How To Stop PTSD Anxiety, Flashbacks and Panic
When Dr. Dan Siegel talks about posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and integration in trauma recovery, he explains PTSD symptoms as pulling survivors between the two extremes of a riverbank: On one side is rigidity and on the other side, chaos.
I know from my own PTSD struggle (which went on for over 25 years before I finally healed), with PTSD you feel out of control so often, so many times and in so many ways that eventually – or even right away – it’s easy to slip into a mode of just giving in to the chaos. (If you’ve felt this way, too, leave me a simple "yes" in the comments so I know I’m not alone!)
The problem with giving into the chaos is that when you do that--when you allow yourself to swirl along without any attempt at finding a way to steer--recovery becomes more and more out of reach.
Reclaiming your ability to make choices and take actions is critical. How do you do that? One way is to look at how being intentional works in mindfulness. I sat down to chat with my colleague, Megan Ross, the Trauma Therapy Coordinator at Timberline Knolls to chat about these two ideas.
Putting Mindfulness and Intention into Action
Mindfulness is the intended awareness that one develops of the present moment. It’s not just becoming aware, but it’s having clarity around your awareness so that your awareness can develop into regulation and organization. Awareness itself can be a stepping stone and it’s incredibly useful, however it’s not necessarily action oriented so to have intention around awareness, around the present moment ends up providing you with the next layer of mindfulness being able to work for you.
We have a tendency during, and even after, trauma to get stuck in the freeze response and paralysis. We stop acting and live in default mode. You are activating the recovery experience when you say the difference between awareness--which is not action-oriented--and intention, which is.
Historically, mindfulness comes from an Asian perspective. The root of mindfulness is how to have ‘right being’ or clarity of being, or purity in being. So, there is an added element of being aware and one of our translations for that is intention. To have intention around your awareness so there is reason with it and purpose, and to develop purpose through the trauma recovery process is, in fact, what many of us struggle with.
How do we redefine our own purpose through recovery? Mindfulness, as a practice as well as an orientation to the way you are in the world. If you have intention with it, and you have clarity and purity with it, then you are turning over that leaf toward a new purpose. That new purpose lives inside of the present moment through mindfulness.
Let’s get a working definition for term intention. I love that word. I use it a lot in the work I do with PTSD survivors because it can be so useful in terms of helping them shift out of feeling powerless and into feeling powerful because being intentional is all about reclaiming your ability to choose which, when followed by an action, shifts you out of a mentality focused on victimhood or submissiveness. What do you mean when you use the word, "intention?"
Knowing why it is you engage in the behaviors and the experiences that you do then it is very easy to ‘float’ and the float can be experienced as dissociation, a disconnection between yourself and the relationships or the place that you’re in. So, to place intention in there, you are effectively aligning the purpose of yourself in the moment.
I’ve written previously about PTSD symptoms and how mindfulness can help. It’s a powerful, and yet very simple, process that can yield incredible results in a survivor trying to reclaim a sense of calm, control and connection. Most especially in how it allows you to build a practice of exactly what Megan identified: giving you a purpose in the moment. With purpose comes focus, and with focus comes control.
All of this goes a long way in laying the groundwork for what to do in those critical moments when you want to interrupt or prevent PTSD flashbacks. How to do that will be the subject of my next post in two weeks. (Cliffhangers are the worst, I know, but bear with me as this post is already getting too long!)
Rosenthal, M. (2014, May 14). How To Stop PTSD Anxiety, Flashbacks and Panic, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, June 6 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2014/05/how-to-stop-anxiety-flashbacks-and-panic-part-1
Author: Michele Rosenthal
Maybe it's because I'm still recovering from the most recent trigger but I couldn't make sense out of this article.
I started trauma therapy yesterday so I'm hopeful that this is the beginning of the end of my suffering.
