How to deal with a flashback
The after-effects of trauma can leave people with PTSD symptoms that can be hard to deal with on their own, such as flashbacks. A flashback is when you experience the traumatic event in your mind as if it’s happening again. If you have PTSD, you may experience flashbacks from time to time, even without the stress of new trauma. Here are some tips for coping with flashbacks and other symptoms of PTSD.
Tools you need
you will need trauma-coping strategies, a journal, and to talk. If you have had extremely severe trauma in your life, you may also want someone there. You may also want to include these tools: EMDR techniques, medications, EMDR being one of them (medications are not necessary).
Take your time
Flashbacks are caused by severe trauma, so chances are you will feel anxious and fearful when you experience one. Don’t try and force yourself out of it—you need time for your brain and body to heal from the original trauma first. But don’t let yourself get overwhelmed either. One way of dealing with flashbacks is called grounding, which means focusing on your senses (for example, thinking about what you see, hear or smell) while they pass by.
Start at the beginning.
Flashbacks are typical and expected. If you’re experiencing one, take a moment to identify what triggered it. Maybe you smelled something that reminds you of your trauma? Perhaps you had an encounter with someone or something that triggered your response? Once you’ve pinpointed what caused it, think about how you can avoid those triggers in the future. It might be difficult at first, but it gets easier over time through trial and error.
Is this real?
One of the things people seem most confused about is whether or not their flashbacks are real. First, there’s no one answer to that question because we all see things differently. Still, many people report feeling as if they were real – meaning that even though they know, it was only their brain playing a trick on them; for some reason, at the time, it didn’t feel like just a memory and thus felt very real.
If you’re feeling anxious, frustrated, or upset, it can be easy to slip into panic mode and let yourself feel overwhelmed. But resist that urge! Taking deep breaths is an effective way to bring your body back down from fight-or-flight mode. When you breathe deeply from your diaphragm—not just shallow chest breathing—oxygen floods your system and triggers relaxation. It’s like pressing the reset button on your stress response.
Talk about it
If you have just experienced a trauma, talking about it can be one of your best ways to cope. Research shows that people who discuss what happened immediately following an event (within 24 hours) are less likely to develop PTSD than those who don’t talk about it for days or weeks after an experience. If you’re experiencing flashbacks, tell someone close by what you are feeling and thinking so they can help.
Feelings of panic and suffocation often characterise flashbacks, so it’s important to know that you aren’t alone. Seeking out friends, family members, or professionals who can help you through a flashback can reduce your feelings of isolation and helplessness.
After you’ve dealt with your flashbacks, it’s time to figure out how not to have them in future. This means that you need to be able to identify their triggers to avoid them. For example, if you find yourself in situations with too much noise and chaos, you need to think about avoiding these situations. You might want to try meditation or EMDR therapy to work through things that could trigger flashbacks. I offer a free 20 minutes intro.