Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be overwhelming to live with. It can cause you to experience flashbacks, where you repeatedly relive traumatic events that have taken place in the past.
PTSD flashbacks are incredibly disruptive and can feel unpredictable and unmanageable. It is important to remember that there is support available; you don’t have to live with re-experiencing these painful memories. We have outlined the treatment you can receive at Priory to manage the flashbacks and work towards preventing them from happening in the future.
What are PTSD flashbacks?
As one of the most common signs of PTSD, a flashback is when something triggers you to go back to a past traumatic event. In the moment when you are reliving the memory, you can feel the same emotions you did at the time, act in the same way and even have the same physical sensations.
During a flashback, you may retain a connection with the present moment. They can also be so realistic that it feels as though you are going through the experience again.
Ordinary things can trigger a flashback. A certain name, place or emotion can all be cues that cause you to become immersed once more in the past event.
Managing and preventing PTSD flashbacks
Flashbacks can have a profound effect on your mental health. As they are emotionally charged and seem uncontrollable, your day-to-day life can be considerably impacted. You may find it difficult to do normal daily tasks, as you are worried about setting off a flashback. You may also feel distressed, have a lower mood and feel ashamed or embarrassed of the moments when they happen.
If you are diagnosed with PTSD, there are a number of treatments that are available to help. At Priory, our specialists will be able to talk you through the different options and work with you to recommend the most suitable treatment. These can include the following:
Prolonged exposure (PE) for PTSD
PE teaches you to gradually approach trauma-related memories, feelings and situations that you have been avoiding since your trauma. By talking through and confronting them, you can work towards decreasing your symptoms and regaining more control of your life.
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) for PTSD
EMDR helps you process and make sense of your trauma while paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound (like a finger waving side to side, a light or a tone). It can help your brain to process the memories and emotions that have been supressed, and relieve negative thoughts.
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) for PTSD
CPT teaches you how to change the upsetting thoughts and feelings you have had about yourself and the world since your trauma, so you no longer miss out on the things you once enjoyed.
Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
CBT can teach you techniques that help you stay in the present so that you can manage the overwhelming feelings caused by PTSD. It also gives you the opportunity to make sense of how you felt at the time of the experience, and decide on how to feel about yourself now.
Group therapy/Supportive psychotherapy
Talking to other PTSD sufferers can help you recognise that you are not alone. You can support one another, learn coping strategies and express how you feel, which you may not have been able to do before. This can increase your confidence and trust, which in turn can help you to focus more on the present rather than the past.
Combined with other treatment, mindfulness can be an effective way of reducing the frequency and intensity of flashbacks in the long term. You learn how to slow down and focus on the present, so you can deal with emotions as they occur and have more control of your day-to-day life.
Compassion focused therapy
Flashbacks can often be painful and shaming. Compassion focused therapy works to help you develop and work with feelings of self-soothing, inner warmth and safeness in memories, and reduce self-critical cycles by introducing you to compassionate self-talk.