Flashbacks Self Help Guide
What is a flashback?
Flashbacks are active memories of a traumatic event and they can make you feel as though the trauma you experienced is happening all over again.
Flashbacks can be terrifying but they are minds way of telling us that we are ready to deal with our trauma.
Flashbacks can take many forms:
• Visual Memories: Images, three dimensional technicolor images, black and white, foggy or clear.
• Auditory Memories: Sounds like music, breathing, doors shutting, footsteps.
• Emotional Memories: Feelings of distress, hopelessness, rage, terror, dread, danger or a complete lack of feelings (numbness).
• Body Memories: Physical sensations including pain, nausea, gagging sensation, difficulty swallowing, feeling restricted, difficulty breathing.
• Sensory Memories: Experiences such as particular smells or tastes.
What can help?
Many people work out their own way of coping with flashbacks, but here are some ideas that you may find useful:
• Find a safe quiet place where you can sit down.
• Tell yourself that you are having a flashback, that this is a memory from the past and that you can take care of yourself in the present.
• Remember that you can choose whether to remember and re-feel.
• You might want to say to yourself “I’ll let that memory pass by.”
• Breathe slowly and deeply. Learn to breathe from your diaphragm; put your hand there just below your navel and breathe so that your hand gets pushed up and down. Often when we are surprised or scared, we breathe more rapidly and reduce our oxygen intake. Lack of oxygen can enhance feelings of panic: it can result in pounding in the head, tightness, feeling faint, shakiness and dizziness. If you count slowly to five as you breathe out, it will help slow your breathing down and will calm you physiologically.
• Imagine that the images that you see are on a TV screen. Turn the sound down, turn it up again, then turn the TV off so that the images fade away.
• Actively ground yourself in the present:
Stamp your feet; grind them around on the floor to remind yourself where you are now.
• Look around, notice what is going in your immediate vicinity: name the people, the place, the furniture, the layout of the room, colours, patterns, etc.
• Listen to the sounds around you: traffic, voices, the washing machine, etc.
• Feel your body, notice how you are sitting, your clothes, feel the chair or floor supporting you.
• If flashbacks are particularly common, it can be a useful strategy to always wear items that did not exist back then, things that ground you in your current life, a watch, flash drive, coloured wrist band.
• Focus your attention on remembering something challenging, such as the lyrics to a particular song, friends birthdays or a favourite poem.
• Actively bring your awareness into the present by gently ‘pinging’ a band on your wrist, by splashing water on your face, by wrapping yourself in something warm – the physical sensations that are evoked are from the present, the content of the flashback is from the past.