Remember Youre Safe Now
Simply knowing youre having a flashback can help you feel a little safer, but a reminder never hurts.
You can remind yourself that youre safe and secure by repeating things like:
- Im afraid, but Im safe.
- Its over. I made it through.
- Im safe at home. Im not in danger.
- These memories are painful, but they cant hurt me.
If you have a difficult time remembering these calming phrases while in the grip of a flashback, consider jotting down a few reminder statements after the flashback passes.
Practicing them ahead of time can help you learn to reach for them automatically during a flashback.
If safety mantras dont help you feel more secure, try boosting your sense of security by:
- holding or stroking your pet
- grabbing your favorite blanket and curling up under it
- locking your bedroom door
How To Cope With And Stop Ptsd Flashbacks
Handling posttraumatic stress disorder flashbacks can feel impossible at first, but there are techniques to cope with the flashbacks from PTSD, even to the point of stopping them altogether. Of course, therapy and medical treatment for PTSD flashbacks are critical parts of this, but there are PTSD self-help techniques you can use to help deal with PTSD flashbacks too. Flashbacks can decrease in severity and frequency, and some people eliminate them altogether.
Here Are A Few Grounding Techniques You Can Try:
Look around the space youre in and notice whats around you- colors, objects, and people.
Notice and listen to the sounds around you. Do you hear cars, voices, music, birds chirping?
Make sure your eyes are open and if youre in a dark space, turn on a light.
Notice your body. How do your clothes feel on your skin? How is the chair or floor supporting you? Can you feel your toes in your shoes?
Move your body. Make sure to stretch, dance, clap your hands, or walk around. If you cant do that because of your current setting, wiggle your toes or rub your hands on your legs.
Breathe. When we get scared, we either forget to breathe or breathe too quickly. Make sure to take slow deep breathes to help calm your body.
Ask yourself questions in order to bring yourself into the present moment: Where am I right now? What day is it? What are my plans for the day?
Recite a positive affirmation: It might help to have a few affirmations or mantras already written down in your iPhone. Try I am safe right now, I am in control, or This will pass.
Eat something: Mindfully savor a mint, candy, chocolate, or any kind of food. If its something sour, even better!
Hold on to something: Notice how this item feels in your hand. This can be a piece of ice, a tissue, a pen. Anything. If you dont have an item around that you can grab on to, squeeze your hands as tight as you can.
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Schedule Enjoyable And Meaningful Activities During Fireworks Season
Mark your calendar with activities you enjoy and find fulfilling such as exercise, cooking, or watching movies. This can improve your mood and can help offset or even undo the effects of unpleasant emotions, Bryan says.
Once you choose an activity you find pleasurable, plan to engage in it more often in the days leading up to firework celebrations and on the day of specifically during the actual fireworks display and afterward to unwind from any symptoms or emotions that may arise.
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The Autonomic Nervous System
A wonderful description of these vital brain regions in an article written by Doctor Arielle Schwartz from 2016 titled The Neurobiology of Trauma, it states: The autonomic nervous system plays a significant role in our emotional and physiological responses to stress and trauma. The ANS to have two primary systems: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system is associated with the fight or flight response and the release of cortisol throughout the bloodstream.
The parasympathetic nervous system puts the brakes on the sympathetic nervous system, so the body stops releasing stress chemicals and shifts toward relaxation, digestion, and regeneration.
The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are meant to work in a rhythmic alternation that supports healthy digestion, sleep, and immune system functioning.
Dr. Schwartz goes on to describe how the rhythmic balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems becomes disrupted by chronic child abuse, and that this lack of synching of the two leads to problems later.
During an emotional flashback, because your ANS is damaged and uncoordinated, the amygdala recognizes what it perceives as danger and reacts, triggering the fight/flight/freeze response. This reaction engages the sympathetic nervous system revving up your body and causing a significant amount of distress.
Causes Of Ptsd Flashbacks
People can develop PTSD after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event , threatened abuse, or a life-threatening event any event that induces significant distress.1 When an individual encounters something that reminds them of the trauma, this can trigger a flashback.
These triggers or reminders can take the form of different senses . For example, seeing a person from a distance who reminds you of a person who attacked you may be a trigger. Similarly, hearing a loud noise may remind you of a gunshot if you were a victim. Evidently, there is a broad range of ways a flashback can be triggered in an individual.1
Several risk factors for PTSD include:1,2,3
- Longstanding trauma or multiple traumatic events also known as complex PTSD
- Severe or intense traumatic events
- Natural disasters, wars, terrorist attacks
- Having a personal or family history of trauma
- Having a personal or family history of mental health challenges or disorders
- Working in a field that is prone to trauma
- Limited coping skills and protective factors
- Minimal social supports
- Minimal hope for the future and disbelief over ones ability to cope with the trauma
How To Calm Someone Down From A Panic Attack
If you notice someone is having a panic attack, the best thing you can do to help them is to remain calm. Remaining calm can help the person feel comforted and reduce feelings of danger. Talking to the person slowly and calmly can help.
