How To Cope With Flashbacks and Dissociation in PTSD
Those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) struggle to cope with the flashbacks and dissociation which are often the result when triggers remind them of the traumatic event or events.
It is not always easy to know what will trigger you as they have no warning and what triggered you one time is not necessarily what will trigger you again.
Flashbacks and dissociation are disruptive and at times extremely difficult to manage. There are steps you can take to better manage these and stay in the present.
When a flashback occurs you relive the event, these can sometimes be short perhaps seconds whereas others last longer and you become disconnected to the present. For example, certain smells can be a trigger, so a rape survivor will smell what their assailant was wearing and the violation and pain will become present and real for them.
With the disconnection from a long flashback comes dissociation and you lost touch with your surroundings, you are no longer in reality but reliving the past, a bit like a daydream and you lose time and feel like you are living outside your body.
Know Your Triggers
Coping is the key to preventing flashbacks and dissociation. If certain places or people trigger you then avoid going there or spending time with those people. If a certain smell triggers you avoid where you may smell them or walk away as quickly as possible when you get the first impact of the smell.
Identify Early Warning Signs
There usually are some warning signs which if you sit and think back to the last few episodes you will begin to notice. For example, as you are slipping into a flashback your surroundings may start to look fuzzy, sound may be distorted and you feel as if you have slipped through time. Make a note of what you were thinking and feeling at the time.
Learn Grounding Techniques
Grounding is essential to aiding you with coping with your flashbacks and dissociation. You use your five senses (sound, touch, smell, taste, and sight), to connect with your present state, they help you concentrate on yourself and you will focus on the grounding rather than allowing the flashbacks to take over.
Sound: Turn on loud music.
Put on loud music it is hard to ignore the loud thumping bass, because of this your mind will concentrate on the noise and keep you in the present.
Touch: Grip a piece of ice.
Holding a piece of ice tight in your hands makes your hands wet quickly and your hands will begin to ache from the cold, you will feel the desire to get rid of the ice and dry your hands and to then rub your hands together to get them warm.
Smell: Sniff some strong peppermint.
Have a strong-smelling essential oil peppermint has a very strong smell to it. This will aid you in keeping the present and will slow down the flashback whilst you get to the taste grounding.
Taste: Bite into a lemon.
Having something really sour will fire off your taste buds and when you bite down your brain will be too busy focusing on the sour taste for the flashbacks to take over.
Sight: Take an inventory of everything around you.
Drink some water after the lemon and as you do so look around you, recite the colors you see, count the chairs, walk from room to room doing this until you find yourself feeling settled and past the threat of a flashback.
I have a grounding box in my purse and one in my kitchen and I use it when I need to, you won’t need to do all 5 groundings to settle you, it just depends on what you need personally.
Enlist the Help of Others
If you know that you have to attend a function which could cause you to trigger for example a work event, take someone with you who you trust to be there to support you and if need be move you away until you are grounded again.
The only true way to prevent flashbacks and dissociation is to work with your doctor and therapist as part of your treatment plan, medication isn’t the only answer and finding yourself empowered to control what triggers you and how you cope goes a long way to your recovery.