How PTSD makes you feel:
You may be reliving aspects of what happened
This can include:
- vivid flashbacks (feeling like the trauma is happening right now)
- intrusive thoughts or images
- intense distress at real or symbolic reminders of the trauma
- physical sensations such as pain, sweating, nausea or trembling.
Alertness or feeling on edge
This can include:
- panicking when reminded of the trauma
- being easily upset or angry
- extreme alertness, also sometimes called ‘hypervigilance’
- disturbed sleep or a lack of sleep
- irritability or aggressive behaviour
- finding it hard to concentrate – including on simple or everyday tasks
- being jumpy or easily startled
- other symptoms of anxiety.
Tips on coping with flashbacks:
Flashbacks can be very distressing, but there are things you can do that might help. You could:
- Focus on your breathing. When you are frightened, you might stop breathing normally. This increases feelings of fear and panic, so it can help to concentrate on breathing slowly in and out while counting to five.
- Carry an object that reminds you of the present. Some people find it helpful to touch or look at a particular object during a flashback. This might be something you decide to carry in your pocket or bag, or something that you have with you anyway, such as a keyring or a piece of jewellery.
- Tell yourself that you are safe. It may help to tell yourself that the trauma is over and you are safe now. It can be hard to think in this way during a flashback, so it could help to write down or record some useful phrases at a time when you’re feeling better.
- Comfort yourself. For example, you could curl up in a blanket, cuddle a pet, listen to soothing music or watch a favourite film.
- Keep a diary. Making a note of what happens when you have a flashback could help you spot patterns in what triggers these experiences for you. You might also learn to notice early signs that they are beginning to happen.
- Try grounding techniques. Grounding techniques can keep you connected to the present and help you cope with flashbacks or intrusive thoughts. For example, you could describe your surroundings out loud or count objects of a particular type or colour. See our page on self-care for dissociative disorders for more information on grounding techniques.
Get to know your triggers:
You might find that certain experiences, situations or people seem to trigger flashbacks or other symptoms. These might include specific reminders of past trauma, such as:
- particular types of books or films.
Some people find things especially difficult on significant dates, such as the anniversary of a traumatic experience. It can help to plan ahead for these times and use these self-care tips to help you.
Confide in someone
When experiencing PTSD it can be hard to open up to others. This may be because you feel unable to talk about what has happened to you or because you find it difficult to trust others after your traumatic experience.
You don’t need to be able to describe the trauma to tell someone how you are currently feeling though. It could help to talk to a friend or family member, or a professional, such as a GP or a trained listener at a helpline.
See our page on support and self referral for more information. Talking to your GP will also help you get the best option for your care.
Give yourself some time
Everyone has their own unique response to trauma and it’s important to take things at your own pace.
For example, it may not be helpful to talk about your experiences before you feel ready. Try to be patient with yourself and don’t judge yourself harshly for needing time and support to recover from PTSD.