Highly emotional & stressful experiences “trigger” a part of the brain called the amygdala. Usually, the amygdala is helpful and works to keep us safe from dangerous situations by activating a fear response.
After a traumatic experience, the amygdala can become overactive, causing fear responses even if you are not in any danger. Your reaction may be to fight, flee, or freeze, interfering with daily tasks and functioning, even if you’re in a completely safe situation.
Sometimes triggers are more obvious—like seeing violence on a tv show or hearing about it on the news. It makes sense why watching or hearing something traumatic would bring up memories or feelings from your own trauma.
Other times, triggers can feel more subtle or hard to anticipate. They can include just about anything--from hearing a song, to hugging someone, to smelling something, to the way a piece of fabric or clothing feels, or even just going to a doctor’s appointment.
While triggers can feel isolating & scary, especially when they happen in public or around other people, know that you are not alone. Over two-thirds of survivors of sexual assault report experiencing triggers.
Over time you can identify the situations that might trigger you. Anticipating these situations and learning relaxation strategies can make it easier to cope with them. While it feels good to avoid triggers in the short-term, it’s not always possible to predict all potential triggers.
Experiencing a trigger in a safe situation that does not pose danger & coping with it, can help your amygdala re-learn that these cues aren’t actually signs of real danger. This process can help decrease the intensity & frequency of triggers over time.
Many survivors of trauma or viσlence will notice an improvement in post-traumatic symptoms naturally over time. For others, these symptoms might not improve on their own & can interfere with their daily lives.
If you notice that your triggers are affecting you & not improving, you might consider reaching out to your social network for support or consider seeking professional help to navigate recovery. You know yourself best & what type of support sounds right to you.