How to cope with flashbacks from PTSD

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What are flashbacks?

Flashbacks happen without warning. The sudden onset can make it difficult to cope with flashbacks. They do not discriminate on what you’re doing or where you are. Flashbacks are vivid memories of traumatic events that feel like they are happening again. You may re-experience emotions, noises, and smells. Trauma survivors often experience flashbacks. Flashbacks can also cause anxiety attacks in the person. These can last from seconds to hours.

Facts about flashbacks

  • ​Primarily associated with traumatic events and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), flashbacks can be happy and elicit positive emotions, or they can be sad and even terrifying.
  • Flashbacks can occur suddenly without any attempt to recall the memory. 
  • The memory may be so intense the person relives the stressful event. They may even think that the events of the memory are happening again. 
  • Flashbacks can distort pictures, sounds, body sensations, and smells.
  • Flashbacks may not pertain to what the person is currently doing.
  • Flashbacks occur because of traumatic events, such as war combat or an accident. 

FLASHBACKS AND MENTAL HEALTH

  • Flashbacks may have a massive impact on a person’s mental health issues. A person with traumatic memories and intrusive memories may find it challenging to carry out everyday tasks because of the uncontrollable nature of flashbacks. A diminished function may lead to poor quality of life. Poor quality of life can cause anxiety disorders and depression to seep in. Unbalance in your life and spirit will make it strenuous to cope with flashbacks.
  • These traumatic memories may cause immediate distress due to a flashback. Traumatic memories can cause stress levels to go up, and the person may need to seek a safe space. The symptoms of a flashback can be like symptoms of anxiety disorder. A person may reenact the flashback by screaming, crying, or showing fear. These behaviors may lead to shame or embarrassment and may cause damage to their self-esteem.

Techniques to cope with flashbacks

  • If you are having a flashback, you must tell yourself that the event is not happening again. It would help if you also reminded yourself that this is a normal response.
  • Remind yourself that you overcame your challenge. You survived. It is essential to keep your eyes open and look around. Remind yourself where you are and orient yourself.
  • It is possible to develop strategies to minimize flashbacks. Mental health providers specialize in PTSD to help reduce the number of flashbacks you have.cope with flashbacks
Breathe
  • Our breathing may become erratic when we are panicking from a flashback. Irregular breathing causes our body to panic even more from lack of oxygen. Symptoms of this can be pounding in the head, wedding, fatigue, shakiness, and fear. Breathing will calm you down so you can deal and cope with flashbacks.
  • Calm breathing – also known as diaphragmatic breathing – can help you regain control of your body and emotions and slow your breathing down when you feel stressed or anxious. The purpose is not to avoid anxiety but to help you ‘ride out’ the feelings.
Grounding
  • Grounding is to help connect you with your present as quickly as possible. 
  • Focus on your surroundings and try to keep your eyes open. Speak out loud in describe to your friends what is happening and what you are doing. For example, ‘I’m sitting on a red chair, and the fabric is soft. It’s cashmere. The carpet is blue, and there is an orange couch in the corner.’
  • Some grounding strategies include:
    • ​Use your five senses – your five senses are sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Look at colors, shapes of things, and people nearby. Listen to your breathing. Listen to what’s happening around you. Feel what your body is touching. The sensations can include your close chair shoes or the wall. Try to taste something. Try chewing gum to bring you into the present. Smell something like flowers or your perfume.​
    • Try to occupy your mind. Count backward in sevens from 100. Think of 10 animals around you. Think about a country for each letter of the alphabet. 
    • Get up and move. Go for a short walk, stretch, do jumping jacks. It is essential to get your body moving so you can focus on other things.
    • Use positive coping statements, such as: ‘stop, and breathe, I can do this, or this will not last forever.

 

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