If you need immediate help, please call 911 or the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1

Recognizing Triggers of Posttraumatic Stress

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychological reaction to a traumatic event(s). These events may include an explosion, terrorist attack, war, car accident, assault, or death of a loved one. Anyone can develop PTSD including service members, veterans and their families. Individuals in the military tend to be at an increased risk for PTSD compared to the rest of the population. Approximately 10-14% of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans and 2.5% of active duty service members experience PTSD (Source).

Triggers of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder 

It is important for you and your loved ones to recognize symptoms and triggers of PTSD in order to manage this psychological health concern. Triggers are certain things in the environment that bother individuals with PTSD, leading to a worsening of symptoms. Different sounds, sights, smells, people, places, and circumstances can be triggers. Environmental triggers are often reminiscent of the traumatic event, such as war. Some triggers may be more obvious than others. For instance, many people may know that celebratory fireworks can be a trigger of PTSD, but may not know that sand can also be a trigger. It is important to understand that anything can be a trigger, and different things can be triggers for different people. Some common potential triggers include:


  • Fireworks
  • Loud noises
  • Someone yelling or crying


  • Burnt rubber
  • Smoke


  • People who are reminiscent of the attacker (same race, language, style of clothing, etc.)
  • People who are reminiscent of those at scene of trauma (comrade, family member, stranger)
  • Bystanders, especially lining the street


  • Public places with large crowds
  • Enclosed places such as tunnels
  • Hospitals
  • Hot Climates
  • Sand


  • Anniversary or trauma
  • People fighting/conflict
  • Someone injured or bleeding
  • Driving, especially through intersections, over or under bridges
  • Riding in a motor vehicle
  • Prayer Calls

Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The following are common symptoms of PTSD that may worsen after exposure to a trigger. You should talk with your healthcare provider about any triggers you may experience. Your healthcare provider can help create a treatment plan to help you cope with these triggers and symptoms. If you know someone with PTSD, knowing these symptoms may help you understand and notice when triggers cause distress.

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty Sleeping
  • Frequent nightmares or flashbacks
  • Persistent feelings of guilty, shame, or anger
  • Emotional numbness
  • Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event
  • Recurrent fearful thoughts or memories

Understanding ways to cope with PTSD

Understanding coping strategies and identifying which may be best for you is important in managing PTSD. Always remember that recovery from a traumatic event can take time,

Some potential coping strategies include:

If your loved one has PTSD the following are strategies to help you cope. There is also help available to you. Some potential coping strategies for loved ones include:

  • Practicing self-care. Remember it is important to take time to take care of yourself.
  • Accessing available resources for caregivers. There are number of resources available for caregivers that can help you manage. Visit Real Warriors Families for more information.
  • Helping your loved one get help. Sometimes helping your loved one get outside help is the best coping strategy. The Department of Veteran Affairs has designed a program to help you help your loved one get care. Visit Coaching into Care for more information.

Reaching out for support is a sign of strength. Treatment options are accessible and can be effective in helping you cope with PTSD. If you or a loved one needs additional support, contact the Psychological Health Resource Center to confidentially speak with trained health resource consultants 24/7 by calling Call 866-966-1020, by using the Real Warriors Live Chat or by emailing resources@dcoeoutreach.org. Watch video profiles to learn about service members who have successfully used the Military Health System and other psychological health resources for support.


Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Understanding the Facts. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/symptoms#

Beder J. (2017). Caring for the Military: A Guide for Helping Professionals. New York, NY: Routledge.

Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. (June 2012). Taking Care of Yourself While Taking Care of Others. A Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Center. http://dvbic.dcoe.mil/files/resources/DVBIC_2819_Family-Needs-Line_Taking-Care-Yourself While-Caring-Others_v1.0_2016-07-25.pdf

Depompei, E., Fireworks Season can Trigger PTSD for Veterans, Military.com https://www.military.com/daily-news/2016/06/28/fireworks-season-can-trigger-ptsd-veterans.html

Hart, N., Veterans Battling PTSD: Know the Triggers, Recognize the Symptoms. North Carolina Medical Journal. http://www.ncmedicaljournal.com/content/76/5/308.short

Lange, K. (September 27, 2017). Identify, Intervene: Help Your Loved One with Mental Health Issues. Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE). http://www.dodlive.mil/2017/09/27/identify-intervene-help-your-loved-one-with-mental-health-issues/

National Institute of Mental Health. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Health Information.  https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

Perelman School of Medicine University of Pennsylvania. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety. https://www.med.upenn.edu/ctsa/ptsd_symptoms.html

Possis, E., Bui, T., Gavian, M., et.al, (June 01, 2014). Driving Difficulties Among Military Veterans: Clinical Needs and Current Intervention Status.* Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System, One Veterans Drive (116A), Minneapolis, MN 55417.Search for other works by this author on:

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Military Medicine, Volume 179, Issue 6,  https://doi.org/10.7205/MILMED-D-13-00327

The Deployment Health Clinical Center. (2017, January). Mental Health Disorder Prevalence among Active Duty Service Members in the Military Health System, Fiscal Years 2005–2016. Defense Health Agency. http://www.pdhealth.mil/sites/default/files/images/mental-health-disorder-prevalence-among-active-duty-service-members-508.pdf

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Symptoms of PTSD, National Center for PTSD. https ww.ptsd.va.gov/public/ptsd-overview/basics/symptoms_of_ptsd.asp

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Coping with Traumatic Stress Reactions, National Center for PTSD. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/cope/coping-traumatic-stress.asp

Sayers, S., & DeVincent, J. (November 11, 2014). Coaching Into Care-VA Mental Health Coaching Service for Family and Friends of Veterans. Care for Your Mind. http://careforyourmind.familyaware.org/coaching-into-care-va-mental-health-coaching-service-for-family-and-friends-of-veterans/

Tags: PTSD