My abuser which is also my husband was learning to play guitar. I have a male roommate who I just discovered also plays guitar. I brought out one of my guitars and he started playing and I was really enjoying listening to the music as my roommate is a much better guitar player than I am. All of a sudden, I zoned out and had a flashback of my stbx husband playing guitar and it triggered the pain and I started to cry. My roommate went to his room and went to sleep and I cried until the anxiety medication brought blissful sleep. It's the next day and I'm still crying. It's not as if the guitar had anything to do with the abuse. It must have just been a reminder of all that he did to me for 20 years and then abandoned me a year and a half ago. He did me a favor by leaving and there's no way in hell I will ever take him back but we've been married since 1997 and I'm still grieving the fact that I loved someone with my entire heart and soul who never loved me. It's so confusing and I'm sick of crying over something that doesn't make any sense. He has a girlfriend now and I'm truly glad because now he'll start working on ruining her life and I'll never live in hell again because of him. I know I don't want to be married to him anymore for obvious reasons but why am I triggered by the memory of him playing guitar? I feel like my heart and soul has gone through a wood chipper. I'm a mess and I'm tired of hurting all my life from being abused by people I should have been loved by.
Yes. You are not alone. I am not alone
Yes, the struggle is real everyday?
Cptsd have ruined my life, and before that my mother's ptsd (non-recognized and non-treated, had ruined my childhood. I really don't know how i'm going to survive this. Sometimes I don't even want to survive this, struggling all the time. My new idea now is to see If I could have one of those Asista dogs, it'S like dogs for blind people except it's fir ptsd people. I heard it can help a lot.
I understand the struggle of ptsd. I'm 16 and have struggled with it for a few years- you need 10 months of full on therapy to even qualify for a ptsd service dog- I've been trying for one for about a year now. They refuse to reply to us... I hope you get yours.
Still after (too many years since) the rape, I am having trouble with sleep and disassociation-even though I know I am safe now. I discontinued talk therapy a few years ago-I don't think talking about it and reliving it is going to help me-ever, Now, I need to get off of anti-anxiety medication because of the other problems it causes after years of use, but I don't know how I'm going to do it.
Hi there! I understand very well your concern. I was taking anti-anxiety medication too and had the feeling I had to stop them. I went through a very rough couple of weeks, because it was also the medication that was playing with the glands that trigger stress! But It was the best decision ever. I feel much better now. It's as if after a while, the medication was creating more anxiety attacks, for me personally. You have to find something thet will help you go through the withdrawal. I chose medical cannabis and it saved my life. You also have to remember that the symptoms of withdrawl are not you, are not your anxiety; they don't belong to you. I found that remebering this on a daily basis was a bit helping. I understand where you're at with therapy also, for me it just triggers panick more and more to talk about it... Good luck, much love
I've been dealing with complex PTSD since the 1980's. I've had extensive and successful therapy. What I would like to learn is a technique to stop a flashback when I am triggered by something on TV e.g. seeing a bombing. Latest episode was last night when a program showed the US misseles going off in Syria.. I was in the
UK during WWII and the German blitz. I become paralyzed and I can't talk. I start shaking and my face contorts. I hold someone's hand and that helps ground me. I tell myself I am in charge and I will manage the moments. It's exhausting and my body usually hurts from the intense shuddering. I am not reliving anything. I can see people and my surroundings. I just can't talk. I can't start the deep breathing until the episode begins to slow. It's annoying not to be able to learn some kind of technique to stop the experience before it takes off. I reassure myself that I am fortunate that this what I have to deal with. There are so many much more difficult things in life. My husband is so supportive. We laugh when the episode finally lets me breath deeply and then talk. It won't kill me. It's just annoying. I've learned alot from the traumatic events that lead to PTSD. It has made me stronger and more compassionate. I live in the Hot Springs, AR area. I have a therapist that I visit every so often when the PTSD symptoms get bothersome. However, she is not a specialist in PTSD.
