Self Help for Post Traumatic Stress: Flashbacks and Avoidance

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • Previously I explained the nature of post-traumatic stress and exploded a few myths about who can be affected and in what circumstances. In this Sharepost I’m focusing on coping with flashbacks and avoidance from a self-help perspective. These suggestions might form part of a broader range of structured therapy from a qualified professional.


    Flashbacks are unwanted and intrusive memories of a traumatic event and may be triggered by sights, smells or sounds, or they may appear as nightmares or unpleasant dreams. Attempting not to think of something is almost certain to have the opposite effect. Many people say they have found relief by putting aside a few minutes a day in order to calmly talk about, write notes on, or simply reflect on the incident. The effect is one of gaining control over thoughts rather than them pushing through uninvited. Over time, the flashbacks become less powerful and disabling. For people troubled by nightmares a good time for this activity is just before going to bed.

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    Avoidance of unpleasant experiences is perfectly natural but it has the downside of preventing progress and acts as a constant reminder of bad times. Avoidance includes such things as not wanting to talk about the incident, avoiding news items or movies, or steering clear of locations or events that remind you of the trauma. It doesn’t need to be this way and one method to move things forward is to break down the problem into smaller steps.


    Let’s imagine that Jane recently witnessed a tragic car accident. Now she avoids driving and is reluctant to sit as a car passenger. She feels nervous of traffic noises and is hypervigilant in any situation involving cars. When asked to unpack her fears into the least feared to the most feared she produces a list where least feared situations include reading about traffic accidents and listening to traffic on television. Towards the top of the list, her most feared situations are sitting as a passenger to driving a car. The approach Jane would take is to tackle each step in turn, gradually working her way toward the worst fear. As each step is achieved her anxiety will reduce because she is gradually tackling her avoidance.


    In my next post I’ll be suggesting self-help ideas for coping with anger, irritability and low moods.

Published On: May 27, 2013