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What Are Trauma Triggers?

Young woman seated on her bed alone in her room staring out her window and wondering what are trauma triggers.

The way trauma works in the brain is that the memory of it stands at the ready to alert you to any dangers that threaten—triggers. But what are trauma triggers? Essentially, the brain keeps the trauma fresh as a defense mechanism. But this is often the opposite of helpful.

It might be helpful if you lived in the time of the saber-toothed tiger and the chances of being mauled at any minute were high. Your brain would trigger you to be alert by being hyper-aware of certain warning signs that a saber-toothed tiger was near. Additionally, extreme or continuous trauma, such as abuse or surviving a major accident or natural disaster, can overwhelm the mind’s ability to process traumatic experiences, creating a trauma-induced mental health condition like anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Nowadays, many traumas are connected to natural disasters, military combat, sexual assault, or other highly distressing and often tragic circumstances. Once you are no longer in physical danger, it is not so easy to convince your brain of that fact. That is why, when triggers set off your fight/flight/freeze instincts, you are right back mid-trauma. This is extremely stressful on both body and mind.

At Insight Recovery Center, our trauma therapy program helps clients who struggle with a co-occurring substance use disorder (SUD) and mental health conditions related to past trauma, such as PTSD. Reach out to learn about our trauma therapy program in Asheville, NC. It is easy to connect with us—just dial 828.826.1376.

What Are Trauma Triggers?

Trauma triggers usually come out of nowhere and can be terrifying and debilitating. A trigger is unique to every person who is dealing with trauma-related issues. A trigger is something that sparks recall of the trauma or some aspect of the trauma. Recall often feels more like reliving the traumatic event. As soon as the trigger happens, your mind is flooded with intrusive thoughts and high-stress emotions combined with a flood of cortisol and adrenaline, making your heart pound and causing you to sweat. Sometimes, your hearing and vision seem to fade. The panic and sense of danger are overwhelming and terrifying.

Because trauma keeps you in a constant state of survival mode, a trigger thrusts you back, at least in your mind, to the original trauma. This is called a flashback. It can take a long time to return to balance and calm. Being highly reactive to triggers is one way to identify that someone has PTSD. Most people with PTSD have a very low tolerance for stressors.

People dealing with unresolved trauma can experience dozens of intrusive thoughts and react to dozens of triggers in a single day. This cycle is exhausting. Receiving trauma-informed care for the psychological aftermath of trauma is the best way to move forward and heal from PTSD.

Trauma Trigger Examples

Trauma triggers are as individual as the people who experience them. People who experience the same traumatic event may have extremely different triggers to which they respond. The most normal everyday moments can trigger you. Extremely specific events or items may be triggers, as well.

Some common triggers might include the following:


A circumstance that arises in everyday life may be a trigger, such as:

  • Driving or being a passenger in a car
  • Unwanted touch
  • Violation of personal space or stated boundaries
  • Encountering or interacting with an authority figure
  • Rejection
  • Someone depending on you


Something you see can take you back to a traumatic moment, triggering a flashback. Some examples might be:

  • People under the influence of substances
  • People who look like or otherwise remind you of someone who harmed you or was involved in your trauma
  • The emergency room at a hospital
  • First responders or ER physicians
  • A specific location, building, or type of place (like a train station, gas station, rest stop)


There’s nothing as powerful as a smell to link directly to the brain’s memory centers, so a smell can easily trigger a trauma response. You might be triggered by the scent of:

  • Alcohol
  • Cologne or perfume
  • Diesel fuel or gasoline
  • Gunpowder
  • Certain foods
  • Smoke from the grill, a wood fire, cigarettes, cigars, or joints

Your Own Emotions

Your emotional response to one situation might trigger a memory of a prior situation in which you felt a similar emotion, such as feeling:

  • Abandoned
  • Afraid for your safety or the safety of someone you love
  • Ignored
  • Grief-stricken
  • Hopeless

When a person is experiencing a triggering emotion, even the most mundane challenges or situations can suddenly seem insurmountable and impossible.

Connect with Insight Recovery Center Today About Trauma Therapy in Asheville

If you are struggling with the effects of past trauma and perhaps a co-occurring addiction to drugs or alcohol, let Insight Recovery Center help you. Our staff of trained, compassionate professionals is ready to answer your questions about what is a trauma trigger and trauma trigger examples.

Contact Insight Recovery Center online or by calling us at 828.826.1376. You do not have to endure the endless cycle of trauma’s after-effects. Help is available.