Self-Care Checklist for Dealing With PTSD Trauma Triggers
As any trauma survivor knows, the news is full of triggers that can prompt difficult memories and make you feel overwhelmed. Understanding that traumatic triggers can pop up at any time is a good reminder of the importance of practicing consistent self-care. Practicing self-care after a traumatic event is just one way you can take back control of your own emotional well-being and safety.
Self-Care Checklist for Dealing With Trauma Triggers in Your News Feed
1. Have a self-care plan for when unexpected trauma reminders hit you. Write down a few strategies that have worked for you in the past when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. It can be helpful to keep a copy with you (say, saved on your phone or in your purse/wallet) so you can easily remember what helps when you are too stressed to think clearly. Pick some strategies from below if you’re not sure what to do.
2. When feeling triggered, look around the space where you are and ask yourself: “Am I safe right now?” If the answer is “no,” then call 911 or do whatever you need to do to get safe. If the answer is “yes,” then remind yourself: “The past is in the past. I am safe right now.” You may need to repeat this over and over again in your mind until you feel calm. Sometimes feeling unsafe can convince you that you are in danger, when you are in fact OK. Your brain can help override this feeling by reminding yourself that you are safe in this very moment.
3. Use grounding techniques to regulate strong emotions under stress. Grounding exercises help you connect with your body and the five senses right now. Grounding is very helpful with trauma because it helps you stay in the moment to help you separate from past trauma. Click here for some practice exercises.
4. Seek out a feeling of safety. Avoid situations that will put you at risk for repeat trauma and find spaces that make you feel secure. Safety can be found with people you trust, a comfortable environment, and having a plan to keep you out of danger. Actively integrating safe spaces into your routine can help you create a generalized feeling of safety over time.
5. Control how you confront trauma reminders by being proactive about it. Find comfortable and confidential spaces to talk about your trauma history so that you feel more and more confident discussing your traumatic past when you need to. You may be tempted to avoid thinking about or talking about your traumatic past, but research shows that talking about trauma in a safe environment can decrease its negative effects on you over time. Deciding how and when to talk about your trauma history by being proactive about it will give you a better sense of control and confidence in doing so.
6. Confront trauma reminders slowly and gently. There is no need to force yourself to look for triggering content. But, when reminders do come (and they will), try to take them in small doses. Take breaks, get support and take deep breaths along the way. Notice the urge to avoid trauma reminders, and know you have control over where you direct your attention. When you cannot tolerate traumatic memories, give yourself something else pleasant to focus on.
7. Know that trauma symptoms come in waves — and yes, they will pass. Allowing trauma symptoms to come, rather than avoiding them completely, will also help you to let them go. It may be helpful to visualize trauma symptoms like a wave, passing clouds in the sky, or a strong breeze. It can be helpful to take a step back and observe these feelings rise and fall while knowing you do not have to participate in them. You are strong enough to have survived a past trauma and you can survive reminders of that past trauma as well.
8. Therapy, therapy, therapy. A therapist will give you an objective perspective, teach you skills for managing trauma symptoms and offer you comfort when you feel overwhelmed and stressed. A therapist does not have a personal stake in your decisions and will support you as an unbiased advocate in your life. When you may not want to talk about your traumatic past, studies show that talking about your past in a safe and therapeutic environment can help you feel better, faster. And the studies are there to back me up.
9. Be open to finding personal strengths and meaning after a traumatic event. This doesn’t mean you have to be grateful that a traumatic experience happened to you. Identifying your strengths and learning from a difficult experience will help you cope though and give you more control over your life narrative. You don’t have to subscribe to the narrative that a traumatic event was “meant to be,” but you can still learn something about yourself and become stronger after having survived a horrible experience.
10. Keep crisis resources on hand. If you feel triggered and need to talk to someone right away, call RAINN’s 24/7 hotline for support and linkage to local resources: 1–800–656-HOPE. Their highly trained staff will offer confidential support in a moment of need. The crisis text line is another good resource for any kind of crisis.
Anna Lindberg Cedar, MPA, LCSW is a Bay Area psychotherapist who specializes in burnout prevention. Anna provides counseling to adults, teens, couples, and executive teams. Many of Anna’s burnout prevention strategies are drawn from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) — a counseling style that combines cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other change-based skills with mindfulness and acceptance-based strategies to help you lead a more balanced life. Find out more about Anna’s counseling and consulting work on her website and in her writings as a Contributor to The Mighty and Medium. You can also find her on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
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