That said, some people experiencing a panic attack may prefer not to be spoken to, so you may need to play it by ear. If the person seems more agitated or asks you to stop talking, you can help them by remaining by their side quietly.
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Does Ptsd Get Worse Over Time
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a debilitating mental health condition that is triggered by a distressing event. It can get better or worse over time and often takes an unpredictable course. The good news is that there are treatments available that work to ensure a healthy and sustainable recovery.
The Clients Suitability For Intervention
Clients need to be motivated, open-minded and prepared for slow change to occur – over many months or even years. Clients should not be overdependent on the nurse since such clients may want to be talked through every intervention, and may be unable to continue with the work when alone. Homework is an important aspect of this approach and clients are expected to practise the exercises regularly on their own. Clients also need to be able to retain the information they are given and be prepared to experiment with it creatively.
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What Happens During A Flashback
When we think about flashbacks, many people will immediately think of a soldier reliving his time in battle. It is undoubtedly an excellent example and one that, due to its cinematic nature, is readily understood. However, PTSD can take affect anyone who has gone through a terrifying or life-threatening event. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that nearly 7 percent of adults in the US will have PTSD in their lifetime.
When learning how to cope with flashbacks, its good to know something about how they work. Think of a flashback as a faulty memory. Our brains create memories using two sets of information. First, theres the emotional content or how the event made you feel. Second is the context, such as where you were, what you were doing, with whom, and so forth.
With a healthy memory, youre able to process both of these sets of information without a problem. With a flashback, theres an overflow of emotional content and a lack of context. It causes the user to experience incredibly vivid, even life-like sensations without the ability to distinguish whether its something that happened in the past or is happening right now.
Rape Or Sexual Trauma
The trauma of being raped or sexually assaulted can be shattering, leaving you feeling scared, ashamed, and alone, or plagued by nightmares, flashbacks, and other unpleasant memories. But no matter how bad you feel right now, its important to remember that you werent to blame for what happened, and you can regain your sense of safety, trust, and self-worth.
Where Can I Find More Information On Ptsd
The National Center for PTSD, a program of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is the leading federal center for research and education on PTSD and traumatic stress. You can find information about PTSD, treatment options, and getting help, as well as additional resources for families, friends, and providers.
How To Prevent Ptsd Flashbacks
Sometimes, especially once you understand what leads to flashbacks, you may be able to prevent some of them. The following strategies might help:
Be aware of your triggers, such as places, situations, people, and things that are likely to remind you of the traumatic event.
Pay attention to warning signs. Your flashbacks may seem random, as though nothing motivated them. But in many cases, there are warning signs, such as a change in mood or sweating all of a sudden.
Speak to someone you trust. You might feel hesitant to talk about your past traumatic experiences and the flashbacks youre having. Keep in mind that you can confide in others without rehashing all the details of your traumatic event. You can simply say how youre feeling. Consider talking to a friend, family member, healthcare professional, helpline listener, or support group member.
Take care of your health, such as by exercising, watching your diet, getting in touch with the outside world , and avoiding unhealthy coping outlets like alcohol and drugs.
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Common Internal Ptsd Triggers
- Physical discomfort, such as hunger, thirst, fatigue, sickness, and sexual frustration.
- Any bodily sensation that recalls the trauma, including pain, old wounds and scars, or a similar injury.
- Strong emotions, especially feeling helpless, out of control, or trapped.
- Feelings toward family members, including mixed feelings of love, vulnerability, and resentment.
Finding A Therapist For Ptsd
When looking for a therapist, seek out mental health professionals who specialize in the treatment of trauma and PTSD. You can ask your doctor or other trauma survivors for a referral, call a local mental health clinic, psychiatric hospital, or counseling center.
Beyond credentials and experience, its important to find a PTSD therapist who makes you feel comfortable and safe. Trust your gut if a therapist doesnt feel right, look for someone else. For therapy to work, you need to feel comfortable and understood.
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Tip : Be A Good Listener
While you shouldnt push a person with PTSD to talk, if they do choose to share, try to listen without expectations or judgments. Make it clear that youre interested and that you care, but dont worry about giving advice. Its the act of listening attentively that is helpful to your loved one, not what you say.