I am in search of help overcoming seriously debilitating episodes of PTSD panic attacks. It's taken me years to face that my panic attacks,chronic insomnia,depression, etc. Were all coming from the many traumas i have suffered as far back as 3,until 35. The worst trauma was from 3-15yrs.,when i left home to escape my tormentor. Years of running, self medicating made my life productive..until i became pregnant with 1st child & could not drink anymore. I was more than happy to be pregnant, to provide a safe and happy life to my own child. Then came the panic,etc.when he reached 8months old. I finally sought help through a psychiatrist. His therapy and meds made my life manageable and productive again. I had another son 3 yrs.later (2007),no major episodes. Then a surprise late life pregnancy ( my 3rd baby born in April 2016)...& my long time psychiatrist closed in Feb.2016. With no meds.,i told my OBGYN,he shrugged me off. Mind you, I'm now on Medicaid and live in a town that discriminates the poor. There are no PCP Dr.s within 40miles that accept Medicaid. Then, i found out, no psychiatrists do. There were some,but all that i called said "no longer accepting Medicaid"...i found one ,42 miles away..was on a 6month waiting list& when i showed him the meds I've taken for several years that worked for me,,he got irate and told me "Be quiet, you are not the Dr.!"..(see, my 1st psychiatrist went through several meds with me for the 1st 3yrs.& SSRIs make me feel worse)..&then this new Dr. seemed to enjoy treating me horribly and never even read the 12+yrs. Of my medical records? So, i just never went back. I've been through enough abuse in my life, i wasn't willing to be emotionally abused by a Dr. Now, still unmedicated, I've become more reclusive, agoraphopic, in fear of having a panic attack while driving or just doing ordinary things. It's affecting my life horribly, each day is a struggle. Yes ,i provide for my children and their every need, but i feel and know the quality of all of our lives has deteriorated greatly. We used to go out to parks,etc.,every weekend, but now i barely leave our house. Only to get groceries, take kids to Dr., or school, pay bills. Just surviving. I want my life back. Why is it so hard to get help ?? What am i doing wrong? Is there anyone who can give info. On support groups, on info. For someone like me just to get into a proper psychiatrist that takes Medicaid, or even a self pay that would work with me on payments. Yes, i know joga helps tremendously, but i have become so crippled with fear, i can't even get to YMCA. I live in GA..45 mins. South of ATL ( aka. OTP SOUTH)..even just a support group where i can talk to others without fear of judgement would help me now. Thanks to anyone who reads this and can offer some helpful advice. I'm a mostly single mother of 3, with not much time to write, read long books,etc. And also low income, as my disorder has caused me so much fear& i have no family around, my mom still protects the one who tormented and traumatized my entire childhood. She's called me a liar, she's made excuses for my much older half brother who lives with her still. He killed my father in 1999. Yet, she still protects that abusive, sick, violent nonhuman who would be in prison if not for her protecting him all the time. I don't know if this is the right place to discuss all this, but i googled "help for PTSD panic attacks"& I'm desperate to get through this& back to a properly functioning normal life. Thank you.
Flashbacks are the scariest experience a human being can have! Yes
In my own personal experience with PTSD flashbacks, I remind myself it's not cancer. I'm not going through chemo. What happened is not happening now. It's annoying. But it won't kill me. Flashbacks take a while and then there is the recovery stage and then the episode is over. It's not fun to have something unexpected trigger a flashback: a loud noise, someone touching me from behind, a bombing scene, fireworks etc. I send you my empathy and know flashbacks are not fun. Hope you find a silver lining ... I have. I'm more compassionate and less judgmental. Have a blessed day. Hugs
yes all the time!!! I need to find a way to stop it because it has gotten out of hand and my wife and I are truly worried mainly for our kids sake..
same here i am afraid it will destory my marriage
Hi i need to keep my mind busy cause if I don't I start getting flashbacks and it just drags me down
I suffer from Complex PTSS and am getting exposure therapy twice a week. When the chaos and flashbacks are getting too much I start to dissociate and suffer memory loss for short periods of time. In my country I have a public function and most people are looking at me as being succesfull and fortunate. Someone to envy. I am being praised for my kindness, helpfullness to those who suffer, need help, and making time for people who just want an autograph and then start to tell me there live story, or even taking in young people who live on the street and don't get any other help. Be honest, I think it is the most normal thing in the world, I think people should help each other, but nobody knows how much I suffer inside. How I sometimes long for someone to help me by just letting me know they understand and I can lean on them, instead that everybody leans at me. They don't know how long my nights are, how afraid I am when the nightmares take over. I practise mindfullness and meditation and it keeps me sain and more balanced. Without it I would get lost in the chaos and reflections of the past. Overwhelmed and lonely.
No, you and everybody responding here, are not alone, but why is it that we feel that we are trying to survive in a storm without anybody to help and without anybody who knows how we really feel?
