If you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), then you know that flashbacks can be a real problem. These flashbacks are uncontrollable, intrusive memories of the traumatic event that can cause a lot of distress.
In this blog post, I discuss 11 steps that you can take to help reduce the frequency and impact of PTSD flashbacks. I will also talk about how to deal with these distressing memories.
What happens when you have a PTSD flashback?
The symptoms of a flashback can be very distressing and can significantly impair your daily functioning. Flashbacks can happen at any time, without warning, and can last for a few seconds or minutes, or even hours.
During a flashback, you may feel like you are reliving the traumatic event. You may see, hear, smell, or feel things as if the event is happening again. You may also feel intense emotions, such as fear, horror, or shame.
Some people dissociate from their body during a flashback. This means that they feel disconnected from their surroundings and may not be aware of what is happening around them.
Why do people with PTSD have flashbacks?
There are several theories about why flashbacks occur. One theory is that they are a way for your brain to process the trauma. This is because during a flashback, you may notice details that you didn’t see before or you may remember things that you had forgotten about the event.
Another theory is that flashbacks are a way to avoid the pain of the trauma. This is because when you are in a flashback, you are not fully present in the here and now. You are instead focus on the past event.
What is happening in a person’s brain when they experience PTSD flashback symptoms?
PTSD flashbacks happen because the event was so traumatic that it’s stored in a different part of the brain than other memories. This part of the brain is called the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for the fight-or-flight response, which is why people with PTSD often feel like they are in danger even when they are not.
Unfortunately sometimes something in the environment activates the amygdala and causes a person to relive the traumatic event. This can happen at any time, even years after the original traumatic event occurred.
When the amygdala is activated, it sends a message to the hippocampus, which is responsible for creating long-term memories. The hippocampus then pulls up the memory of the traumatic event and the person begins to relive it. Unfortunately the feelings and thoughts associated with the event are just as strong as they were when it first happened, so the experience is just as distressing.
How should I deal with PTSD flashbacks?
If you are having a PTSD flashback, it’s important to remember that you are not in danger and that the memories are not real. Try to ground yourself in the present by focusing on your surroundings.
Flashbacks can cause a lot of distress and make it hard to function in day-to-day life. However, there are things that you can do to reduce the frequency and intensity of these flashbacks.
Here are 11 steps you can take:
- Recognize what triggers your flashbacks. Recognize what triggers your flashbacks. This could be certain sights, smells, sounds, or even thoughts. Once you know what your triggers are, you can initially avoid them. That said, avoidance is not a viable long term solution, so in the longer term you should seriously consider working with a mental health expert who can conduct exposure therapy in a controlled and safe environment.
- Talk about your trauma with someone who understands and can offer support. This can help you process the event and start to work through it.
- Keep a trauma journal. This can be a place where you express your thoughts and feelings about the event. Writing about your experiences can help you to process them and start to work through them.
- Try relaxation techniques. This could be deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness. Relaxation techniques can help to reduce the overall stress in your body and mind.
- Talk to your doctor about medications that can help. There are a number of different options available, and the right medication will depend on your individual situation.
- Get therapy from a qualified mental health professional. This is one of the most important steps you can take. A therapist can help you to work through your trauma and learn healthy coping skills.
- Join a support group for people with PTSD. This can be a great way to meet other people who understand what you’re going through. There are also online groups available if you can’t find a local group. PTSD can be a very isolating experience, so it’s important to connect with others who get it.
- Create a support system. A support system of friends or family can help you through tough times. Having someone to call when you need to take your mind off things, or who can come over when you are upset, can make all the difference.
- Take good care of your body. Exercise releases endorphins, which can help improve your mood. Eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep are also important for overall physical and mental health.
- Find a hobby. Doing something that you enjoy can help take your mind off of your trauma. It can also help you to feel more positive and hopeful about the future.
- Finally, it’s important to find meaning and purpose in your life. This could be through your work, volunteering, or hobbies. Doing things that make you feel good on a regular basis can help you to cope with PTSD.
If you follow these steps, you should see a reduction in the frequency and intensity of your PTSD flashbacks.
Are there any treatments for PTSD flashbacks?
Yes, there are several evidence-based treatments for PTSD that can help reduce the frequency and intensity of flashbacks.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments for PTSD. CBT helps you to understand your thoughts and beliefs about the trauma and teaches you new ways of thinking about the event.
CBT can also be used to provide exposure therapy, during which the therapist exposes you to your triggers in a safe and controlled environment. This can help you to learn that your triggers are not actually dangerous and that you can cope with them.
Other treatments for PTSD include eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), medication, and group therapy.
EMDR is a type of therapy that uses eye movements to help you process and work through your trauma.
Group therapy can provide support and allow you to share your experiences with others who have been through similar events.
The Bottom Line
If you follow these steps, you should see a reduction in the frequency and intensity of your PTSD flashbacks. However, it’s important to remember that everyone is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. What works for one person might not work for another.
If you find that your flashbacks are not improving, or if you’re struggling to cope, be sure to talk to your doctor or mental health professional. They can help you to find the right treatment for your individual situation.
For Further Reading
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – What Is PTSD, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
- Complex PTSD (CPTSD): Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
- The Linen Cupboard Metaphor – Traumatic Memories and PTSD
- Can You Get PTSD From Narcissistic Abuse? The Toxic Impact of the Narcissist
- PTSD Awareness Month – Everything You Need to Know About PTSD
- PTSD in Men: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
- Adverse Childhood Experiences and PTSD: What’s the Connection?
- What is a Trauma Trigger and What Does Being “Triggered” Mean?
- Hypervigilance: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
- 7 Signs Complex Trauma Is Impairing Your Relationship
- Everything You Need to Know About CPTSD – Here Are the Signs and Symptoms (often misspelled as Symtoms)
- What is the Meaning of CPTSD – The Reality Behind the Disorder
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