What Are PTSD Flashbacks?

As a military veteran who saw combat, you’re still unnerved at the sound of July fourth fireworks or jet engines wailing overhead. You instinctively hold your breath for a moment as your heart races, but the anxiety eventually fades. Some people who live through severe trauma aren’t so lucky and have intense flashbacks of what happened – a key symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness caused by a frightening event you experienced or witnessed. If you’ve lived through a traumatic event, you may have short-term problems learning to adjust and coping with what happened, but in time you’ll usually get better. But not everyone can manage the symptoms. If they worsen, persist for months or years after the event, and cause disruptions in daily life, you may have PTSD.

Know the Symptoms

PTSD symptoms are divided into four types: avoidance, intrusive memories, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Symptoms vary by person and over time, and in frequency and intensity.

  • Recurrent, unwelcome upsetting memories of what happened
  • Avoiding places, activities, or people who remind you of the traumatic experience
  • Bad thoughts about yourself, others, or society
  • Pessimism about the future
  • Being easily alarmed or frightened
  • Self-destructive tendencies
  • Problems sleeping

How to Manage Flashbacks and Other PTSD Symptoms

For many people with PTSD, flashbacks – relieving the trauma like it was happening again – are one of the most potent and disturbing symptoms of the illness you can have. Flashbacks may signify dissociation, where a person feels disconnected from emotions, identity, memory, and thoughts of themselves and the real world. The danger, however, lies in the fact that flashbacks are always trauma-related and intense to the point of near disability. For instance, a soldier who faced combat may have flashbacks of a deadly battle at the sound of firecrackers simulating a gunshot.

But flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms, as severe as they may be, can be managed. Many people have success with different self-help and coping mechanisms.

  • According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), “Deep breathing can help you cope with the stress” traumatic events, acting as a defense against panic, anxiety, or hypervigilance.
  • The VA also touts to benefits of progressive muscle relaxation and offers a brief how-to guide for anyone experiencing flashbacks or other PTSD symptoms.
  • Mindfulness meditation is more than just closing your eyes and sitting with crossed legs. The U.S. National Institutes of Health reported that meditation, as well as mindfulness-based stress relief and other strategies, may relieve symptoms including avoidance, emotional numbing, guilt, hyperarousal, and negative emotions like shame.
  • Self-monitoring.
  • Social support.
  • Healthy emotional expression. Many people with PTSD benefit from keeping journals or writing about their emotions and reactions to everyday life since the trauma happened. It helps them control their own narrative. Another way to express their emotions is through art therapy.
  • Mental distractions.
  • Behavioral activation is a way for people with flashbacks and other symptoms to boost their activity level plus engage in positive and rewarding activities.
  • Exercise and physical activity are positive ways for someone to knock down barriers linked to PTSD, giving them power over the lingering effects of anxiety and depression.
  • Aroma therapy.
  • Pet therapy. Some people consider their canine partners to be a man’s best friend, and there’s a reason for that. A dog’s natural ability to sense human emotions – stress, fear, grief, sadness, anger – is legendary. Leah Blain, Ph.D., clinic director and licensed clinical psychologist at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania in the Department of Psychiatry, said canine companionship is a successful, complementary treatment for someone with PTSD.

Diagnosis & Treatment

If you have flashbacks or other symptoms, your healthcare provider may recommend:

  • A physical examination to confirm or rule out a medical problem that may be causing the symptoms or making them worse.
  • A psychiatric assessment looks at symptoms and the event that led to them. Your healthcare provider will also ask about personal and family history of mental illness.

Finally, your symptoms will be compared to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria before a formal diagnosis.

Ask About Treatment from a Specialty Clinic

Besides self-help and other strategies, your healthcare provider may recommend ongoing psychotherapy plus medicine like antidepressants. In some cases, you may benefit from ketamine infusion therapy available at specialty clinics nationwide.

What Is Depression Journaling?

