Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition experienced by individuals who experience catastrophic events, such as natural disasters or war. One of the symptoms of PTSD is flashbacks, where an individual experiences intrusive memories and intense emotional reactions from the past event.
A flashback causes an individual to feel as if they are reliving the traumatic event all over again. These flashbacks can be triggered by anything that reminds them of the trauma, such as sights, smells, words, etc., and it can happen without warning in any setting. The intense emotions and negative thoughts associated with a flashback can severely disrupt thoughts and behaviour during everyday life activities, leaving an individual feeling overwhelmed and out of control.
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?
When someone is experiencing a flashback associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they are often overwhelmed by intense, negative emotions and intrusive memories from the traumatic event. It can feel as if they are reliving the experience all over again.
The individual is likely to experience physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate and breathing difficulty while having a flashback. They may become agitated or distressed and have difficulty staying focused or concentrating on their surroundings. The flashback can last anywhere from moments to hours and the person may not even realize what is happening until after the episode.
It’s important for friends and family members to remain calm during a flashback episode to help create an environment of safety and support so that the individual affected can recover quickly afterwards.
Why do people with PTSD have flashbacks?
When someone is exposed to a traumatic event, their brain processes the event differently than normal experiences would be processed, leaving an imprint or “trigger.” These triggers can cause them to have intrusive memories and intense emotional reactions associated with the past event in the form of flashbacks.
Flashback episodes are unpredictable and can be triggered by anything that reminds them of the trauma. It could be something as simple as a sound, smell, sight, or word that brings back an intense memory or emotion from the past traumatic event. The individual may not even realize what is happening until after the flashback has passed and they can feel overwhelmed and out of control during these episodes.
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?
Living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is difficult and can be emotionally, mentally, and physically taxing. PTSD flashbacks can make life even more challenging, as they can cause the person to relive their traumatic experience or event. Here are some tips to help manage and reduce these flashbacks:
Seek Professional Help
Professional therapy can help people learn coping skills to better manage their PTSD symptoms including flashbacks.
Create a Safe Space
It’s important for people dealing with PTSD to create a safe space that feels calming and comfortable whenever they experience flashbacks. This could include a favorite spot in your house or even in nature.
Talk It Out
Talking through your experiences with someone you trust can be helpful in managing your triggers and relieving the emotional pain from past traumas that may have caused your PTSD.
Stay Grounded In the Moment
When experiencing a flashback, remember that it is only a memory and try to ground yourself in reality by focusing on something tactile such as how your feet feel on the ground or what objects you are touching around you; this will help bring you back into the present moment and out of the flashback state.
Manage Stress Levels
Stress can aggravate PTSD symptoms including triggering memories so it’s important for those living with PTSD to take steps to actively manage their stress levels. This could include getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, and engaging in activities that bring joy like listening music or writing down thoughts in a journal.
Whenever feeling overwhelmed by memories or triggers, taking some time away from any stimuli around you can be very beneficial; it’s necessary for people living with PTSD to not only identify their stressors but also have multiple methods of exiting situations when needed in order for selfcare measures like timeouts to be effective methods reducing flashbacks .
Identify Triggers and Find Healthy Coping Mechanisms
By identifying feelings associated with different triggers for flashbacks ,a person can begin preparing themselves by having certain tools at hand such as an affirmation that helps center oneself during panic moments . Additionally , this process allows them to proactively determine ways of managing those triggers without affecting their mental health adversely .
Practice Deep Breathing Exercises
Taking deep breaths is an effective way of controlling one’s emotions which aids greatly when trying to reduce flashback intensity such as disassociating oneself momentarily from the distressful situation or surroundings.
Avoid High-Risk Situations
Knowing which environments tend to trigger flashbacks allow us to engage actively in avoiding high risk situations when possible . For example , if certain places tend elicit negative responses . avoiding going there as much as possible would limit exposure of these particular kinds of triggers.
Change Your Thinking Habits
Negative thinking patterns contribute significantly towards increasing frequency of flashbacks ; challenging each negative thought while reframing it into a positive one safeguards against unwanted thoughts entering our headspace unexpectedly .
Exercise helps release endorphins that aid greatly in promoting both physical and mental well being. Additionally, regular exercise reduces stress, making it great tool alongside other treatments used for managing trauma associated conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder (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 Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT is an effective treatment for PTSD as it helps the person identify and replace negative thoughts, beliefs, and behaviours associated with their traumatic experience
- Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR is a type of therapy that involves using eye movements or other forms of stimulating bilateral stimulation to help the person process their traumatic memories so they no longer have an emotional reaction associated with them.
- Exposure Therapy. During exposure therapy, the person is exposed to their trauma in a safe environment under the guidance of a therapist. This helps them learn how to manage their emotional reactions more effectively when faced with instances similar to the traumatic event they experienced.
- Medication. There are a variety of medications available to treat PTSD including antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and antipsychotics which may help reduce the intensity of symptoms such as flashbacks or nightmares related to the trauma they experienced.
- Mindfulness Practices. Mindful practices such as yoga, meditation, and/or guided imagery help people cope and manage their symptoms better by providing relief from intrusive memories or flashbacks related to past traumas .
The Bottom Line on PTSD Flashbacks
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be a difficult condition to live with, and its associated symptoms such as flashbacks can be very distressing.
Fortunately, there are a number of treatments available to help reduce the intensity and frequency of these flashbacks. These include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR), exposure therapy, medication, and mindfulness practices.
It’s important to speak with a mental health professional in order to determine the best course of treatment for you. With the right tools, it is possible to manage your symptoms and lead a full life.
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Carla Corelli is an author, advocate, and survivor of narcissistic abuse. Having grown up with a narcissistic father, Carla experienced firsthand the profound impact of psychological and emotional abuse. Fueled by her personal journey, she pursued a degree in psychology and has dedicated herself to shedding light on the complexities of narcissistic abuse.
With over fifteen years of experience in writing and advocating for survivors, Carla is deeply committed to providing support, education, and empowerment to those who have endured similar trauma. Through her articles, Carla aims to offer a compassionate space for healing and growth, while advocating for greater awareness and understanding of narcissistic abuse.
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