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Coping With PTSD: Flashbacks


Flashbacks are a prevalent problem with those who have PTSD and is something many struggle to cope with. They make you act or feel as if you are experiencing a traumatic event all over again, and let me tell you, it SUCKS. There are varying degrees of flashbacks, an awareness of the present moment may be maintained, or you could be completely engulfed in the traumatic event and have no awareness of your current surroundings at all. You may also experience something similar to flashbacks called dissociation, which is where you feel disconnected from yourself and/or your surroundings. As with flashbacks, you can maintain partial awareness or be totally enveloped by it. This is one I personally experience very frequently, usually I get triggered while driving and completely disconnect from the world, eventually “waking up” at my destination having no memory of how I got there.

Both flashbacks and dissociation may happen from encountering triggers, now if you don’t know what your triggers are then this can end up being a big problem. In order to help prevent these highly disruptive experiences there are a few methods you can utilize: first off-know your triggers, second-learn to identify early warning signs, and third- learn grounding techniques. If you use all of these methods you will not only be able to prevent your flashbacks or dissociation, but if you get caught by surprise you can bring yourself out of it.

Know Your Triggers

  • When dealing flashbacks and dissociation prevention is key. These two are often triggered by some sort of reminder of a traumatic event. By knowing your triggers you can prevent yourself from being exposed to certain situations, places, people, etc. But in the all too likely event that you cannot prevent yourself from being exposed to your triggers then you can prepared for them by figuring out ways to cope with your reaction to your triggers.

Identify Early Warning Signs

It may feel like flashbacks and dissociation come and hit you unexpectedly and randomly like lightning, but there are some early warning signs that people often start experiencing when a flashback comes on. For example, one may start feeling “fuzzy” or begin to feel disconnected from themselves, their surroundings, or other people. This is the real important part so listen up, YOU have to increase YOUR awareness and catch on to YOUR early warning signs, it’s all relative to the individual and what each person feels. So the next time you get sucked into a flashback or dissociation, revisit what you were feeling and thinking just before the flashback or dissociation appeared and write it down. Write down as many early symptoms as you can identify any time you have a flashback or dissociation and this will help you to prevent future episodes.

Learn Grounding Techniques

Grounding techniques are methods of coping meant to keep you in the present moment. Staying in the present moment can keep you from slipping into a flashback or dissociation episode when you feel it coming on by identifying the early warning signs. In order to ground yourself you want to connect to the here and now using the five senses, here are some ways to do that.


 Loud, obnoxious music will be hard to ignore, it will keep you out of your head and grounded to the present moment.

  • Touch: Freeze your balls off

We all have that family member or friend that dumps ice down your back, remember how shocking it is? Impossible to ignore right? That is the point, and although it may not be the most flattering method, there is no way you can ignore ice on your testicles. Sorry ladies, I can’t say if it will have the same effect for you.

  • Smell: Fry your nostrils

Scent is a powerful sense, if you overwhelm it with a strong scent it will keep you in the present. Heard of smelling salts? They can wake up someone who has gone unconscious just by how powerful the scent is. I don’t really recommend using smelling salts, a method a little less harsh on the nostrils would be smelling some strong peppermint or putting your face into a jar of Vick’s Vapo Rub, that should do the trick.

  • Taste: Pucker up

Ever had something so sour it made your whole face pucker? How likely would you be able to ignore something like that? Not very likely so if you catch an early warning sign and there’s not a whole lot at your disposal and you see a lemon, well, grab that little yellow devil and take a big ol’ bite. Your mind won’t be focused on anything other than how ridiculously sour that lemon is, episode averted.

  • Sight: Be a perv

You could take inventory of every item around you and of every sound you hear, but that’s a bit too boring for me. Its time to go back to the days of when you were 13 and you first found your dad’s stash of magazines under the bed, the only thing that could break your concentration from those pages was the footsteps of your parents impending approach. Grab a magazine and get absorbed into taking inventory of everything you see in there, you get to avoid a flashback or dissociation and have a good time doing it.

All in all, these methods will help you reduce and prevent your flashbacks or dissociation, but I highly recommend seeking professional help too.

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Sean Culver
Sean’s fascination with Martial Arts began when he was a child going to karate classes in a gym at a local school in Lake Forest, CA. Although his training was cut short, his passion was not. Over the years he became active in competitive wrestling where he took first place in almost all tournaments he competed in. Upon graduating High School Sean felt a higher calling to serve in the military, more specifically, the Army Airborne Infantry. During his time in service he trained in Modern Army Combatives, which is based largely on Brazilian Jui-Jitsu, as well as extensive training on military weapons and tactics. Due to his mental and physical prowess he was sent to intensive training for hand to hand combat tactics where he honed his skills for combat in full battle attire. Having done over two years of combat time in Afghanistan, Sean can bring to light a new side of fighting and tactics that he has not only experienced first hand, but has employed while being in direct contact with the enemy. In addition to Modern Army Combatives, Sean has also trained in Muay Thai, Boxing, and Wing Chun. With as much as Sean loves the Martial Arts, it was only natural that competitive fighting and MMA would draw him into its world of high class fighters.