Finding Solid Ground When You’re Triggered


Today, I want to tell you about grounding skills – the kind that you use when you’re being triggered, and you’re starting to feel sucked into an ugly old memory. Those of you who are getting help probably have a few of these already; for everyone else, these are your life jacket when you feel that you’re drowning. Learning to use these is an important investment in your well-being.

The key in this type of a situation is to use whatever tricks or strategies you can, in order to remind yourself that you are here in the present and the danger is over.

Some ideas for doing that include:

– look around the room; notice and name some of the things that you see. Becoming more aware of where you are now helps you fight off being sucked back into the past.

– rub the palms of your hands together. Pay attention to the sensation of warmth that this creates in your hands. Usually, our hands get cold and clammy when we’re nervous – so this little trick makes you feel calmer by changing how your hands feel.

– listen to music. You can pick either soothing, calming music to relax you, or you can pick something loud that you can sing along to, something that reminds you of a pleasant memory. (Singing out loud also makes you breathe deeper – and since we often hyperventilate when we’re triggered, this helps too).

– do any kind of physical activity that your pain and/or physical ability allows. Focus on how it makes your body feel. Your muscle tension will go down as you do this, and that will make you feel calmer.

– if you have a pet – touch your pet’s fur, talk to your pet, and/or hug your pet.

– carry something meaningful in your pocket, something that reminds you that you are here now, and that the danger is over. Touch it to re-orient yourself. If you didn’t have your current car or home when the trauma happened, your car or house keys will do: touch them to remind yourself that you are here now, and that event was in the past.

– remind yourself of today’s date. If you carry a cell phone, looking at your phone can be a good trick for this – look at today’s date, remind yourself of the date when the bad memory happened, and then firmly tell yourself, This is now, that was then; I am here now. Feeling scared is not the same as being in danger;  I may be reminded of back then, but I am here now and the danger is over.

(Of course, if the anniversary of the trauma is what’s triggering you – looking at the date is NOT the way to calm yourself. Here‘s some tips on how to get through it).

These are skills – so the more you practice, the better you get at using them…


I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.


*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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11 thoughts on “Finding Solid Ground When You’re Triggered

  1. As a PTSD service-connected veteran, I am surrounded by triggers due to the fact that I have and still work in the environment that involves the veteran population since 1998. So in instances llike that, the triggers pop up on their own accord at a moment’s notice and there is not always an option for a reprieve because normally I am in the presence of a fellow veteran. But for the record, one of the main staples that helped me many years ago before I began working there and could no longer obtain their services (conflict) is the Vet Center. There is usually one located in EVERY state (several in various towns like Houston) and they cater specifically to combat related concerns such as PTSD/TBI (traumatic brain injury). Mainly because veterans are employed there and we don’t “push” medication on our own. We talk them through it because we have been through it as well. Not selling my center, just letting you know that places such as our really do exist for veterans such as myself that deserve a “special” kind of attention 🙂

    1. Thank you Pearl, for sharing information about this resource for any of our readers who are in the United States.

  2. Sorry – haven’t got time to read the guidelines on comment, so … here goes: I have been telling everybody how I used to joke about trying to keep calm by taking “deep, cleansing breaths …”. We’ve all chuckled, since this had become a codeword for dealing with frustration and other issues … but then, one day … I found myself all keyed up, muscles tensing, heart racing … and then realized my body was taking deep, cleansing breaths … !!! (i.e. I’d been joking about this, and mimicking it … to the point where now my body was unconsciously using it as a de-stressing technique … wow …). Anyway, when I find myself going off in a rage … sometimes I have to consciously calm myself down with deep, cleansing breaths … and some times my body just does it automatically.

    1. Hi Mark!

      Thanks for your post. Guidelines are pretty simple – don’t try to sell stuff, and don’t share trauma accounts because it’ll likely trigger other people.

      Breathing, slowly and deeply, is actually an important strategy for relaxing. Thanks for bringing it up – it’s on my list of stuff I need to write a post about.

  3. Dr. Dee,

    The cases of PTSD which are showing up here are all different for several reasons, but the two most important are that there are a million ways to overload the brain. In addition, the emotional experiences of that person prior to the cause of the PTSD have to be taken into consideration. From the time a person is born, perhaps before, they build up an emotional data base, and these emotional impressions set the stage for how the brain will react when a traumatic event happens.

    While there are more reasons for the difference between cases, it is the varied types of solutions that offer positive results for a wide range of cases.

    Because there is no ‘cookie cutter’ process to relieve PTSD, every potential solution deserves to be presented.

    I agree with your concept 99% and with my own less than that.

  4. What if you don’t feel safe in your present? What if so much stuff has happened that you can’t imagine feeling safe anywhere?

    1. Good question, Jo-Anne!

      Many people have been through so much that they simply can’t feel safe, anywhere, anytime. Healing from that sort of trauma is not something I can help you do with a blog, with a few simple suggestions; if that’s what you’re coping with, then I really encourage you to work with someone in therapy.

      The right treatment for you may include medication, at least initially; learning and practicing specific strategies of mindfulness and meditation, to help you re-learn some strategies to feel a bit calmer.

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