Treating Flashbacks With Cbt
Psychotherapists can deploy many treatments to help you manage Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms, like flashbacks. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy , is one of the most effective. During the early part of your therapy, a trained therapist will use the trauma as a focal point to narrow down what triggers your flashback. They will then work with you to replace unhelpful thoughts corresponding to the flashback. Examples include, I am powerless, It was my fault, or something bad could happen at any time. We work to introduce positive thinking to balance and outweigh negative thought patterns.
As part of your treatment, your therapist may also use Exposure Therapy to acclimatize your tolerance to the offending memory. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing works in a similar fashion, where you direct your attention to a sound or visual place in the room while recalling memories. Theoretically, the distraction reprograms your reaction to memories.
Regardless of specific modalities, a good trauma-informed therapist will help you to visualize the dynamic between your thoughts, emotions and behaviour. You will train your brain to redirect the cascading sequence so it does not culminate in flashbacks. Where needed, your therapist will also inject additional techniques to help you cope with stress, like mindfulness training and visualization.
What Happens To Different Parts Of The Brain
Memory is a complex process that involves many parts of your brain, but to keep it simple, well focus on two of the key players: the amygdala and the hippocampus. The amygdala is associated with emotional memory especially the formation of fear-related memories. It evolved to ensure your survival by strongly encoding memories of past dangers youve experienced so that you recognize and respond to those threats if you see them again.The hippocampus, the other region of your brain heavily involved in memory, acts like the brains historian. It catalogs all the different details of an experience who was there, where it happened, and what time of day it was into one cohesive event you can consciously recollect as a memory. In your typical, day-to-day life, your amygdala and hippocampus work together to turn your experiences into distinct long-term memories.However, during a traumatic event this system works a bit differently. Because you are in danger, your bodys built in fight-or-flight mechanism takes over and your amygdala is over-activated while the hippocampus is suppressed. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense: the processes involved in building a cohesive memory are deprioritized in favor of paying attention to the immediate danger. As a result, your memory becomes jumbled.
Causes Of Ptsd Flashbacks
People can develop PTSD after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event , threatened abuse, or a life-threatening event any event that induces significant distress.1 When an individual encounters something that reminds them of the trauma, this can trigger a flashback.
These triggers or reminders can take the form of different senses . For example, seeing a person from a distance who reminds you of a person who attacked you may be a trigger. Similarly, hearing a loud noise may remind you of a gunshot if you were a victim. Evidently, there is a broad range of ways a flashback can be triggered in an individual.1
Several risk factors for PTSD include:1,2,3
- Longstanding trauma or multiple traumatic events also known as complex PTSD
- Severe or intense traumatic events
- Natural disasters, wars, terrorist attacks
- Having a personal or family history of trauma
- Having a personal or family history of mental health challenges or disorders
- Working in a field that is prone to trauma
- Limited coping skills and protective factors
- Minimal social supports
- Minimal hope for the future and disbelief over ones ability to cope with the trauma
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Dealing With The Onset Of Flashbacks
Flashbacks are major PTSD intrusive thoughts and a common PTSD symptom. Theyre considered one of the re-experiencing symptoms of PTSD.
If youve ever had a flashback, you know it can feel as though your traumatic event is happening all over again. Thinking that you were facing the original threat, you may have reacted suddenly and aggressively, trying to escape or protect yourself. You may even have injured yourself or others before the flashback ended. Like others with PTSD, you may be looking for ways to reduce your risk of flashbacks. Learning more about your flashback triggers may help you prevent some of them.
If you or a loved one are struggling with PTSD, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
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How Do I Prevent Flashbacks
You may be able to take steps to prevent future flashbacks by identifying warning signs and triggers:
- Be aware of the warning signs.
Flashbacks sometimes feel as though they come out of nowhere, but there are often early physical or emotional warning signs. These signs could include a change in mood, feeling pressure in your chest, or suddenly sweating. Becoming aware of the early signs of flashbacks may help you manage or prevent them.
- Identify what experiences trigger your flashbacks.
Flashbacks can be triggered by a sensory feeling, an emotional memory, a reminder of the event, or even an unrelated stressful experience. Identify the experiences that trigger your flashbacks. If possible, make a plan on how to avoid these triggers or how to cope if you encounter the trigger.
