What is a flashback?

A flashback is when memories of a past trauma feel as if they are taking place in the current moment. That means it’s possible to feel like the experience of sexual violence is happening all over again. During a flashback it can be difficult to connect with reality. It may even feel like the perpetrator is physically present.

Flashbacks may seem random at first. They can be triggered by fairly ordinary experiences connected with the senses, like the smell of someone,  a particular tone of voice. It’s a normal response to trauma, and there are steps you can take to help manage the stress of a flashback.

What helps during a flashback?

If you realize that you are in the middle of a flashback, try the following if you are able:

  • Tell yourself that you are having a flashback.Remind yourself that the actual event is over and that you survived, this a memory, this is not happening now.
  • Put your feet firmly on the floor, remind yourself of the here and now, where you are.
  • Take slow, deep breaths, four counts in and six counts out. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, try and make your exhale longer than your inhale. When we panic, our body begins to take short, shallow breaths, and the decrease in oxygen can heighten your anxiety. Deep breathing is important because it increases the oxygen in your system and helps you move out of your anxious state faster.
  • Return to the present by using your five senses, we call this technique a ‘grounding’ technique and this one specifically 5,4,3,2,1 grounding. 
  1. Say out loud 5 things you can see around you.
  2. Say out loud 4 things you can feel.
  3. Say out loud 3 things you can hear.
  4. Say out loud 2 things you can smell
  5. Say out loud 1 thing you can taste.
  • Recognize what would make you feel safer.Wrap yourself in a blanket, or go into a room by yourself and close the door. Do whatever it takes for you to feel secure. Don’t push yourself to do things after a flashback, be kind to yourself, look after yourself
  • Get support, let your friends or family know what’s happened and let them help if they can.
  • Write it down. If you feel able to write down the flashback and what happened directly beforehand, this will help you identify the ‘trigger’ and will help gain understanding of where the memory came from.
  • Be aware of the warning signs. Flashbacks sometimes feel as though they come out of nowhere, but there are often early physical or emotional warning signs. These signs could include a change in mood, feeling pressure in your chest, or suddenly sweating. Becoming aware of the early signs of flashbacks may help you manage or prevent them.