Life is not the way it's supposed to be. It's the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.
The methods you can use to cope with PTSD flashbacks and triggers depend on the type of flashback you're having and how intense it is.
Sometimes, the emotions and memories associated with flashbacks can be so intense that you may want to hurt yourself or even contemplate suicide. If that's the case, seek help immediately.
- Phone your doctor or therapist
- Phone a close friend or family member
- Do not stay alone, unless you must.
- If you are feeling truly suicidal, phone 9-1-1 or go to the closest emergency room.
Some other methods
1. Hold onto a special object, put your feet on the ground, touch something around you, or hold someone's hand to bring yourself back into the here and now.
2. Remind yourself that you're safe now; the traumatic event isn't happening again.
3. Listen to soothing music.
4. Write in your journal.
5. One of my favorites: get your partner (if you have one) to lie beside you and hold your hand or massage your neck or back.
6. Go for a walk.
7. Do an easy and repetitive activity. Some suggestions include playing solitaire, knitting, doing crossword puzzles: basically anything that provides a distraction.
8. Practice deep breathing. Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth, making whatever noise feels good on the exhale.
10. Give yourself permission to feel terrible. Struggling only makes things worse.
When I have strong flashbacks or encounter a disturbing or unexpected trigger, I turn to The PTSD Workbook. I particularly recommend Chapter 4: Helping Yourself When You Reexperience a Trauma. This chapter has helped me on many occasions.
Here's a great article on 18 Ways to Cope with PTSD Flashbacks that has more excellent suggestions.
Long Term Coping
Long term there are other important practices that you can use to become prepared, so that when the flashbacks come, they aren't as strong. The more you know about what's happening and what to do, the more in control you should feel and the less overwhelmed. Here are some practices that I have found to be particularly useful.
- Educate yourself about PTSD. When it comes to PTSD, ignorance is definitely not bliss.
- Practice relaxation techniques, either formal or informal ones. Some good ones include restorative yoga, quigong, tai chi, meditation, and walking meditation.
- Exercise regularly. Swim, walk, hike, cycle: get moving and get your endorphins up.
- Singing and music can be very helpful practices: they have helped me tremendously.
- See a therapist or your family doctor.
- Keep a journal.
- Talk to friends or family members.
- Find a support group. (Be cautious, however. More on this later.)
- Practice self-kindness.
This last thing is the most important of all! Don't beat up on yourself if you encounter a trigger and have a flashback or feel really bad. It's not your fault!! Learning to cope is a skill like any other and it takes time and a great deal of courage and persistence. Maybe, we won't become like the lovely Buddha above, but life will get better. On the other hand, you will probably never completely "get over" your PTSD. I know that even when I'm feeling relaxed and enjoying life, I still find myself looking over my shoulder or expecting something "bad" to happen. Not constantly, but sometimes. It goes with the territory of my life. Will I get beyond this someday? Who knows. Just two days ago, I had to cancel dinner with one of my best friends because I'd had a bad day dealing with a medical crisis with my mother, who's in the hospital with pneumonia. Then my son and his girlfriend hosted a party for a friend who's going away and seeing all those beautiful young people, was a trigger. I was happy for them, but sad for myself that my own high school sweetheart and I had to go through so much together and are now estranged. And so, instead of going to dinner, I went upstairs, shut my door, and read a book. Sometimes, however, I just let myself feel sad and it was okay. Here are some final words to ponder from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
from Oh, earth wait for me
I want to go back to being what I haven't been,
to learn to return from such depths that among all natural things I may live or not live.
I don't mind being one stone more, the dark stone, the pure stone that the river bears away.
by Pablo Neruda
How do you cope with PTSD flashbacks? I'd love to hear your story.