9 Ways to Manage Trauma Triggers
Updated: Feb 20, 2019
When dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic event like infidelity and betrayal, you are likely all too familiar with triggers. Triggers happen when something reminds you of the event, and they can be extremely hard to deal with. You may begin having images and thoughts of the event happening in your head, your breath likely gets heavy and your heart rate increases, and you probably feel like you are right back in the moment that the event happened... Sound familiar?
This happens because parts of your brain can’t tell time, and all it recognizes is whatever you saw or heard that reminded you of the traumatic event. Parts of your brain shut down, and your body goes into “fight or flight” mode. It’s the way your brain and body reacts when it thinks you are in danger, but with triggers, usually you actually aren’t. Triggers are one of the most difficult things about trauma, because during the early stages of healing they are difficult to prevent, and they take time to stop. But don’t give up hope, because as difficult as triggers are, there are ways to manage them.
These tools to manage triggers will require you to be intentional, and take time out of your day to focus on yourself. Communication with your partner is very important during these times, especially when dealing with betrayal trauma. They need to know that these actions are important for your recovery and well-being. This is not an exhaustive list, and there are certainly more things you can do, especially if you find something else that helps you. These are just the top nine that I believe to be the most helpful and important.
Right when a trigger happens you should immediately stop, take a deep breathe, and tell yourself that you are safe and you are okay. Try to think about why you are triggered, because when you know that, you can better understand why you are reacting the way you are. Sometimes triggers happen and you won’t be able to figure out why, and that’s okay.
Continue talking yourself down and telling yourself that you are okay. Then start doing some breathing exercises. There are tons of breathing exercises you can do to calm anxiety, depression, and trauma symptoms. Look some up, try them out, and find one that works well for you!
2. Reach Out
When dealing with trauma (and many other difficulties in life) having a good support system of healthy relationships is essential. There is just something about voicing the thoughts that are racing through your head that calms you and “gets them out." Having a special connection with another person also brings you out of the trauma from the past, and helps you realize that you are okay in the moment. A coach is a great way to have someone to talk to. Also, attending a 12 step meeting for partners of sex addicts and those healing from infidelity can help you connect with people going through similar struggles. One I highly recommend is Infidelity Survivors Anonymous (ISA) because they focus on the trauma associated with infidelity. You don’t have to be alone!
Just as there is something special that happens when you reach out and talk to someone, there is something that happens when you write your struggles down. Getting them on paper will help you get them out of your head (figuratively and literally). And it will help you slowly process your thoughts. When we talk to people sometimes we become jumbled and can’t really get out what we really feel. Writing, on the other hand, allows you to sit back, relax, and really process your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Exercising is one of the best things you can do to prevent triggers, and manage them when they happen. It releases natural hormones and chemicals that boost your mood, overall well being, and of course, it’s good for you! Research also shows that trauma builds and puts a toll on your body. Hitting some weights, the pavement, or doing some relaxing yoga is a great way to relieve the stress from your body, and help with trauma symptoms.
5. Eat a Healthy Meal
Just like exercise, having a healthy meal is great for you and has multiple benefits in and of itself. But for trauma it does even more than that. When your body goes into fight or flight mode, it does not have the desire to eat. All it desires is to reestablish safety. Which is why if you are suffering from trauma, your appetite has likely been affected. Having a meal in general tells your body that you are okay, and you are not in danger. But having a healthy meal does even more than that. Having a healthy meal reinforces that you matter and that you are worth being taken care of. It is a great self care practice for both your mental and physical well-being.
6. Study Something You Enjoy
Studying something new can be a great way to escape and get your mind on something else. Learning a new language, or how to play an instrument, or a craft like woodworking are all great examples. The wonderful thing is that there are so many possibilities!
7. Read Non-Recovery Literature
Don’t get me wrong, recovery literature is great. It’s just not the best when you’re triggered. Find a book that gets your mind off everything else. For some people it’s fiction, for others it may be educational reading. Whatever it is, you want it to take your mind out of reality so you can calm and clear your head.
8. Self Care
Self care can be anything that you enjoy doing for yourself. Most of the examples in this article are forms of self care, but here I am referring to the little things in life you can do to relax and clear your mind. Whatever that is for you. Whether it’s spending alone time on the porch, getting a massage, taking time away to do a hobby you enjoy, etc. Whatever healthy avenues that you have and enjoy, do them! When healing from trauma you have to take time away to focus on yourself and your well-being.
9. Talk With Your Partner
This one is likely the most important for betrayal trauma. Especially if you are still with your sexually addicted or recovering partner, or if you have moved on to another relationship. Triggers will still happen, even if the relationship is going well. When you get triggered, it can be confusing for both you and your partner, which is why communication is so important. Sharing you trigger with them can help them understand. And, it is equally helpful for both parties. It allows you to share you thoughts, fears, and emotions, and allows you to feel heard and seen. It allows your partner to see you and your pain, and gives them the opportunity to show empathy. As long as this communication is done in a healthy way that is intended on helping both parties, rather than punishing and shaming, it is one of the most helpful things both of you can do. Communicating these deep struggles and emotions opens the door for true intimacy and connection.
Trauma pulls you down by keeping you stuck in the past. But the hope is that there are ways to bring yourself back to the present, as long as you are intentional. That is why you will see a common factor in the way these tools are used; they all help to reassure your brain, body, and mind that you are in fact, safe and okay. As stated by Bessel van der Kolk, "no matter which modality we use, the goal of trauma treatment is finally to be ‘here’ and not ‘there.’ It may still be hard at times, and you may still struggle, but there is hope. You can learn to manage your triggers, and you can heal. Each time something helps, consider it a major achievement. Even if it seems small! Every small step towards healing will build your confidence and will reassure you that things can get better! Then one day you will be able to look back and see how hard it was, but that you are no longer being held back by trauma.
* This article is not meant to diagnose or treat any mental illness or disorder, and is only intended for educational purposes.