Trauma can continue to affect an individual long after the initial traumatic event has ended. These life-changing experiences stay in a person’s mind, informing their perspective, behaviors, and attitude as well as the development of addiction or mental health disorders. Commonly, one lasting symptom that an individual may experience from trauma is flashbacks. Any kind of profound trauma such as illness, physical injury, car accidents, sexual assault, armed conflict and more can cause an individual to experience flashbacks. While anyone can experience trauma, veterans of the armed forces are at an increased risk of being exposed to such traumatic experiences. Unfortunately, the effects of trauma can persist well into civilian life in many ways, including pervasive flashbacks, that affect daily life.
What Are Flashbacks?
Flashbacks are a complex and profound symptom of trauma. They can manifest in anyone who has experienced trauma but tend to be especially common for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This intense symptom of trauma can cause an individual to constantly relive or see images in their minds from a traumatic event, contributing to emotions such as intense panic, anxiety, stress, and more. Learning how to navigate distressing flashbacks can be exceptionally challenging. It can be difficult to prepare for and process such harrowing images, especially if they feel like they may surface at any time.
Common symptoms of flashbacks include:
- Hearing sounds associated with one’s trauma
- Feeling physical pains, aches, or pressure
- Noticing smells or tastes associated with a traumatic event
- Manifestation of one’s emotions during a traumatic event, such as fear, panic, anxiety, or more
- Seeing whole or fractured images of one’s traumatic event
- Other physical responses, such as increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, and more
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While some may experience flashbacks seemingly at random, others may have specific triggers that can cause them to manifest. Familiar smells or sounds can bring back these images, and one’s mind can also misinterpret sounds to cause flashbacks. For example, otherwise innocuous things, such as a loud knock on the door, can trigger veterans’ memories of an active warzone, bringing related flashbacks and causing an individual to react to this altered perception of reality.
Passing by areas associated with one’s trauma can also bring flashbacks, such as driving on a road where one was in a major vehicular accident. For others, certain times of day or year can influence when one experiences flashbacks as well as their intensity. Flashbacks can even trigger chronic pains in individuals who have experienced trauma.
Professional treatment for challenging flashbacks is necessary to process this intense symptom of trauma and to avoid other self-destructive practices or coping strategies. The use of drugs or alcohol to placate these images and feelings is common, but also incredibly dangerous. Dedicated, trauma-informed treatment is paramount for navigating trauma, and addiction and for understanding the forces behind flashbacks.
Flashbacks can cause an individual to experience their traumas repeatedly. In other words, they can cause a person to feel as if they have been taken back in time to experience their trauma all over again. There is nothing easy about processing and overcoming these experiences. However, developing dedicated strategies is essential to help those healing from trauma to focus on their present rather than feeling engulfed by images and memories of the past.
Practice Breathing Techniques
Effective breathing techniques are a practiced skill, and employing effective breathing strategies can help those navigating flashbacks to resituate themselves in a shared sense of reality. Taking a moment to focus on one’s own breathing pattern can be an incredibly effective strategy for grounding oneself amidst any kind of stress. Focusing on a person’s own breathing can also empower those experiencing a flashback to focus on themselves and their responses. This can provide time for those navigating flashbacks to make an informed decision about how to react to such experiences, rather than acting out of desperation or impulse.
Ground Yourself in Time and Space
Flashbacks can cause an individual to feel transported back to the time and place of their most profound, traumatic experiences. Being able to remind oneself that such events are in the distant past is a crucial skill. For some, reminding oneself of the time or date is necessary. Focusing on a clock or calendar, or using other reminders of one’s present can challenge these feelings and resituate oneself in a grounded sense of reality in time and space.
Naming objects in one’s vicinity can also reinforce this notion. Identifying things in the room, such as a window, lamp, curtain, or couch, and touching these objects can all challenge one’s perception and ground oneself in a safer physical and emotional state.
Use an Anchor
Anchor objects are small objects that help to situate oneself in reality. For example, a memento of a lost loved one or other important object can have great power in navigating flashbacks. Ascribing profound meaning to these objects and carrying them throughout the day can be another reminder that one’s traumas are in the past, not the present. Keeping small objects in a person’s wallet, purse, or even a photo on their phone can all be effective anchors.
Talk About Flashbacks
Flashbacks are difficult, and often incredibly scary. Talking with professionals about how it felt, when and where it happened, and any other information can help to identify particular stresses that may be unique to each individual. Engaging in dedicated treatment programs and working with trauma-informed professionals can help establish skills to navigate flashbacks while also helping prevent future flashbacks from continuing to affect one’s daily life, mental health, or use of addictive substances.
Flashbacks are a complicated, lingering effect of trauma, and veterans of the armed forces can be uniquely susceptible to its effects, even long after they have been discharged and are navigating civilian life. At Hawaii Island Recovery, we understand that your time in the military can profoundly affect your health in civilian life, and our dedicated Hawaii rehabilitation is committed to serving the unique challenges of the veteran community. From helping you process trauma and navigate flashbacks to addressing the use of addictive substances in our Hawaii drug and alcohol treatment centers, we can create an effective, personalized recovery plan for you. For more information on how we can help you begin your healing journey, call us at (866) 390-5070.