When you have experienced trauma your memories are not processed properly, which means that you might experience a flashback. A flashback is not like a normal memory, but more like re-experiencing what happened – you might feel like it is actually happening again, as if you are back in that place with all the sounds, smells, and physical sensations of the experience. A flashback can be triggered by anything that reminds the part of your brain that reacts to danger (the amygdala) of what you experienced: a sound, a smell, a place, a person who looks like the person who hurt you. It is a scary thing to go through, but the young survivors we work with have given us some tips about how to manage them.
Tips for managing flashbacks:
- Doing things that stimulate your senses can remind your brain where it is in the here and now. This could be turning on your favourite band, spraying perfume, eating a mint, or looking around you and naming everything you can see.
- Remind yourself that you are experiencing a flashback and you are safe. Try saying it out loud.
- Practice 7/11 breathing: breathe in for seven seconds and out for eleven. This stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system to help your body feel calm.
- Do something physical to take yourself out of your mind and into your body: jumping up and down, going for a walk/run or stretching.
- Try to work out what your triggers are: maybe take some notes about what was happening when you had a flashback and any sounds, smells or sensations that were going on. The more you understand your triggers, the more manageable they become.
- Give yourself time out after the flashback is over. Wrap yourself in a blanket, eat something comforting.