Flashbacks are something that happen to people after a traumatic event. They don’t seem to happen to everyone, but they’re very common for things like sexual assault, physical assault, terror attack, some tragic circumstances and so on.
Memories can sometimes be stored in our senses. We remember smells, sounds, visual cues, how something feels against our skin. During a flashback, something triggers a traumatic memory and bam – we’re instantly transported right back into the moment with all the thoughts and feelings and emotions that go along with it. It could be a fleeting smell, it could be a sound in the background, it could be the way someone near you worded a phrase; sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any reason whatsoever for the flashback. Whatever it was, it has the power to take you out of your current surroundings and transport you back in time to whatever event caused that memory. Along with that are the same feelings of fear, terror, anxiety and panic that might have also been present.
Flashbacks are often a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Some flashbacks can be relatively mild and brief, only lasting a moment before you’re able to refocus and move on with your day. Some flashbacks can be consuming, and last a very long time.
As a general rule, we encourage people to find activities that are soothing and / or calming for them personally. This sometimes means creating specific spaces that they can go to when they need to calm themselves down or regain a sense of emotional control. Some people carry items with them that are soothing. Some people seek out specific activities when stressed (listening to a certain type of music, going for a run). Some do a little of both. It’s important to take the time to learn what is going to work for you so that you have something to draw on when you become anxious, fearful or stressed as a result of memories from a past event.
There are some things you can do that can help you regain control should you have a flashback
1. Tell yourself what is going on. It’s okay to remind yourself that this is a memory and the event is over and gone and you are okay.
2. We often teach individuals some quick grounding techniques. Grounding techniques are common and used to help bring someone back to the present when a memory takes them back into an event from the past. The same way that your senses have brought you back to the event that caused the trauma, your senses can also bring you back to present day. Take a moment and think about (list) five things you can see, you can smell, you can hear, you can touch and you can taste. As you focus on each sense and look for things in your current surroundings you are helping your brain and body bring you back to the present moment where you can work on calming your anxiety and moving forward.
3. Deep breathing. Not quick, but slow big deep breaths. Slow in and slow out. Focus on your breathing and pay attention to your breath. Deep breathing is used by all manner of emergency personnel as an avenue to help others calm down when stressed or anxious.
It is possible to learn how to deal with flashbacks through appropriate counseling and support. While you can’t make a memory go away, you can learn things to help take the power out of the memory so that it doesn’t have quite the same control over your life.