ways to cope with flashbacks

What is a flashback?

When you experience a traumatic, or ongoing traumatic, events, you may experience flashbacks. This is when you have intrusive memories, feelings, or thoughts about the event and feel like you are back in that moment it happened. You can also feel like they are happening in the present moment. When a flashback occurs, something often triggers the episodic memory of the event that has not been fully processed yet. 

This article will review six ways that you can cope with flashbacks and re-ground yourself to the present moment.

Dual awareness statements

These statements are used as a reminder that what happened is in the past and that you are safe. Examples of this can include: 

  • It’s not happening now.
  • Even though my body is scared, I am safe.
  • Even though my mind is afraid, my mind and body are safe.
  • This is occurring as a symptom of my trauma
  • I am feeling very afraid right now because I am remembering ( event) but I can see that this is not happening right now.
  • It is (date/year), I am ( location), and I am safe.

It can be beneficial in coping with flashbacks to combine dual awareness statements with the other coping skills below

Grounding skills

Grounding techniques are all about activating your 5 senses. This can look like:

  • Naming 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. 
  •  Looking around the room and naming the different colors you see 
  • Noticing your body- your feet on the ground, your butt on the chair, how your clothes feel on your skin
  • Mints, gum, or cold water to eat/drink. Letting it sit on your tongue and notice the sensation and how it smells. 
  • Lavender or essential oils 
Activating your Vagus nerve

I discuss activation of your vagus nerve in this blog post that covers the following skills:

  • Vergence therapy
  • vocal cord activation
  • Deep breathing
  • Dive response
Alternate Nostril Breathing

This type of breath work has shown to reduce anxiety and help with grounding. Alternate nostril breathing can help with keeping both sides of your brain functioning. 

  • Find a comfortable sitting position 
  •  Close the right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through your left nostril for the court of four to five seconds
  • Immediately following this close the left nostril with your right ring finger and little finger while removing your thumb from the right nostril and exhale through this nostril for the count of eight seconds. 
  • Inhale through the right nostril for four seconds. 
  • Close the right nostril with your right thumb and exhale to the count of four seconds. 
6 ways to help cope with flashbacks.

When you yawn, it has shown to improve circulation to your face while relaxing your eyes. It can also counteract shallow panic related breathing that can for some come with flashbacks. Yawning will activate your PNS (parasympathetic nervous system) which is your calming nervous system

  •  Keep in mind, your inhale should be deep and slow followed by a full exhalation. 
Neurovascular hold

The goal of the neuromuscular hold, taught by Linda Curran is to activate blood flow to your prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that is responsible for thinking, decision making, and telling time. 

  • Place one hand on your forehead and one hand on the back of your neck
  •  Hold this position for at least three minutes while breathing deeply 
  •  On your next inhalation raise your head up. On your exhalation tilt your head/chin down towards your chest. 

Blog Disclaimer – These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.

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