No matter the severity, depression can lead to several physical and mental health issues if left untreated. While many people try to soothe symptoms through medication, traditional psychotherapy, or alternative medicine, there are a few “at home” treatments that stand the test of time: journaling. 

What To Know About Depression?

Depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is a widespread and significant medical illness that adversely affects your feelings, thoughts, and how you behave. Thankfully, it can be treated. If you’re depressed, you know that it causes sadness and/or loss of interest in something you used to enjoy doing. Even worse, it can trigger a range of emotional and physical difficulties and can reduce your ability to perform at work and at home.

Depression Symptoms

  • Constant sadness, anxiety, or low moods
  • Feelings of despair or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • You feel guilty, worthless, or helpless
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Slow bodily movements or speech
  • Restlessness or problems sitting still
  • Trouble focusing, remembering, or decision making 
  • Problems sleeping, waking early, or oversleeping
  • Hunger and/or weight fluctuations
  • Thinking of death, suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches, pains, headaches, spasms, or gastrointestinal difficulties absent a clear physical reason and/or symptoms that don’t ease even with care

What Causes Depression?

No one knows for certain what causes depression, but some factors are known to contribute.

  • Constant exposure to stress, neglect, abuse, violence, or poverty.
  • If you have a biological relative with depression, or you’re twin sibling has the condition, you have a greater chance of getting the illness at some point.
  • Personality traits like low self-esteem, becoming easily overcome by stress, or constant pessimism may trigger depression.

What Is Depression Journaling?

“Back in the day,” your parents or grandparents may have kept a secret diary – a tiny, sometimes leatherbound tablet where they jotted down their struggles, fears, desires, and daily observations without fear of judgment or punishment. Every day or as often as time allowed, they’d scribble a few lines then hide their diary someplace safe – under a mattress, high on a closet shelf, or anywhere secure from prying eyes. Many such examples have been lost to time and posterity, but the tradition of journaling continues to this very day. Much of it happens in a digital world, but the goals are the same.

With the rise in mental health issues, many people have turned to “depression journaling,” maybe out of curiosity or a concerted effort to improve their life. Journaling allows you to express frustration, stress, depression, and fear in a safe, healthy manner.

The benefits of depression journaling

  • Improves your mental health
  • Creates a positive outlook on life
  • Helps manage anxiety and lower stress
  • Helps cope with depression
  • Helps you track daily symptoms so that you can identify triggers and discover means to better manage them
  • Gives you a chance for positive self-talk and recognize bad thoughts and behaviors
  • It may put a positive spin on your mood
  • Improves your sense of well-being
  • Journaling may lower symptoms of depression prior to an important event, like a big test at school first date, or work presentation
  • It can help lower intrusion and avoidance symptoms following a traumatic situation
  • Journaling may improve your memory function

How to be effective at depression journaling

  • Keep a daily schedule.
  • Keep it simple. Use pen and paper, smartphone, or tablet computer, or just grab a crumpled store receipt and write down your feelings.
  • Write or draw whatever comes to mind. Your feelings are your own, so express them.
  • Use your journal however you want, and it doesn’t have to be shared.

Diagnosing & Treating Depression

Your doctor may make a depression diagnosis based on:

  • A physical examination to look for an underlying physical health problem.
  • Lab tests, like a blood test called a complete blood count or testing your thyroid to ensure it’s working properly.
  • A psychiatric evaluation focusing on symptoms, thoughts, feelings, and behavior. You may be asked to fill out a questionnaire to help answer these questions.
  • Compare your symptoms to criteria for depression listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Follow-up care may involve psychotherapy, medicine, or newer treatments like ketamine infusion therapy.

Final Thoughts

Depression is a huge source of disability worldwide, affecting nearly 300 million people across all walks of life. If you suffer from any of its symptoms, you may be able to find effective treatment through traditional psychotherapy, antidepressants, medicine like ketamine, or journaling for depression. But the choice is yours. Contact us today at Ketamine & Infusion Clinic of South Florida for more information.