helpful self-awareness practice is known as the RAIN process. It stands for:

  • Recognize — What’s going on in my body and mind?
  • Allow — Can I accept this as it is?
  • Investigate — What am I experiencing right now? How is it affecting me?
  • Nurture — How can I cultivate a more loving presence in this moment?

Going through the steps of RAIN when you feel yourself trauma reacting will help you alleviate the fight-or-flight response and move into a space of greater clarity and resourcefulness. 

Final Thoughts

You’ve learned what trauma triggers are and how they can affect your body and your overall well-being. Recognizing these triggers in the normal course of life, even when unanticipated, is the first step to reclaiming control over your reactions and responses.

But remember, knowledge alone isn’t power. The real strength lies in using this awareness to cope more effectively when you’re faced with triggering situations.

Coping mechanisms will be different for everyone, but finding yours is key. And don’t forget about the importance of seeking professional help when needed and building a supportive network around you.

Managing trauma triggers is not about eliminating them completely — but about empowering yourself with the tools, support, and resilience to skilfully navigate through them when they surface.

Your path will be unique to you. However, understanding how to deal with trauma triggers puts control back into your hands as you continue on your healing journey.



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