Coping with flashbacks and dissociation in PTSD

Understanding flashbacks

Flashbacks are considered one of the re-experiencing symptoms of PTSD. It involves vividly re-experiencing a traumatic event and may occur suddenly and unexpectedly in response to triggers that reminds you of the trauma.

Understanding dissociation

Dissociation is an experience where you may feel disconnected from yourself and/ or your surroundings. It may range from temporarily losing touch with things that are going on around you, to having no memories for a prolonged period of time and/ or feeling as though you are outside of your body.

Know your triggers

Flashbacks and dissociation are often triggered or cued by some kind of reminder of a traumatic event. Knowing your triggers will allow you to be able to limit your exposure to those triggers or prepare for them by devising ways to cope with your reaction to those triggers.

Identify early warning signs

It will be easier to cope with and prevent flashbacks and dissociation if you can identify some early signs. Next time you experience an episode, revisit what you were feeling and thinking just before the flashback or dissociation occurred. These early signs includes:
1. Your surroundings may begin to look fuzzy
2. You may feel as though you're separating from or losing touch with your surroundings, other people, or even yourself

Learn grounding techniques

Grounding is a particular way of coping that is designed to “ground” you in the present moment. This will retain your connection with the present moment and reduce the likelihood that you slip into a flashback or dissociation.
To use grounding techniques, use your five senses (sound, touch, smell, taste and sight) to bring your attention to the present moment.

Enlist the help of others

If you know that you may be at risk for a flashback or dissociation by going into a certain situation, bring along some trusted support. Make sure they are aware of your triggers and know how to tell and what to do when you are entering a flashback or dissociative state.

Seek treatment

The best way to prevent flashbacks and dissociation is to seek out treatment. There are several different types of psychotherapy for treating PTSD and reducing symptoms of flashbacks and dissociation. These include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR). In addition, some medications may be prescribed to help manage other different symptoms of PTSD.

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