Trauma affects people in multiple ways. One such way is the development of triggers, in which a previously unthreatening sound, song, or situation suddenly becomes a source of great distress after being linked to a traumatic event.
In our last blog, we covered how to identify triggers and how they are formed. In this week’s blog, we will focus on how to manage triggers, both in the moment and long term.
Managing Triggers In The Moment
Identifying triggers makes it much easier to create strategies and learn coping mechanisms to help manage them. Trying to avoid triggers can be tempting, although this may not be possible in day to day life as triggers can arise anywhere, and it is difficult to avoid them altogether.
Instead, it is essential to develop a plan to manage triggers in the moment to help when they do arise. Several techniques can help, such as:
- Take some space – getting up and leaving when triggered can help avoid emotional overwhelm and instinctive reactions. Taking a moment alone is not avoiding the trigger that has arisen. Instead, it gives people a chance to regulate themselves and return with a clearer head to handle the situation.
- Communicate – often, people will not intend to trigger others or make them feel bad. Being open about what the trigger was can help to avoid future issues and help them to understand what may be so distressing for the person concerned. For example, I-statements such as “I feel…” can help people understand how certain behaviours, actions, or phrases affect the people around them and show them how to support them.
- Keep a journal – having a space to record emotions and thoughts that arise in response to triggers can help people to process them and improve emotional regulation. Expressive writing has been shown to improve the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as feelings of anger and anxiety, which can both arise in response to a trigger.
Learning different techniques to manage triggers is a big step in starting to overcome them and can increase the window of tolerance to help people manage their emotions more effectively.
The Window of Tolerance
The concept of the window of tolerance was developed by Dr Dan Siegel and refers to the optimal tolerance zone that allows people to feel grounded and effectively manage their emotions. Those with a history of trauma can struggle with a reduced window of tolerance and may experience too much of the following:
- Hyperarousal – many people who have experienced trauma also experience hyperarousal after the event. They may be more on edge, constantly looking for danger, and find themselves more agitated, anxious, or angry.
- Hypoarousal – hypoarousal is the opposite of hyperarousal, but it is also a trauma response. Instead of being on edge, people may be numb, dissociated, and struggle with feelings of depression.
Trauma can dramatically reduce the window of tolerance, affecting how people manage their triggers and even how they learn new coping strategies. However, it is possible to learn how to expand the window of tolerance and manage the things that may cause hyperarousal and hypoarousal.
Strategies such as deep breathing can help people when in a state of hyperarousal. It can help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and move the body into a state of rest and digest, allowing people to relax and unwind. Listening to relaxing music and using soothing sensory objects such as a stress ball or weighted blanket can also help people struggling with hyperarousal to relax.
Grounding techniques and physical movement can help those who feel stuck in a state of hypoarousal. Stimulating the senses can help bring awareness back to the body, so techniques such as running cold water over the hands, taking a walk in nature, or tasting a strong flavour can help bring people back into their window of tolerance.
Managing Triggers – Long-Term Healing
Short-term coping mechanisms for triggers can help people in the moment, but long-term healing can address the root causes of trauma and reduce the number of triggers experienced. Many things can pave the way for healing, including:
- Meditation and mindfulness – mindfulness practices such as meditation can help increase tolerance to triggers by helping people focus on the present moment and sensations rather than the emotions the trigger brings up. Research has found that mindfulness can improve emotional regulation skills, and regular practice can help people find a sense of calm even when faced with difficult emotions.
- Cultivate healthy relationships – emotional triggers are often internal, but external triggers can exist in romantic and platonic relationships. In healthy relationships, people can discuss what triggers them with their partner and work together to find ways to manage or avoid them, but toxic relationships can be a trigger in themselves. A relationship where one persons needs and emotions are constantly being disregarded can be triggering. Healthy relationships are highly beneficial for long-term healing, and social support is key in overcoming trauma; without it, symptoms can linger for a long time.
- Seek professional help – managing triggers for a long time is challenging, and it can be hard to identify different ways to cope if they are incredibly prevalent or damaging. Professional help can aid people in exploring the reasons behind specific reactions and offer a different perspective as people heal from past trauma.
Triggers can be managed both in the moment and in the long term. However, it is vital to address the root causes of the triggers to facilitate true healing. Trauma can significantly impact all aspects of life, and seeking help is the first step toward a healthier, happier life.
If you have a client or know of someone struggling with anything you have read in this blog, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential program and outpatient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long-lasting recovery. For more information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).
 Meshberg-Cohen S, Svikis D, Mcmahon TJ. Expressive writing as a therapeutic process for drug-dependent women. Subst Abus. 2014;35(1):80-8. doi:10.1080/08897077.2013.805181
 Corrigan, FM et al. “Autonomic Dysregulation And The Window Of Tolerance Model Of The Effects Of Complex Emotional Trauma”. Journal Of Psychopharmacology, vol 25, no. 1, 2010, pp. 17-25. SAGE Publications, https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881109354930. Accessed 21 Sept 2022.
 Wu, Ran et al. “Brief Mindfulness Meditation Improves Emotion Processing”. Frontiers In Neuroscience, vol 13, 2019. Frontiers Media SA, https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2019.01074. Accessed 21 Sept 2022.