Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Flashbacks and Panic Attacks and Triggers, Oh My!!!

When severe trauma is present, it is very common for individuals to experience the negative long term effects. Many survivors of sexual abuse or anybody that has been witness to traumatic events suffer from an array of both physical and psychological hindrances. One such obstacle and one of the most common in fact is panic Attacks, often joined by flashbacks.
Panic attacks and flashbacks can be triggered by anything and everything. Common triggers are seeing or hearing about someone Else's rape or abuse, seeing an abuser or someone who resembles an abuser, being touched in a sensitive place, hearing a phrase used by the abuser, the survivor's children reaching the age the survivor was when the abuse started, particular calendar dates... unfortunately there are as many potential triggers as there are survivors. Panic attacks usually include the following symptoms:
*Accelerated heartbeat
*Feelings of impending death.

     Unfortunately these symptoms in themselves are likely to increase the anxiety.
Hyperventilation is the main cause of other symptoms during a panic attack: dizziness, nausea and tingling in the hands and feet. By changing and calming your breathing, you can help the panic attack to finish more quickly. Take slow, deep breaths and try to breathe from the stomach instead of the upper chest. Exhale easily. Concentrate on your breathing. This should minimize other symptoms. Practice this method of breathing when you are calm, so that it comes naturally when you need to apply it during an attack.
Flashbacks are when the survivor has a period of intense recall of the abuse situation. They may feel trapped inside the memory, that it is actually happening in the present. In the past I have tried many things to get control of flashbacks, including starving myself, taking a ton of over the counter sleep pills, and even have resorted to hurting myself by biting to the point that I would draw blood. However and obviously these methods don't do us any good all they do is add fuel to the fire. By alleviating the pain at that moment you are only drowning yourself in more anguish making it harder and harder to get out of that situation. These negative defense mechanisms only add to the harm we have already suffered.

Try the breathing exercise outlined above.

Open your eyes and really look at your surroundings. Remind yourself that you are in a safe place.

Picture the memory as being a film, of which you have control. Pan the camera back and let the screen fade to gray.

Try to take control of the memory - break a window to escape, imagine a weapon in your hand that you can use.

Remember that the flashback will pass and that the frequency of flashbacks will decrease and their power over you will lessen as your healing moves forward.

Talking with other survivors can help you feel less alone with the burden. It's reassuring to know that other people understand your symptoms. The most positive move I made in my healing was reaching out to other people in my position, through message boards and forums.

If you have methods of coping that have worked for you with panic attacks and/or flashbacks, I would love to here them, not only for myself but for others that might want to find help as well.

"Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen, keep in the sunlight" ~ Benjamin Franklin

Kaz. (2008). Panic attacks. Retrieved from