When we are faced with a life-threatening event our body goes into action in an effort to protect us. Our senses become heightened and keen on what we see, hear, smell, feel and even taste. All the while our amygdala (the primitive part of our brain) is registering if we need to fight, flight (escape), or freeze. We become instinctive and are not working from a place of logic but survival. As our amygdala is determining what actions we should take it is also processing all the information it is receiving from our eyes, ears, noses, and so on. All of this information is registered with the trauma and our amygdala classifies these elements as dangerous.
After the trauma, as time has passed, these elements become triggers. The triggers can be covert, dust settling on a dirt road, or overt, such as fireworks. Either set of triggers may or may not flood you with memories of the trauma. However, they may set off a panic attack. You may feel like you are in danger and that something must be done or you are detach from the present, such as having a flashback or feel as though you are back at the trauma.
In any of these cases here are some things you can do the moment you begin to feel as though you are drifting back to the trauma:
Be present—focus on something tangible that is presently around you and you did not have or know of at the time of the trauma. If someone is with you now and you did not know them during the trauma look at them and focus on that person. If you are in a new environment focus on your surrounding so that your mind will register where you are, the current year, and time.
Grounding—Grounding is using you sense of touch to connect with the present. If you are sitting down hold on to the chair and feel the fabric; sitting or standing, brace your legs and feel your surroundings.
Triggers can cause panic attacks. It is imperative to work on identifying and addressing triggers to maintain a healthy quality of life. If left unattended, triggers can generalize and broaden their association. Then instead having anxious about driving on dirt roads, you will be anxious about driving. Everything becomes dangerous and your world shrinks. If you are noticing any of these symptoms contact your medical provider. There is a way to overcome triggers and regain control of your life.
Sexual Assault Centre, U. (2008). What is a Trigger?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-a-trigger/0001414