How to cope with Flashbacks: 12 practical suggestions
Flashbacks are one of the more common symptoms of PTSD and CPTSD and are an intense re-experiencing of the traumatic event. Coping with flashbacks can be a very frightening and stressful thing. They are triggered by some event, though the person may not know what that trigger was. When that happens, it seems as if the flashback happens out of the blue, and this can make flashbacks very difficult to cope with.
The first thing to know is that not all techniques will work for everyone. We are all individuals and so things that work for one person will not necessarily work for someone else. However, there are some things that you might find helpful.
Unhelpful ways to cope
In this category, I would place anything that hurts you or someone else. Also in this category are ways of avoiding dealing with what happened to you and your feelings associated with the trauma. This would include using drugs or alcohol to numb your feelings, using sex for the same reason, any sort of cutting or self-abuse, sleep avoidance, excessive shopping or gambling, and burying and avoiding your feelings. These coping strategies might help in the short term, but invariably harm you in the long run. Instead, try some of the coping methods below.
Helpful ways to cope
1. Deep breathing: One of the easiest breathing exercises is the boxed breathing technique and it works like this: Breath in for 4 counts, noticing how the air feels moving into your lungs. Hold the breath for 4 counts. Then exhale for 4 counts blowing air out through your mouth. And the fourth step is to hold for 4 counts before inhaling again. Repeat for several rounds until you feel calm.
2. Grounding exercises. There are many different grounding exercises that you can learn and in fact, I’ve done a complete blog on this subject. One of the easiest ones though is to feel your body as you are sitting right now as completely as possible. So feel what the chair feels like behind your thighs and against your seat. What do the armrests feel like? Feel your feet pressing into the floor and your back pressing into the chair back. Stop your feet if you want to feel your feet more fully. Let gravity pull you down as much as possible.
3. Anchor object- This one takes preparation! Find a small object that you can easily fit into your hand and that will fit into your pocket so you can bring it places with you. Then we’re going to “anchor” a feeling of calmness to the object through the use of a visualization exercise. To do that, get comfortable and close your eyes. Think of a situation when you felt calm and at ease; try to completely immerse yourself into the memory using all of your senses. What do you see? Hear? Touch? Taste? Smell? Remember that time as completely as you can. When you feel yourself in that calm state, pick up your object and hold it in your hand so the object becomes attached to the feeling of calmness. You will most likely have to do this exercise several times for this attachment to be made and you can test it by holding the object in your hand and seeing if you feel the calmness without the visualization first. Once the object is connected to the feeling of calmness, you can use it by holding it in your hand after you’ve had a flashback.
4. Take a walk. Outside in nature is best, but if you can’t go out, walk around the building you’re in and try to notice what is going on around you.
5. Yoga or stretching. It doesn’t have to be fancy.
6. Exercise. Again, pretty much anything will do. Lift some weights, do push-ups, or run in place.
7. Self-talk. Practice positive and coping self-talk. If you’re telling yourself that this is absolutely terrible and you will never feel good again, try changing it to something like, “I’ve lived through flashbacks before so I know that I can handle this” or “I know I’m going to be OK. Take a deep breath”.
8. Holding and stroking a pet. Pets are wonderful when you’re feeling anxious or if you are starting to disassociate. There have actually been studies that show holding your pet can increase your dopamine and serotonin levels which promote a sense of calmness. They also can lower your blood pressure.
9. Move- dance, jump up & down, do sit-ups, clap your hands, anything that gets your body moving.
10. Positive affirmations. Make up your own or try some of these:
· I am good enough just the way I am
· I have the power right now to make good things happen and to reach my goals
· I am a survivor
· I can handle this!
· I am open to good things coming my way
· I don’t need to put so much pressure on myself
11. Self-orientating questions- ask yourself various questions to orientate yourself such as: Where am I? What is my name? What is the date? What is my age?
12. Hold an object in your hand: Pick up a small object and move it around in your hand. What does it feel like? Is it smooth? Warm? Are there differing textures or is it the same all over? Notice every detail about the object
For More Information
If after trying these techniques you still find you'd like some more help, please contact me I'd love to hear from you! Also, for more information on Trauma Treatment, follow this link.