It’s been a great week. Things have been better than usual. You’ve been able to go to work and get your projects completed. At home, you played with your toddler and enjoy the moment, stress-free.
Then, just when you let your guard down, you experience a PTSD trigger. Instantly, those memories come flashing back. Emotionally, you skid out as you wonder how to deal with PTSD triggers once and for all.
It can be difficult coping with PTSD triggers. They are not just reminders of a painful time in your life. They keep you feeling threatened and on edge.
What’s the solution then for treating PTSD? It lies with appropriate trauma treatment..
What are PTSD Triggers?
First, it’s helpful to explore what PTSD triggers are and how they affect you. A PTSD trigger is, in many ways, a reminder. Exposure to a trigger causes your mind to reexperience a terrible event or time period. Anything could be a trigger. For example:
- seeing a news report on TV
- hearing an explosion or sudden, loud, noise
- touching objects connected to the trauma (clothing, jewelry, photos, etc.)
- tasting food
- smelling an odor, such as gasoline, perfume, or cologne
In some ways, our brains do this when we interact with the world. For instance, the smell of fresh-baked bread might remind you of your travels to Italy. With trauma, it’s a bit different. A triggering event sends your brain back to the traumatic experience. You relive it in detail. This happens because your brain still hasn’t fully processed what happened and is stuck in “danger” mode. So, how to deal with PTSD triggers? An important step is finding a therapist who specializes in treating trauma.
Trauma Treatment with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
One way to treat PTSD triggers is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). At the heart of it, CBT addresses problematic and unhelpful behaviors. The CBT progression generally looks like this:
- Identifying the problem
- Making a connection between the problem and the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs linked to that problem
- Recognizing thought patterns that are inaccurate and not based on reality
- Developing new thought patterns that are more useful
For example, when you hear a car horn, you might believe you are in mortal danger. You and your therapist would explore why that is, help you develop better coping skills and guide you in the process of teaching your nervous system that the sound poses no threat. Then, as your nervous system learns and grows, you would then develop new thinking patterns to reinforce this new belief. Often, stress reduction techniques are included as well.
Generally speaking, it’s important to work with a trauma specialist if you are considering CBT. It would surprise the lay person to learn that most therapists have little or no training or experience in trauma treatment. And “general CBT” is going to be counterproductive or unhelpful for trauma survivors.
Treating PTSD Triggers with Neurofeedback Therapy
Trauma profoundly impacts our brains and our nervous systems. So, another useful technique for treating PTSD triggers is neurofeedback therapy. Here, both you and your therapist will obtain real-time data about how your brain processes a trigger. Here’s what happens:
- Sensors are connected from your head to an electroencephalography machine (EEG). This provides a readout of your brainwaves.
- You and your therapist can observe this data in real-time, including periods when recalling a traumatic memory is stressful.
- Through coaching, you train your stressed brain to respond differently.
The advantage of this treatment method is that data supports positive change. In fact, many clients find that neurofeedback therapy can help undo even long term, treatment resistant anxiety, depression and insomnia. Here is one additional benefit: often clients report to me that because they like neurofeedback therapy because they don’t have to talk so much about what happened to them. For them, that makes the trauma treatment easier.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
Finally, an incredibly powerful tool for treating PTSD triggers is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). With EMDR, you and your therapist identify topics that need to be treated. Then, you participate in an EMDR session where you recall a specific topic while your therapist waves a pen or finger in front of your eyes. They may also provide specific coaching as well. The combination of memory recall and physical movement engages the brain. It allows both hemispheres of the brain to process the trauma optimally and accurately. This promotes safe storage in your long-term memory.
Finally, PTSD triggers can be distressing and interfere with your quality of life. But treating PTSD and these corresponding triggers is possible. We have several options available for trauma treatment including CBT, Neurofeedback, and EMDR. Please contact me to learn more about trauma counseling soon.