6 Common PTSD Triggers

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that results from an upsetting or traumatic incident. While the symptoms of PTSD are often felt immediately following the incident, triggers—or debilitating flashbacks—can lead someone to experience symptoms again. Here are six common triggers you should know about.


Photo by Dafne Cholet

While birthdays and wedding anniversaries are occasions we celebrate, the anniversary of a traumatic event can produce a negative reaction. For example, the anniversary of the passing of a loved one, a car accident or an assault can all bring back memories of that moment and lead a person to experience similar feelings of anxiety, fear or shame.

People Connected to the Event

Photo by Sofia Sforza

If there are people who were involved in the traumatic event in some way—particularly if you rarely see them or didn’t go through some sort of healing process with them—then running into those people again can cause PTSD symptoms as well. It may be as simple as seeing the person, but a trigger can happen when you start talking to them and the conversion turns toward the event itself.

Sensory Triggers

Photo by Jay Mantri

Sight, smells or sounds can all be triggers of PTSD symptoms. In fact, smell has one of the strongest connections to flashbacks because for a scent to be processed, it must pass through the amygdala and hippocampus in the brain, two sections that play a role in emotion and memory.


Photo by Quin Stevenson

When we’re sleeping, our minds can give us a beautiful, pleasant dream. But sometimes, nightmares can disturb our sleep. These nightmares may be connected to a traumatic incident, leading to upsetting flashbacks. This is because a nightmare can feel like a relived experience, bringing with it the emotions the original incident had caused.

News or Reports

Photo by Toa Heftiba

If a traumatic incident was public—such as a natural disaster or war—then news updates or reports can be a significant trigger. If you’re interviewed about the event, you might be asked a lot of questions which could be triggering. Even being reminded about the incident and its details by seeing it on TV, online or in a newspaper can be enough to produce PTSD symptoms.

Familiar Emotions

Photo by Geraldine Lewa

Even if there’s no particular person, thing or event that sets off PTSD symptoms,  an “internal trigger,” such as an emotion, can still lead to a debilitating flashback. For example, if the traumatic incident was one that brought severe stress, other stressful situations can remind someone of the incident itself. However, by being aware of triggers and preparing for them, it’s possible to help alleviate some of those symptoms quickly, either by avoiding similar situations or taking a moment to meditate and calm yourself.

Feature Image: Rosalind Chang