A person with PTSD may need to talk about the traumatic event over and over again. This is part of the healing process, so avoid the temptation to tell your loved one to stop rehashing the past and move on. Instead, offer to talk as many times as they need.
Some of the things your loved one tells you might be very hard to listen to. Its okay to dislike what you hear, but its important to respect their feelings and reactions. If you come across as disapproving, horrified, or judgmental, they are unlikely to open up to you again.
Dont Be Too Hard On Yourself
One more thing you should definitely do if you have PTSD: Be kind to yourself. That advice probably makes you roll your eyes but sometimes, cheesy advice rings true. PTSD can cause feelings of guilt, shame and anger. When youre feeling down, it can help to remember that its not you. Its the disorder.
PTSD changes the structure of your brain, Dr. Wimbiscus points out. Think about that: Your brain is physically different than it used to be. PTSD is not caused by weakness, and you cant just make yourself get over it.
So what should you do when youre feeling hopeless? Remember that hopelessness, too, can be a symptom of the disorder.
And try to follow Dr. Wimbiscus advice: Focus on getting through your daily tasks, and know that it gets better. Allow time to do its work. It may be a struggle right now, but time is one of our greatest healers. There is hope.
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What Happens During A Ptsd Episode
A PTSD episode is characterized by feelings of fear and panic, along with flashbacks and sudden, vivid memories of an intense, traumatic event in your past. These memories are often accompanied by sensory experiences visions, sounds, and even smells from the incident may return, as if they are happening in the present moment. Perceiving imminent danger, your brain will go into a state of alarm: your heart races, you sweat profusely, and your breath speeds up. The feeling is all-consuming, intense, and often debilitating.
You Are Not Going Crazy
Remember that flashbacks are a common symptom for people who have experienced trauma. You are not going crazy. Something bad happened to you and has left a lasting impression in your brain. These grounding skills are a great way to cope with flashbacks but the best way to prevent them is to get professional help. The fact that you are experiencing flashbacks is a sign that you are struggling to cope with the traumatic event you experienced.
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Why Ptsd Flashbacks Are Hard To Handle
Posttraumatic stress disorder flashbacks can feel very hard to handle because they can pull you out of the present moment to the point where you feel like youre reliving the trauma. A flashback can create similar levels of stress physically and psychologically as were experienced during the trauma.
Tip : Take Care Of Yourself
Letting your family members PTSD dominate your life while ignoring your own needs is a surefire recipe for burnout and may even lead to secondary traumatization. You can develop your own trauma symptoms from listening to trauma stories or being exposed to disturbing symptoms like flashbacks. The more depleted and overwhelmed you feel, the greater the risk is that youll become traumatized.
In order to have the strength to be there for your loved one over the long haul and lower your risk for secondary traumatization, you have to nurture and care for yourself.
Take care of your physical needs: get enough sleep, exercise regularly, eat properly, and look after any medical issues.
Cultivate your own support system. Lean on other family members, trusted friends, your own therapist or support group, or your faith community. Talking about your feelings and what youre going through can be very cathartic.
Make time for your own life. Dont give up friends, hobbies, or activities that make you happy. Its important to have things in your life that you look forward to.
Spread the responsibility. Ask other family members and friends for assistance so you can take a break. You may also want to seek out respite services in your community.
Set boundaries. Be realistic about what youre capable of giving. Know your limits, communicate them to your family member and others involved, and stick to them.
Support for people taking care of veterans
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Emotional Flashbacks: What They Feel Like And How To Cope With Them
If youve ever had a flashback, youll know how disorientating and terrifying it can be. Flashbacks are known to be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder where the person can literally see and hear the traumatic event as if it were happening again right now. Yet there is also a kind of flashback that may not include visual or auditory aspects, and instead is more of a feeling as though thrown back into the threatening circumstances from childhood.
Emotional flashbacks are often associated with a diagnosis of complex trauma, or c-ptsd. Complex trauma can occur from ongoing adverse childhood conditions, including abuse, neglect or abandonment especially if the perpetrator was close to the child . Complex trauma symptoms can also develop if the childs parents were busy or emotionally unavailable. It can feel traumatic for children not to receive regular, consistent, unconditional love when they want and need it and this can create attachment issues that play out in adulthood.
Breathe Slow And Deep
The feelings of stress and fear triggered by a flashback can tense up your muscles and speed up your heartbeat and breathing. Thats your fight-or-flight response at work.
But hyperventilation, the too-rapid breathing that commonly happens when you feel afraid or panicked, can leave you trying to catch your breath or even feeling as if you cant breathe.
In short, breathing too quickly often only adds to your distress.
Working to control your breathing doesnt just give you something to focus on. Maintaining a steady rhythm of breath can also help you feel calmer and more relaxed.
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