7 Ways to Cope With Emotional Triggers at Work

Being a medical professional means that you are more than likely to experience at least one traumatic experience during your career. As a nurse, your chances of developing PTSD from a traumatic event on the job are higher than other medical professions.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses are experiencing PTSD-related symptoms more than they had previously before. A survey conducted between June and September of 1,119 healthcare professionals revealed that 93 percent of them reported feeling too stressed and overwhelmed.

Simple Trauma

Also known as a single incident, simple trauma involves any experience that occurs once but has a lasting impact on an individual. These ‘one-off’ events can be life-threatening or can potentially cause serious injury. in the nursing world this can be a particularly difficult situation. Examples of this can be witnessing a patient‘s death or encountering a violent patient.

Complex Trauma

According to Psychology Today, complex trauma can be described as a “type of trauma that occurs repeatedly and cumulatively, usually over some time and within specific relationships and contexts.” Complex trauma occurs more than once and typically happens during the early stages of life.  The significant difference between simple and complex trauma is that complex trauma deals with multiple and chronic events, while simple trauma is one event only.

Nurses are familiar with complex trauma. We regularly witness patient deaths and deal with aggressive patients. It has been normalized as part of the job. Medical science has its limits and death cannot be avoided. Nurses are the ones that are the first to initiate potential life-saving treatments. Nurses are the ones that hold the hand of their dying patient when their family cannot be present. Nurses are the ones who speak with the grieving family members to tell them the worst news. Nurses carry the emotional weight of the negative patient outcomes. That weight builds over time


Commonalities between simple and complex trauma include:

  •  Flashbacks
  •  Dissociation
  •  Avoidance
  •  Anxiety
  •  Hypervigilance
  •  Numbing
  •  Depression
  •  Feeling empty/worthless
  •  Isolating
  •  Difficulty controlling emotions

Both single and complex trauma are serious mental health problems that should be addressed immediately. Being a nurse means you must receive help to ensure your trauma doesn’t significantly diminish your work performance.


7 Ways to Cope With Triggers

(Especially at Work)

With simple or complex trauma, there are bound to be times where you may become triggered by certain things in your life. According to Very Well Mind, being triggered can mean “having an emotional reaction to some disturbing content in the media or another social setting.” There are several ways to cope with triggers from PTSD.

  •  Find the source of the trigger
  •  Take a deep breath
  •  Practice grounding exercises that bring you back to the moment
  •  Repeat a mantra to block intrusive thoughts that are negative
  •  Release yourself from unrealistic expectations
  •  Look for the humor in the situation
  •  Realize that you’re not alone

The examples listed above are great ways to address triggers from trauma, but the best route is to seek a therapist. Although there is a stigma around going to speak with a therapist, they can assist you if your trauma has become uncontrollable. Therapy is starting to be more normalized as our culture has begun opening up about mental health issues, but people still do not want to seek it personally. Sometimes faith, family, and friends is all you need to get past this hurdle. However, big events or a commutation of multiple events can require more help. It can be a great tool to help you process your emotions, behaviours and thought patterns as you navigate life’s difficulties.


Therapists are a guaranteed safe space if you do not feel comfortable talking to people you know. The goal of therapy is get you to a point where you have a greater understanding of what is going on internally, instill positive coping techniques to help you be more resilient when new obstacles arise, and to not need the therapist anymore. Therapy is for a season, which will eventually come to an end. Sometimes another season requiring therapy will come around, but it is normal and healthy to seek help again when needed.

Simple and complex trauma are common amongst nurses, given the unpredictable circumstances, they may face during their careers. If you believe you’re experiencing trauma, please seek help as soon as possible.


If you’re interested into learn more about trauma and how it affects the human mind and body, we recommend:

  •  The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessie van der Kolk
  •  The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole

Here’s a list of resources that can be used if you are struggling with PTSD pulled from Psych Guides:

  •  National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): (800)950-NAMI (6264)
  •  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrative (SAMSHA): (800)662-HELP (4357)
  •  MentalHealth.gov: (800)726-4727
  •  National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): 1-866-615-6464 (toll-free), 1-301-443-8341 (TTY), or 1-866-415-8051 (TTY)
  •  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800)273-TALK (8255)
  •  Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
  •  National Hopeline Network: (800)442-HOPE (4673)