Managing Flashbacks of Traumatic Memories

Traumatic memories are painful, at times debilitating, but you can learn to manage them and to work through them. Flashbacks take many forms. You may experience one or all of these symptoms:

  • Repeated thoughts of a disturbing experience – thoughts that are difficult to let go.
  • Visual images of an event or series of events. These pictures can be frightening.
  • Uncomfortable bodily sensations such as aches, pains, nausea, tightness, changes to breathing and temperature, trembling or shaking.

There are many skills that one can learn to manage and reduce the intensity, frequency, and duration of these flashbacks.

First, you need to remind yourself that this memory is in the past and that, now, in the present, you are safe and well. In order to help yourself to remain in the present, you can connect to your senses. You can focus on things you see, hear, and feel (body sensations). For instance, you can place your focus on an object/image that is right in front of you and notice all the details that you see.

It is important to try not to resist the flashback but to accept its occurrence in the moment. You will be helped by connecting to the sensation of fear/discomfort in your body. For instance, if there is a tightening sensation in your chest, try to stay with that sensation for a few seconds and just notice if anything changes as you do that. Make every effort to stay with the sensation and to divert your attention from your thoughts about the pain or the discomfort. Thoughts can fuel the fear. As much as you are able, try to stay connected to your body. Connecting to your breath and learning breathing techniques will help to calm your mind and your body. One simple breath practice is to inhale with a full belly breath for a count of 4, hold for 4, and exhale for a count of 4. Repeat this practice 4 times. You can also count, hum, and sing as these practices are calming and focus your mind in a different way.

In addition to breath, movement can provide relief i.e. stretches and specific movements to release stuck energy and discomfort can be very helpful. These movements will be explained and demonstrated by your therapist.