Now let’s talk about PTSD causes and triggers. As humans, we are born with built-in alarms systems to alert us to danger so we can either “fight or flee.” That alarm system, which is commonly called the “limbic system” or the “arousal system”, is vital to our survival.
When activated by stress, the alarm system prepares you to fight off an attack or to flee (escape), which means your heart rate and breathing rate increase, muscles tense, adrenaline rushes, etc.
Our alarm system does not know time or location; it only recognizes the danger and the feeling of threat. It merely fires up and keeps you in an aroused state. This is so that you can be prepared in the face of perceived or imminent threat.
When the danger is over, the alarm system is supposed to shut down. This allows the body to relax and return to normal. However, traumatic events can impair the functioning of the alarm system. You cannot tell when the danger is over. Your alarm system does not shut down properly.
You continue to feel as if the threat is ever-present, which promotes a state of chronic hyper-arousal.
When you were deployed, your alarm system was always on. This alerted you to the fact that you were ever in a state of danger. It overgeneralizes so that it does not miss any threats to your survival.
But here is where this treatment focus begins. Your alarm system worked perfectly well when you were deployed. This is because you were in danger all the time and needed to be alert all the time. But now that you are home, your alarm system has stayed on even when there is no actual threat of danger.
After a traumatic experience, a person may re-experience the trauma mentally and physically. Hence trauma reminders, also called triggers, can be uncomfortable and even painful.
They may turn to psychoactive substances, including alcohol, to try to escape or dampen the feelings.
These triggers cause flashbacks, which are dissociative experiences where the person feels as though the events are recurring. Flashbacks can range from distraction to complete dissociation or loss of awareness of the current context.
The re-experiencing of symptoms is a sign that the body and mind are actively struggling to cope with the traumatic experience.
Triggers and cues act as reminders of the trauma and can cause anxiety and other associated emotions. Often the person can be completely unaware of what these triggers are. In many cases, this may lead a person suffering from traumatic disorders to engage in disruptive behaviors. They may also use self-destructive coping mechanisms, often without being fully aware of the nature or causes of their actions. Panic attacks are an example of a psychosomatic response to such emotional triggers.
Consequently, intense feelings of anger may frequently surface. Sometimes this happens in inappropriate or unexpected situations. Danger may always seem to be present due to re-experiencing past events.