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Grounding Techniques You Can Try
You can learn to ground yourself when you start to feel a PTSD panic attack or flashback about to happen. It is a coping method that therapists teach to help you bring yourself back from a flashback or attack.
- Touch: Hold something in your hand that can remind you of where you are. Take your grounding item with you wherever you go and if you sense a PTSD hallucination coming on, grip your grounding item to bring you back to the present.
- Taste: Take a bite of a strong-tasting candy or food like peppermint or lemon. The strong sensation you get can get you grounded back into the present.
- Sound: Put on some headphones and blast some music. Any kind of music. As long as it is loud. Having loud music in your ears is hard to ignore so you will be busy paying attention to the music rather than focusing on your flashback.
- Smell: Take a whiff of strong perfume or a strong essential oil. Having something like that in your nose will bring you back to the present. This stops you from paying attention to the flashback.
- Vision: Look around you and focus on everything you see, naming each item as you go along. Concentrate on the colors of the items or the number of pieces of furniture in the room. Anything to break your attention from your impending flashback.
Talking About The Trauma Can Be Important
- Allow the person to talk about what happened, even if they become upset. Just be calm yourself and listen carefully getting upset too doesnt help.
- Dont insist on talking if the person doesnt want to. They may need time to be alone with their thoughts. Tell them you are there to listen whenever they feel ready.
- Reassure them you care and want to understand as much as possible about what happened to them. They may say you cant possibly understand what they went through and shut you out. If they take this approach, they risk becoming isolated from their support networks. Be patient and see what else you can do to help.
- Try to make sure there is someone else they can talk to if they dont want to talk to you about it.
- If there are some difficult decisions to be made, talk about the situation with the person and help them to identify the different options. However, dont make the decision for them. Also, if it is only a short time after the traumatic event, suggest that it might be a good idea to wait a little longer before making a decision.
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Coping If You Feel Unsafe
If your thoughts or memories are making you feel unsafe, there are things you can do:
- Make a safety planThis could include things you can do to calm down, a list of who to talk to and what to do in an emergency.
- Talk to someone you trust, like your parents or carersOther people can help you feel connected to what’s happening now and not the flashback, and they can stop you feeling like you’re alone.
- Find out more about what happenedUnderstanding more about what happened and how you can stay safe in the future can help you to feel more in control.
- Talk to ChildlineChildline counsellors are here to listen to you and support you no matter what’s happening.
Remember that in an emergency you can always call .
Triggers Of Past Trauma
In order to help cope with flashbacks, its very helpful to know what your triggers are. For example, being around certain people or going to specific places/events may trigger flashbacks of past trauma. I dont suggest you avoid these things, although people who have experienced trauma often do, I just recommend that try to learn what your triggers are so that youre better prepared to handle them.
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What Happens In Your Brain During A Ptsd Flashback
Haunted by nightmares unable to shake memories of explosions, death, and visions of war veterans can struggle with these images, even while awake. Many experience feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger confused about how to make sense of what they have witnessed. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder often makes it hard for soldiers to return to normal life.
Although people often associate PTSD with veterans affected by the horrors of war, the condition can develop in anyone who has experienced a dangerous, shocking, or life-threatening event such as rape, childhood abuse, or a serious accident. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD will affect 6.8% of U.S. adults in their lifetime. With gun violence on the rise in the United States, survivors of mass shootings and those who reside near a mass shooting might also experience these symptoms, as fireworks can often sound like a gunshot.PTSD is defined by symptoms like panic attacks, depression, and insomnia, but one of the most characteristic and debilitating symptoms of PTSD involves flashbacks, the feeling of re-experiencing a traumatic event. During 4th of July festivities, fireworks the sound, the smell, the smoke in the air can trigger flashbacks to those suffering from combat related PTSD, or PTSD related to gun violence.
Managing And Preventing Ptsd Flashbacks
Post-traumatic stress disorder can be overwhelming to live with. It can cause you to experience flashbacks, where you repeatedly relive traumatic events that have taken place in the past.
PTSD flashbacks are incredibly disruptive and can feel unpredictable and unmanageable. It is important to remember that there is support available you dont have to live with re-experiencing these painful memories. We have outlined the treatment you can receive at Priory to manage the flashbacks and work towards preventing them from happening in the future.
