When you have experienced trauma you may feel that you have done a lot of the healing work but that there are still certain situations that cause you to ‘freeze’, have flashbacks and feel like you are right back in the same traumatic situation as before. Although these incidences can feel extremely distressing, a flashback is the brain’s method of being able to process trauma, so it can be stored as a past memory instead of a current threat and (although it might seriously not feel like it) is part of the healing journey. So the first thing to remember is that experiencing flashbacks or anxiety causing you to ‘freeze’ is ok and normal when you have gone through a traumatic experience.
This feeling of ‘freezing’ is an anxiety response in your body and can make you feel like you are detached from reality, dissociated, unsafe and that you’re in a completely different situation to the one you are actually in. It might feel like the world is moving around you and you’re not in it. You may be aware of situations that trigger this response, such as being around men or in specific places like a nightclub but you’re unsure on how to be able to cope.
Using grounding techniques will help you to bring your mind and body back into the safety of the present and away from the traumatic experience in the past. There are strategies that will help to soothe the anxiety you are feeling and help you to begin ‘unfreezing’. Below I have shared my top 3 grounding strategies for you to us and to practice what works best for you:
1. Take in a deep breath (from your stomach). Breathing is the brain's reset mechanism and will help you to think rationally. As you are focusing on your breath, remind yourself that your mind is just playing tricks on you into getting you to think that you’re back in the same situation where the trauma happened. Repeat the following affirmation to yourself over and over again, ‘That was then and this is now. I am safe’.
2. Carry something around with you as a grounding object that symbolises you being in the present moment. Rub and touch this when you’re experiencing a flashback or feeling like you are frozen and detached from reality as a reminder that you are safe now. Use something which is soothing and comforting to you, this might be a crystal (rose quartz is the stone of healing), jewellery or a soft piece of fabric. Use whatever small object means the most comfort to you.
3. Use the 5,4,3,2,1 method. Bring yourself back into the here and now by tuning into your senses and the world around you. Noticing your surroundings will help to bring you back into the safety of the present and will show your mind that you’re in a completely different situation now and not back in the past. Notice 5 things that you can see around you, 4 things that you can hear, 3 things you can feel (touch them), 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
Go gently on yourself, you’re not crazy or weak or failing for having flashbacks or experiencing anxiety that makes you ‘freeze’. Although it may not feel like it at the time, this is part of your healing journey and your brain’s way of being able to fully process the trauma. Use these strategies to take back control and so that you know what to do when your mind tries to trick you into thinking you’re back in the traumatic experience and under threat. Flashbacks may feel really intense and distressing, so go easy on yourself when you come back into the present and create some stillness for yourself and calm. Whether that’s cuddling yourself in a blanket, lighting a candle, listening to peaceful music or having a bath in all of your favourite scents.
During this process, you may find it helpful to get your journal out and to write down how you were able to cope with the flashback or ‘freezing’. This will remind you of how strong you are and that you got through it and can get through it if it happens again.
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