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Stressor vs. Trigger - What Is A Trigger?

Discussion in 'Anxiety & Panic Attacks' started by anthony, Feb 12, 2010.

  1. anthony

    anthony Master of none!


    Whilst I do not engage most conversations here nowadays, I have been reading this word "trigger" get thrown about more and more over the past months, most of which I found to be completely incorrect for what a trigger actually is. It has gotten to a point where I feel members are getting way off track on what's really occurring within their own life to the point that "trigger" is being used so carelessly, as what I can only construe as an excuse for their actions or an excuse to not do something that makes them anxious.

    Most of what I read when trigger is used, the person is actually referring to a stressor within their life, not a trigger. How do you tell them apart? Really, it is very easy if you understand what each one is.


    A trigger is a symptomatic reaction from one of the five senses (sight, sound, touch, taste and smell) based only upon a direct connection to an actual traumatic event experienced.

    Take note of that bold statement, as that's the key for distinction as to whether or not a a reaction is to a trigger or a stressor. So what is a stressor then?


    A stressor is something that creates an increase in adrenaline that then triggers your internal stress response mechanism. Think about the PTSD Cup model, and this is a buildup of stressors or even one stressor, which then overflows your cup to trigger a stress response. Think iceberg of emotions: a buildup of negative emotion which peaks to a response, usually anger.

    Now, the most common reaction to a trigger is a panic attack or increase in stress. The most common reaction to a stressor is a panic attack or increase in stress.

    As you can see, the reaction is the same for a PTSD sufferer, but the terms vary dependent upon relevance to something experienced via the trauma endured or no relevance to the trauma endured. Let's use clear examples so people use the term correctly vs. use the term as an excuse in their daily life to avoid doing something that creates stress.

    Examples Of Triggers & Stressors

    Mary is raped by a white male, 6ft in height, long black hair, was wearing Hugo Boss Dark aftershave and said to her, "You are so sweet," during the trauma.

    • Mary is going to be stressed by any male for some time as a result of being raped by a male. Males, white, black, chinese, etc., are not a trigger to Mary. Males in general are going to be a stressor to Mary initially, though her brain will soon move back to the acceptance that not all males are bad or rapists.
    • Any male that looks similar to her rapist, they MAY trigger Mary upon her sighting them. This could result in a flashback or panic attack. This is a trigger as it is directly related to her specific circumstance surrounding her trauma.
    • Any male who wears Hugo Boss Dark could now trigger Mary upon her smelling the aftershave, as this is what her rapist was wearing when raping her, and is directly relevant to her trauma.
    • A 6ft white male who may startle Mary from behind, though looks nothing like her rapist, could trigger Mary upon initial turning around as the first thing her brain reviews is a 6ft white male. That initial response could be a trigger to a panic attack in combination with being startled. The startle response is a stressor. The 6ft male on initial sight could be the trigger as she could not see him coming.
    • If a male voice that sounds similar to her rapist, or even out of sight of her, whispered something to her or another person, "You are so sweet," then this could be a trigger to her, as it is directly related to her trauma, being words spoken by her rapist to her during the act.
    • Mary is single with PTSD and her boyfriend comes over and wants to talk about their relationship. Mary says he is triggering her as she goes into a panic attack. This is not a trigger, this is a stressor because the thought of a relationship beyond what she has accepted is overloading her internal stress cup; thus it overflows or triggers her stress response, being panic attack, rage, anger, etc. Not a trigger, but a stressor.
    There is a vast difference between the two. I am reading a lot of excuses containing trigger lately, and these are not healthy to PTSD in general. If you want to heal, if you want to seek improved self results, then you must always be honest with yourself and others on what is simply stressing you vs. what is triggering you.

    More Examples - Military

    • I was in a crowd that had a hand grenade thrown into it. Upon return to Australia, crowded places were a trigger for me because upon being within or seeing a crowd, my brain triggered a stress response based on an actual event from my trauma.
    • Helicopters or fighter aircraft flying overhead may trigger a veteran as these are likely directly related to the noises surrounding them during operational deployments. A commercial aircraft is not a trigger. All planes and aircraft do not become triggers, only those relevant that they are immediately familiar.
    • Military vehicles may trigger a soldier's stress response, as they are directly related to their trauma. The backfiring of any vehicle may trigger a veteran as it is similar to a shot being fired.
    • Rifles in general or being fired may trigger a veteran.
    • Your girlfriend or boyfriend talking with you, annoying you, are not a trigger, but a stressor to your internal stress cup; i.e., all the stress you can take, thus your internal stress model overflows and triggers a stress response, anger, yelling, fighting, etc.
    Are Triggers & Stressors Forever?

    No. You deal with triggers and stressors with Exposure therapy, being the most prominent of any method to date for effective treatment of these two matters. You remove triggers and stressors by desensitisation to any event that triggers or stresses you. This is a behavioural modification therapy. You repeatedly expose yourself to the very things that stress you, each time learning and applying facts of the situation to your response. Each time you repeat the process, your stress response reduces, thus reducing your recovery time, until such period as you can now do and act within society without a trigger or stress response through behavioural modification to what would be classed as "normal" society behaviours.

    Trauma experiencing is a behavioural modification process which creates negative events such as triggers and stressors. You are simply reversing this behavioural modification that took place with a detailed plan of attack.

    I hope people have a better idea of what a stressor and trigger actually is, and apply them correctly within their life so each can be dealt with correctly and honestly.

    Comments on this article can be made on its discussion thread by clicking the below link.
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  3. RussH

    RussH for the superhero in all of us.

    Thank you Anthony for the explaination.
  4. desiderata310

    desiderata310 I'm a VIP

    Sorry for using the term incorrectly.
    My therapist uses the term when he sees me get keyed up and we can't figure out the specific reason but we know it's a hot button. FOR instance: I spoke about being referred to as a victim as a "trigger" because it is what my therapist called it. I don't know what specifically in my past makes me have such an extreme reaction. By definition it should probably be called a stressor.

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