Invisible Injuries- Mental health ambassadors

S01 - Dealing with flashbacks 03

October 22, 2021

civilian man showing army relief officer extent of bushfires in their town with civic building in background

Flashbacks which are normal, are recollections from the past. They may be pictures, sounds, smells or feelings or the the lack of them (a kind of numbness). Unless we deal with them effectively as they arise, flashbacks can cause us to feel trapped, powerless, and/or out of control. We may feel at the mercy of our experiences. This need not happen with the following techniques.
The “stop” technique and “replaying the DVD” later – This technique is very powerful for dealing both with flashbacks and other regularly occurring unwanted thoughts. Jointly it addresses the issues of “control” or “boundarying”.
Firstly, take a rubber band and place it on your wrist (n.b Not too tight, not too loose). Instructions on use:
  • As soon as flashback or intrusive thought occurs reach for the rubber band, and ping it against the inside of your wrist….at the same time say: “STOP”
  • As you say “Stop” you are saying to yourself “I will give the incident some thinking time later”
  • Carry on with whatever you were doing or thinking about before the flashback occurred.
  • Continue using the “Stop” technique throughout the day or however many times as the flashback occurs.
  • At a time in the early evening, spend a half hour “replaying” the incident, as if you’re watching it all on a DVD. Because at a point where all was safe, peaceful and quiet before the incident.
  • It’s important to replay the DVD at least 2 hrs before bed so you can also do other activities before bed. This minimises the risk of the flashback contents being worked out in dreams or nightmares.
How to use for best results –“horses for courses” applies. Some might find one tool or technique helpful, others will experiment with another that proves helpful. All are available to try and it’s often about finding “what works”.
*Reprinted with permission 2020
@john henden