How to Cope with Flashbacks

Healing is not an overnight process. It takes time. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re finally feeling better, and then the wound will reopen and bleed. Don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged. Keep on taking it one step at a time.”

Flashbacks are a feature of PTSD that are hard to manage, as well as being distressing. Below are some suggestions for helping you to cope:

1. First, tell yourself that you are having a flashback. Give it a name. This can help create a sense of control when we feel we’re at the mercy of overwhelming feelings.

2. Remind yourself that the worst is over. You already know the truth, and you’ve faced up to the truth. So, the feelings and sensations you’re experiencing right now are merely memories related to the past (discovering the terrible truth for the first time). That event is over. It’s not happening right now, and you managed to survive the experience.

3. Ground yourself in the present moment. Feel your feet on the ground, and remind yourself you are able to escape if you need to get away.  

4. Focus on your breathing. When we start to feel scared, we stop breathing normally, and our body starts to register a lack of oxygen. It is this which causes the increasing sense of panic (which manifests in symptoms like a pounding head, tightness in the chest, profuse sweating, or feeling faint.)

Note: To breathe deeply, put your hand on your diaphragm, push against your hand, and then exhale so that the diaphragm goes back in again.

5. Reorient yourself to the present moment by consciously using each of your five senses.

Look around and focus on some different objects in the room. Make a mental note of different colours you can see.

Listen out for different sounds in your environment. Notice your breathing, any traffic, white noise, birds or people.

Try to feel your body, and notice what it’s touching. For example, try touching your clothes, arms, hair or body. Feel the chair or floor supporting you.

Sniff to see if you can smell anything … Flowers, coffee, cigarettes, an air freshener, and so on.

Swallow a few times. Try eating a mint, or a piece of gum. Notice how it tastes, and how that slowly starts to change.

6. Establish boundaries between yourself and the world. Sometimes when we’re experiencing a flashback, we can’t tell where we end and the world begins. If that happens, put a blanket or a cover around you; hold a pillow to your chest; go to bed; lock the door – or do what you need to feel you’re safe from threat or danger.

7. Seek support from someone who will understand your feelings. (Perhaps your family, a close friend, or a counsellor.)

8. Allow yourself the time you need to recover. Flashbacks can be powerful, and extremely distressing. Give yourself whatever time you need to transition from what is happening in your body … back to the present time.

Also, don’t expect to be able to function normally. You can’t just switch off these emotions then return to your day. If it helps, take a nap, have a bath, go for a walk, or listen to some music that you know will soothe your feelings.

And remember to be gentle and kind with yourself. Don’t attack yourself for having a flashback.

9. Respect and honour your experience. Appreciate the fact that you’ve managed to survive.

10. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to heal – and it takes time to learn how to cope with powerful flashbacks. It’s a long slow process, and it can’t be speeded up.

19 thoughts on “How to Cope with Flashbacks

  1. These two statements: “Remind yourself that the worst is over” and “Ground yourself in the present moment” are so true thank you for the reminder 😊😍 and so often we have come a lot further than we give ourselves credit… If we have survived and flourished before we can flourish some more! That’s what I remind myself. Take care and have a lovely weekend 🙋‍♀️

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment Morag. Yes, we have often come a lot further than we give ourselves credit for. We survive, make some progress … and eventually start to flourish. That takes so much time, patient and effort. By that point, we are well on the road to being more like ourselves again. What a journey … Have a great weekend too!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “It’s a long slow process, and it can’t be speeded up.” It’s so very easy for me to be patient with others.. not so much with myself. Thank you for sharing this, it’s exactly what I needed 💝 I second @moragnoffke I’ll remind myself of those two statements. Have a good weekend 🙏

    Liked by 2 people

    • It is tiring, and a bit discouraging, to be dealing with the fall-out from trauma for such a long time. Healing can feel so slow. It’s interesting how we find it easier to be patient with others than with ourselves … and yet by taking its time our brain is actually doing its very best for us. It takes time to be thorough and restore us to good mental health. Thanks for sharing this Love.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I appreciate how you said to be kind to yourself during and after a flashback. It’s so easy to be hard on yourself for not healing faster. But the fact is emotions come up when they are ready. And triggers can be anywhere. Just yesterday, I saw a couple playing with their young children and I was suddenly transported back to a similar circumstance with my own kids—before our family broke up. My first reaction was regret, followed by shame. But rather than wallow it, I let it pass over me and said a quick prayer for my three grown sons.

    Blessings !

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for sharing this David. It helps to normalize flashbacks when we see that they affect other people, even years after an event – so we are not the only one who struggles with these reactions. What a great way to handle it … by turning your attention to praying for your three grown sons.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so sorry you are living with this reality. It must be very, very difficult. I have a good friend who is having surgery right now. She is having a mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s a horrible disease. Thank you for sharing from your experience. It help ….

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  4. It’s a long, exhausting journey. When I’m hit suddenly, it helps me to walk outside, feel the earth and hear the sounds. Slow, deep breaths. One day at a time ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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