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Rewriting the Script: How Nurses Can Reclaim Control Over Their Traumatic Memories

Updated: Dec 8, 2023




Nurses with Flashbacks and Post-Traumatic memories: How to deal with them


Since the beginning of Covid 19, there have been increased reports of people experiencing flashbacks associated with PTSD. Flashbacks and PTSD can be very disruptive and unpredictable, especially if you're unaware of your triggers. The good news is that you can take steps to manage better and prevent flashbacks and dissociation to help you stay in the present.



Understanding

Flashbacks

Flashbacks are one of the re-occurring symptoms of PTSD. When you have a flashback, you may feel as though a traumatic event is happening again. Flashbacks can occur suddenly and unexpectedly and are usually triggered by things that remind you of your traumatic experience. Nurses may experience flashbacks and PTSD due to increased staffing shortages, long working hours, isolation from family and friends, or supporting multiple critically ill patients.



What is Dissociation?

Dissociation can be associated with flashbacks and can feel like temporarily losing touch with reality, kind of like a daydream or feeling like you are outside your body. Reminders of a traumatic event often trigger flashbacks and dissociation. Knowing what your triggers are can help you slow or prevent feelings of dissociation.




 


 

Coping with Flashbacks

You can learn to lessen the effect of flashbacks and sometimes prevent them altogether by becoming aware of your triggers and early symptoms. People experiencing PTSD frequently use avoidance as a coping mechanism.


Avoidance behaviour can include isolating yourself from loved ones, self-harming, binge eating, and substance abuse. Avoidance behaviour can lead to PTSD returning, which is known as a relapse. You need to catch a relapse early.




How Can You Prevent a Relapse?


Prevention Skills include:

  • Identify your early warning signs that your symptoms are getting worse.

  • Identifying high-risk situations.

  • Understanding how everyday tasks and simple decisions may trigger a relapse, such as not getting enough sleep, skipping a meal, or having an argument, could make you more vulnerable to a relapse.


To prevent relapse, grounding techniques can slow a relapse progression or even prevent it from happening. Grounding techniques include all your senses.



The following techniques bring your attention to the present.


Grounding techniques:

  • Sound: Loud music will divert your attention and help keep you in the present.

  • Touch: Feeling cold items or touching different textures.

  • Smell: A strong smell, such as peppermint oil, a cut-up orange, or anything with a pleasant aroma, can bring you to the present moment.

  • Taste: Experiment with strong-tasting foods, spices or crunchy textures

  • Sight: examine your immediate surroundings, and count things you can see to help slow or prevent a relapse.

When it comes to flashbacks and PTSD, sometimes it helps to know you are not alone. If you are struggling to prevent flashbacks and dissociation, seek medical help and support. A range of medications and therapies can help you recover from the symptoms of flashbacks.


Reflection:

  1. Have you suffered from flashbacks as a result of the pandemic?

  2. What techniques helped you reduce your flashbacks?

  3. Do you know your triggers and how to combat them?


 

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