Halloween Trauma Triggers Can Be More Trick than Treat

Halloween Trauma Triggers Can Be More Trick than Treat

Author: Carolyn Rasmussen, National Center for Telehealth & Technology (T2)

Visiting a pumpkin patch, shopping for costumes, buying candy, carving pumpkins: Everyone is gearing up for a fun Halloween evening. But if Halloween activities remind you of traumatic events, they can be anything but fun. What you may be experiencing is a trauma trigger.

Trauma triggers can be people, places, situations, thoughts, emotions or sensations that remind you of traumatic experiences and cause emotional distress or other reactions. Understanding these triggers is important in learning how to cope with them — and several of our resources can help.

To begin, you need to identify what triggers affect you. Creating a trigger record can help you figure out what factors and situations cause your response. Once you have identified your triggers, it’s time to put a plan in place to cope with them. Use the PLAN tool described on the AfterDeployment website to develop a strategy for handling difficult situations when triggers are present; PLAN stands for:

  • Prepare for the situation.
  • Let go of your worry.
  • Accept that you will experience distress and it is possible to manage your reactions.
  • Note all of your coping skills and helpful resources.

Another helpful tool for coping with triggers is the RID tool described on the AfterDeployment website, which stands for:

  • Relax
  • Identify
  • Decide

Step 1: Relax.

When you recognize a trigger response, do something that helps you relax. Practicing deep breathing or other mindfulness exercises can be helpful. Check out the Relax Me section of the Virtual Hope Box  mobile app to learn guided exercises for controlled breathing, muscle relaxation and meditation. You can also read the mindfulness blog series from the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Step 2: Identify the trigger.

Once you are calm, try to figure out what caused your distress. If you’ve been keeping a trigger record, use it to determine if this is a common trigger for you. Identifying the trigger will help you understand how the current event is different from your trauma and that you are not in danger.

Step 3: Decide your response.

In this step, make a decision about how you want to control your response to the trigger. You can choose to remain present in the situation and use the coping skills you identified in your PLAN. Or, if the situation is too upsetting, remove yourself from it while continuing to work on relaxing. 

You can reduce the negative impact of triggers by identifying them and creating a PLAN. Making a list of your coping skills — such as deep breathing — and practicing them can help you respond when you encounter an unexpected trigger.


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