Whether it stems from an intense event or a long pattern of experiences, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has an uncanny ability to bring the past back into focus in upsetting and anxiety-inducing flashbacks.
The team at Premier Psychiatry specialize in PTSD and trauma counseling, so they know how unpredictable flashbacks can be. While psychotherapy and medication can help to control the symptoms of PTSD, managing the response to flashbacks is usually a self care event, since these happen suddenly and often unexpectedly.
Staying on top of treatment can help reduce flashback episodes. When they do occur, these strategies may help you get over the moment.
Understand the event
In the moment when they occur, flashbacks can bring your day to a halt. As you re-experience the events that caused your trauma, you’re not in a good place to process your condition logically, as anxiety and stress consume your thoughts.
Understanding what a flashback is, how it’s triggered, and the patterns that typically affect you can give you grounding in the moment, when the flashback starts.
With PTSD, a traumatic memory can be so dominant that you are no longer aware of the current moment, a state called dissociation. It can be complete or partial. Your experience of the memory may be so intense it’s as though you are reliving the event at a level that’s close to the original trauma. Flashbacks often start because of a trigger.
Knowing your triggers
The easiest flashback to cope with is the one that doesn’t happen. You can sidestep some flashbacks when you know what triggers them. This may be knowledge you gain from experience. Psychotherapy can also help you identify predictable triggers.
A flashback may be prefaced by symptoms of dissociation. You may be able to learn these early warning signs to help reduce or prevent the flashback event. Reviewing what you felt before a flashback could assist in future recognition.
PTSD flashbacks pull you out of the moment and try to transport you to the time of the original trauma. It may feel like you’re being picked up and set down by some giant, unseen force. Grounding techniques help to secure you in place, to resist this idea of placement.
Turn to five of your senses to fix yourself in the moment and resist dissociation.
A strong fragrance or aroma can distract you from an oncoming flashback. Smells can often trigger a PTSD reaction, so shifting to another olfactory stimulant like mint or cologne may move your focus away from the flashback.
Some PTSD patients experience a fuzzy or out-of-focus quality to their vision as a flashback begins. Reconnect visually with your surroundings by taking an inventory of the things around you. “The red car, the green tree, the man in the black coat,” and so on. This could help you stay in touch with the present.
Loud music performs the same function of pulling you down, into the moment. Discordant, atonal pieces force themselves into your attention. Having a grounding playlist ready may help you redirect yourself.
Holding a hot coffee or a piece of ice can add to sensory distraction. Focus on and compare textures of nearby surfaces if temperature extremes aren’t available.
Biting into a sour lemon or lime creates a reaction that’s hard to ignore. The strong response to fresh citrus quickly dominates your perceptions, a great way to sidestep a flashback.
Work with your caregiver at Premier Psychiatry to uncover more grounding strategies. Your PTSD response likely has features that are unique to you. Book your consultation today, by phone or online.