Each of us experiences a flashback in our own unique way. I really hear you when you say you long for someone to help you by just letting me know they understand... I can relate. I've been dealing with complex PTSD since the 80s. I started real therapy within a couple of years. I was fortunate to find a really good therapist who understood disassociation. It took a lot of therapy to integrate. I know what it is like to be in public and have to maintain a public persona while managing the internal PTSD struggle. I stopped being embarrassed when I was triggered in public. It gave me an opportunity to bring more awareness to the challenge of living with PTSD. I'm sending empathy and understanding and hugs. It does get easier. It's like getting a cold and getting to the other side. Annoying but won't kill us. Whatever happened is in the past and is not happening now. That helped me. Hugs again
Yes you are not alone.
i am in dyer straights with my heartache and the emotional pain I went through for 13 years. My heart aches and I have tried everything. I need some support and insight as to how to heal. Sometimes I cannot deal eWith it and often think of ending my pain. Can u give me some direction on this. Thank u and God bless.
Yes, It seems to be getting worse to where I isolate and have lapes of not knowing how I drove some place. I would seem to end up to a place where I felt safe after. I can't sleep, flashbacks are happening during the day and I have had strokes due to the stress of it. Not sure how to relax or what to do!
I get stressed in certain situations. like a visit to the doctors but come out thinking.. hey.. i handled that well. Think great! Sure I am ok.. but actually I am not but cannot recognise that. I so want to be ok. Underneath though I am flooding and just kidding myself.
Some other small thing happens an hour or so later and I totally lose it. PTSD hits .. and off I go again.
I think that this mindfulness technique will help me at the first point of stress at the doctors for example... just do the technique even if i think I am fine... and then cut it off before it builds and builds without my being aware and I get triggered later in the day with some trivial thing.
@G -- I used to have the same problems at doctor offices; my trauma was medical, so that situation was always triggering for me. I'm happy to report I'm free of those kinds of anxieties now, so I bet you will find a way to be too. Mindfulness is a great technique to kickoff your process!
Yes to feeling out of control with PTSD - in that the cycle of emotions and flashbacks were overwhelming. Most definitely to the victim mindset - I would say I had the Stockholm Syndrome - I slipped into relating to or justifying my aggressors. My way out was a long slow process of psycho therapy. But what really broke the cycle for me was confronting my tormentors ten years later. It was paramount to my recovery that I drove them out of their denial. It was a palpable moment for me. I knew in an instant that I had crossed the threshold - I had broken free. I still needed time to mend but I had broken out of the cycle. All of this is what my book, A Prison of Lies - A Journey Through Madness, is about. Writing the book also gave me a sense of empowerment. I had documented the abuse I had endured and made it a permanent record that could not be denied. The book itself was the final step to my recovery.
My tormentors are dead,,,at least most of them are. It all started I think shortly after birth. My mother actually told me how she abused me. Then when I was around two my got polio. Years of surgeries, therapy, trying to re-adjust followed. There was lots of fear over the surgeries and no comfort coming from my mother. Plus while dealing with the polio I still had an abusive, cold, mean-spirited mother who on one hand pushed me away and resented that I required attention. And on the other hand refused to let me finally leave the nest (in my 20's) to go a live of bit of a life. I have no memories of any joy or happiness on her face other than when she was the "star" of the show. Then later in life, guess what! I married the male version of my mother...a man who found new ways to be abusive both physically and mentally. He even threatened my life when I left him. He even hired someone to stalk and kill me! Though I always thought of myself as a good person I have terrible relationships with people. They all eventually abuse or take advantage of me. Flashbacks come more frequently now and I'm in my 70's. Some of them I didn't even realize were stored in my memory. The flashbacks on some days are almost constant Depression and anxiety, once I thought I had overcome, are more constant "companions". Therapy is not an option right now. The only reason I don't kill myself is because I tried it years ago and found that as I was drifting into the Universe,, I was still in pain. Just to let anyone who reads this know, the death of abusers doesn't make you feel any better.
This article really gave me some wonderful insight. I like the intent approach. When applied it does give me back some control. It's really freeing!
Yes! I ='(
Not to long at all :) I seem to wander aimlessly. Wonder what my purpose is :/ hhhhmmm