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How to Cope with and Stop PTSD Flashbacks?

Learning how to handle PTSD flashbacks is important. Discover techniques to cope with PTSD flashbacks and even to stop PTSD flashbacks, on HealthyPlace.Handling posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) flashbacks can feel impossible at first, but there are techniques to cope with the flashbacks from PTSD, even to the point of stopping them altogether. Of course, therapy and medical treatment for PTSD flashbacks are critical parts of this, but there are PTSD self-help techniques you can use to help deal with PTSD flashbacks too. Flashbacks can decrease in severity and frequency, and some people eliminate them altogether.

Why PTSD Flashbacks Are Hard to Handle

Posttraumatic stress disorder flashbacks can feel very hard to handle because they can pull you out of the present moment to the point where you feel like you’re reliving the trauma. A flashback can create similar levels of stress physically and psychologically as were experienced during the trauma.

How to Handle PTSD Flashbacks When They Happen

It’s important to first realize that flashbacks are not a re-experiencing of the event, but, rather a very vivid memory – something that happened in the past. No matter how real it feels, flashbacks are not trauma happening in the current moment; flashbacks are symptoms of PTSD only.

To help remind yourself that the trauma is past and that you’re safe in the present, changing the verb tense of how you’re thinking or speaking can be helpful. It sounds simplistic but saying, “I was attacked,” rather than, “I’m being attacked,” can actually make a big difference to how a flashback feels.

It is also very important to connect with your body and the current moment when coping with a flashback. This is called grounding.

According to the Manitoba Trauma Information and Education Centre, the following are ways to ground yourself to help deal with PTSD flashbacks:

  • Name the experience as a flashback (e.g., this is a memory and not a recurrence of the actual event)
  • Use language that categorizes the flashbacks as a memory (e.g., I was attacked, rather than I am being attacked)
  • Use the senses to ground yourself in your current environment:
    • Name what you see, feel, hear, smell and taste
    • Rub your hands together
    • Touch, feel the chair that is supporting you
    • Wiggle your toes
    • Remember your favorite color and find three things in the room that are that color
    • Name the date, month, year and season
    • Count backward from 100
    • Use an object as a grounding tool (perhaps something you can carry around with you)

Other coping techniques during a PTSD flashback include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Recognizing what would make you feel safer (e.g., wrapping yourself in a blanket, going in a room and locking the door, etc.)
  • Confide in someone (even though it can be hard to open up)
  • Give yourself time to heal
  • Peer support (such as a support group for those with PTSD)

Stopping Flashbacks by Identifying Triggers

A trigger is something that can initiate or cause a PTSD flashback. While, initially, it may seem like flashbacks are random, really, triggers do exist and you can help stop flashbacks by identifying your triggers. A trigger can be created by any of the five senses.

According to the Rape and Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), to help stop PTSD flashbacks:

  • Be aware of your flashback warning signs. There are typically early physical and emotional warning signs before a flashback. This could be a change in mood, pressure on your chest or sudden sweating. Identifying these can help you stop experiencing a full-blown flashback.
  • Identify your triggers. A flashback may be caused by a memory, a sensory feeling, a reminder of the event or even something stressful that is not related to the original trauma. Once you determine what these triggers are, you can make a plan to avoid these triggers or better deal with them when they occur.

How to Stop Flashbacks from PTSD Caused by Experiences Like Abuse

It’s important to treat flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms with professional help as if left unaddressed, they can worsen over time. Stopping PTSD flashbacks can occur through professional treatment, typically by a psychologist and a psychiatrist (Treatment of PTSD Flashbacks: Can Anything Help?).

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article references

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2018, January 23). How to Cope with and Stop PTSD Flashbacks?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/ptsd-and-stress-disorders/ptsd/how-to-cope-with-and-stop-ptsd-flashbacks

Last Updated: June 5, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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