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Dealing With Flashbacks or Flooding

When flashbacks or flooding occur, many survivors do not know how to deal with the intensity of their feelings. During the first week of treatment I give my clients a homework assignment: Develop an emergency list that tells you how to take care of yourself in times of flashbacks, flooding, or crisis. The list should contain 10-15 items.

I encourage clients to carry their lists with them at all times and to have them posted in prominent places throughout their homes, workplaces, and cars. When flachbacks occur, and they will, go through the list as many times as you need to de-escalate the feelings. Some people need a second list of activities that they can do in their work setting, so be sure to prepare for that.

Here are some things you might want to put on your list:

  1. Sit up straight with your feet on the floor. Inhale through your nose, count to ten, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat 5 times.

  2. Find a safe place to be with your feelings.

  3. Talk about what you are experiencing with someone who is really listening and is not afraid to ask questions.

  4. Remind yourself that you are safe. Tell yourself that you are remembering what happened in the past and that you are in the present--safe.

  5. Journal: Write down what you saw, how it felt, and what you are currently feeling.

  6. Tell yourself that you are not going crazy. Flashbacks are part of the healing process. They are not going to make you crazy, even though it feels that way.

  7. Do 3 things on your self-care list.

  8. Do something physical, such as walking or running in place, pounding your fists on a pillow, or shredding newspaper.

  9. Call someone in your support system. This may be someone from group, a recovery partner or an intimate partner. If your support person is unavailable, try calling a local crisis line for support.

  10. Ground yourself with an object of empowerment and safety. Many survivors carry a special rock that they can hold onto to ground themselves.

  11. If you have gone through this list 3 times and are still feeling intense emotions related to flooding, flashbacks or a personal crisis, put in a call to your therapist. It is likely that your therapist will not be available the moment you call. Keep working through your list until you feel better and/or your therapist calls back.

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    Copyright Wendy Ann Wood, MA, from "Triumph over Darkness". The above information is presented for educational purposes only, and it is not a substitute for informed medical advice or training. Reprinted with permission from Beyond Words Publishing.

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