Psychiatric Triggers

Trigger is used to refer to experiences that “re-trigger” trauma in the form of flashbacks or overwhelming feelings of sadness, anxiety, or panic. The brain forms a connection between a trigger and the feelings with which it is associated, and some triggers are quite innocuous. For example, a person who smelled incense while being raped might have a panic attack when he or she smells incense in a store.

There are several theories about how triggers work. Sensory memory can be extremely powerful, and sensory experiences associated with a traumatic event may be linked in the memory to this event, causing an emotional reaction even before a person realizes why he or she is upset. Habit formation also plays a strong role in triggering. People tend to do the same things in the same way. A person who smokes might, for example, always smoke while he or she is driving, and therefore driving could trigger smoking, often without the smoker’s conscious thought.

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  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Family friction
  • Physical illness
  • Sexual harassment
  • Aggressive-sounding noises

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