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Recognize When You Need Professional Help
While you may be able to deal with occasional partial flashbacks, severe PTSD flashbacks often indicate a need for professional help. An experienced mental health professional can advise you about available therapies and help you work toward regaining control of your life. Signs that you may want to seek help to deal with PTSD include:
- You experience flashbacks frequently or they continue to occur for many weeks, months or years.
- You have difficulty pulling yourself out of flashbacks when they happen.
- Flashbacks are affecting your everyday life and your relationships with others.
If youre ready to start your recovery journey after a traumatic experience, contact us at Restore using the online form or call 546-7284.
Why Does Ptsd Cause Nightmares
Many experts theorize dreams are a part of the sleep process that helps you store memories and learning experiences.
Some 2018 research supports this theory and suggests you experience the most extreme dream activity when your brain is processing emotionally intense experiences.
Because of this, researchers suggest dreams may be a way of dampening the effects of potentially overwhelming situations.
When it comes to PTSD nightmares, however, what you dream can be just as terrifying as the original event.
As with the nature of dreams themselves, the exact link between PTSD and nightmares is unclear.
Some experts believe nightmares in PTSD are the sleeping version of re-experiencing, or reliving a traumatic event.
When youre awake, reexperiencing may occur in the form of a flashback.
These intrusive symptoms have to do with how PTSD changes brain regions involved in fear response and memory recall.
PTSD can create a state of hypersensitivity in the brain, which may increase fixation on traumatic events, keeping them fresh in memory.
When theyre constantly on your mind, you may be more likely to have nightmares about them.
The same brain changes may also impact dreaming.
PTSD nightmares arent the same as flashbacks, though they share similarities.
Both of these experiences are intrusive symptoms of PTSD, and both are forms of reexperiencing traumatic events.
Your senses can be telling you a flashback is an actual event.
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The Healing Book Club
Today, CPTSD Foundation would like to invite you to our healing book club, reading a new book that began in September. The title of the latest featured book is The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.
Led by Sabra Cain, the healing book club is only $7 per month. The fee goes towards scholarships for those who cannot afford access to materials offered by CPTSD Foundation.
Should you decide to join the Healing Book Club, please purchase your books through our to help us help you.
All our services are reasonably priced, and some are even free. So, to gain more insight into how complex post-traumatic stress disorder is altering your life and how you can overcome it, sign-up we will be glad to help you. If you cannot afford to pay, go to www.cptsdfoundation.org/scholarship to apply for aid. We only wish to serve you.
Communication Pitfalls To Avoid
- Give easy answers or blithely tell your loved one everything is going to be okay.
- Stop your loved one from talking about their feelings or fears.
- Offer unsolicited advice or tell your loved one what they should do.
- Blame all of your relationship or family problems on your loved ones PTSD.
- Invalidate, minimize, or deny your loved ones traumatic experience
- Give ultimatums or make threats or demands.
- Make your loved one feel weak because they arent coping as well as others.
- Tell your loved one they were lucky it wasnt worse.
- Take over with your own personal experiences or feelings.
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How To Handle Ptsd Flashbacks When They Happen
Its 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 youre safe in the present, changing the verb tense of how youre thinking or speaking can be helpful. It sounds simplistic but saying, I was attacked, rather than, Im 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
- Use language that categorizes the flashbacks as a memory
- 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
You Are Not Going Crazy
Remember that flashbacks are a common symptom for people who have experienced trauma. You are not going crazy. Something bad happened to you and has left a lasting impression in your brain. These grounding skills are a great way to cope with flashbacks but the best way to prevent them is to get professional help. The fact that you are experiencing flashbacks is a sign that you are struggling to cope with the traumatic event you experienced.
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Ptsd Flashbacks And How The Past Is Relived In The Present Moment
Keywords: PTSD Flashbacks.
The experience of time changes drastically when you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Complex Trauma.
Events, people or circumstances can suddenly trigger an emotional response that brings the emotional residue of your experienced trauma right to the surface in the here and now. Often, it is very difficult to distinguish that your trigger and the emotional responses that come with it relate to your experienced trauma of the past, as your brain projects the danger almost perfectly onto the situation or person at hand in the present.