Flashbacks are one of the most common symptoms of PTSD. They can cause people to avoid places and situations that remind them of the trauma, making it difficult to maintain relationships and work.
A mental health professional can help someone with PTSD find healthy ways to cope with flashbacks. Some strategies include:
Keep a journal
As your PTSD treatment progresses, you’ll likely see flashbacks decrease. In the meantime, identifying your triggers and using coping techniques can help.
In recent years, it’s been found that journaling (or expressive writing) can be a very effective therapy tool for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
Keeping a journal can help you identify your triggers and the emotions and thoughts that arise during a flashback. It also lets you stay focused, remembering that a traumatic experience is not happening now and is something from your past.
A journal can also help determine what types of activities, people and places can bring on a flashback or worsen your anxiety. Once you know what you can and cannot do, avoiding situations that can worsen things will be easier. Taking care of yourself is also important; sleep, healthy eating and exercise are all good for you. And, of course, it’s crucial to keep up with your treatment plan. This is the best way to get the support you need.
Take a walk
An experienced psychiatrist once quipped, “I can recognize PTSD as it walks down the hall.” When you’re having a flashback, it can feel like you’re back amid the event and feeling everything that went with it.
Moving your body is one of the best ways to refocus your mind and thoughts. It can also help to refocus your consciousness on actions taking place in the present. Take a walk outside and notice the details of the environment: colors, textures, smells, sounds. You can even try wriggling your toes, slowly at first and then more quickly.
Studies show that aerobic exercise has a positive impact on PTSD. It reduces avoidance, numbing, and hyperarousal in people with PTSD. Finding an activity you enjoy is important because it increases your chances of continuing it as a healthy lifestyle habit.
Some examples of aerobic exercises include jogging, dancing, and biking. Using a workout app or group fitness classes is another way to get your body moving and reap the mental health benefits.
Listen to music
While many people associate PTSD with military service members experiencing flashbacks of their time in battle, anyone can develop this anxiety disorder. It’s caused by terrifying or life-threatening experiences that leave a lasting impression on the mind and body.
Identifying what triggers a PTSD flashback is essential to avoid these things and prevent the symptoms from occurring. It may be a particular sight, smell or sound. For example, a victim of a burglary might be triggered by loud noises that sound like breaking glass or the smell of alcohol.
Listening to music is a great way to relieve stress and promote relaxation. Studies have shown that listening to music stimulates the amygdala, hypothalamus and hippocampus – all important areas involved in emotions and memory.
It’s also been found that soothing sounds and calming melodies can help alleviate PTSD symptoms, including anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances.
Talk to a friend.
People living with PTSD often feel stressed, tense, and irritable. They may not know why they feel like this, but they do have a good reason: traumatic events can cause the body to go on high alert in case it needs to react quickly to danger.
Talking to a friend who has PTSD can help your loved one to recognize the symptoms and see that it isn’t their fault, as well as learn some coping strategies. However, waiting until they are calm and not in the middle of a crisis is important to raise the issue.
Encourage your friend to seek treatment from a mental health professional. They might have difficulty starting therapy, especially if they are experiencing vicarious trauma (similar to when someone close to you experiences a terrible incident). It’s also important to get some therapy support if you’re supporting a loved one with PTSD, as you might experience symptoms like flashbacks and anxiety. The best way to keep your friend is to be a stable presence and provide unconditional love.
Take a bath
Many people with PTSD have trouble sleeping, contributing to a lack of energy and an increased risk of experiencing a flashback or dissociation. A warm bath, nap, or resting for an hour can help you relax and recharge.
Avoidance is a common reaction to trauma, and while it can feel safe in the short term, it can often be counterproductive. Avoidance behaviors like avoiding reminders, self-blame and self-hate, and a heightened startle response can increase the intensity of anxiety symptoms and make them harder to cope with.
Try to catch early signs that you are slipping into a flashback or dissociative state, such as your surroundings becoming fuzzy or feeling disconnected from yourself and others. Use grounding techniques, such as focusing on the five senses (describing what you see, touch, smell, taste and hear), counting to ten, or repeating a calming mantra to reconnect with your body. Wim Hof has shown that a cold water immersion bath also helps by activating the vagus nerve and stimulating the production of beneficial hormones like cortisol.