Putting one’s life back together following a traumatic experience can be a difficult and complex task. Survivors may experience triggers that can stir up memories associated with the trauma, even months and years later. A trigger is something that sets off a flashback, transporting the person back to the traumatic event.
Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people. They can be activated through one of the senses such as sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. The survivor may begin to avoid situations and stimuli they think triggered the flashback. A trigger can cause an emotional reaction as intense as what was experienced at the time of the trauma. When triggered, a survivor may also experience physical effects such as heart palpitations, headaches and stomach pains.
These trauma reminders can also be caused by approaching parole dates or even coverage in the news. The media tends to recount horror stories and tragic events that can remind the survivors of the pain and suffering they have experienced. It is important for survivors to take a break from news events and to be more aware of potential trigger signs. These can be feelings of powerlessness, fear, anger, frustration, bitterness, sleeplessness, irritability, feelings of detachment, panic attacks, muscle tension, shortness of breath, fatigue, stress and sadness.
Taking care of yourself is very important to your recovery. Here are some positive coping strategies to help you overcome your triggers:
Connect with family and friends. Stay in contact with people you enjoy and care about.
Share your emotions. Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling. Talk to a health professional or contact a community organization such as a crisis centre. Sharing your feelings and your experiences can be very therapeutic as it will reduce your anxiety and will help you sort things out.
Eat healthy and regularly. Maintain three meals a day with healthy snacks. Try to eliminate fast food and junk food from your diet. By adding fruits and vegetables to your daily meals, it will help you sustain a state of good mental health.
Rest. Getting enough sleep can help protect your mental and physical health, and quality of life.
Exercise. Do activities that you enjoy and relax you. Take daily walks in a surrounding that you enjoy. Take deep breaths. Exercise is good for your mind, body and soul.
Keep a journal. A journal will help you recognize that your symptoms are normal reactions to abnormal situations. Write down your thoughts, feelings and reactions to events. Journaling will help you set goals and let you see your accomplishments.
Get involved. Volunteer at community organizations; they are always seeking volunteers. Try something that interests you and that you enjoy.
Experience Fun. Do activities that you enjoy, laugh a little, visit museums or art exhibits. Socialize. Read a light-hearted book.
Become aware of the following negative coping strategies and work towards eliminating them altogether:
Substance Misuse. Abstain from alcohol and other addictive substances. Medication should only be taken if recommended by a doctor.
Compulsive behaviours. Avoid overeating or under-eating, compulsive shopping or compulsive sexual activity.
Isolation. Extensive time in solitude may worsen your symptoms. It is important that you connect with your social network.
Healing takes time. Be patient with yourself. Surround yourself with loved ones and do things you love doing most. Pamper yourself. Take one day at a time. Live in the present, not the past. This is the path to your recovery and taking back control of your life.