There is no delicate way to put it: flashbacks are just awful. Whether you've just started experiencing these upsetting and intrusive symptoms, or you've been fighting them for years, we know how challenging and exhaustive they can be! Thankfully, a wide variety of tools and skills exist to help you break free -- each one highly customizable to your specific needs. That said, some of the very best options out there can take some time, and a lot of practice, before you've shaped them into that go-to symptom management tool you can pull on any time. Skills like imagery, containment, split-screen, and a few modulation tools are all incredibly valuable, but they can be quite advanced, and sometimes even turn survivors away from them altogether if introduced too soon. For those new in their healing, options that are very straightforward and uncomplicated can be their greatest lifeline. For those with a full workshop of tools, we know how possible it is for giant waves of new or stubborn trauma material to put even your best skills out of reach. So, items that are extremely easy to recall in a time of panic or crisis, as well as very rudimentary to enact, may be the only efficient skills at your disposal. We hope to be able to offer survivors in all stages of recovery that perfect flashback kit.
Before we get too far, let's first define what a flashback is! Whether you're a trauma survivor yourself, or a loved one/supporter of one who is are trying to learn more, you may be surprised to learn there are different types of flashbacks:
So, what can you do?
We recognize that half the battle when you're struggling is being able to just remember that these tools even exist and are available to you. When you're terrified, feeling very young, or you aren't oriented to the present, it can be really hard to even recognize that you're symptomatic. Try to be compassionate with yourself (or your friend, family member or client) about this. Years upon years, sometimes decades, were spent responding to distress/trauma in the same exact way; it is very hard to retrain the brain to respond differently when you're only presented an opportunity to try every so often. Also, flashbacks stem from a completely different section of our daily-functioning brain. It takes very hard work to override that circuitry, and none of us think very logically or critically when flooded with fear and adrenaline. But, with practice, and by utilizing these skills as early in your symptoms as you can, you'll find they become more habitual and automatic — taking less conscious effort and acting more like muscle memory.
Let's get to it!
Your absolute number one, first line of defense for any posttraumatic symptom is to be grounded -- or at least substantially more grounded than you are in that moment. None of your other skills will be effective if you aren't grounded first. (You can learn more about what it means to be grounded, as well as have an entire list of 101 Grounding Techniques at your fingertips, right here on our website!) We do know it can sometimes feel impossible to practice grounding before you've put a memory away, especially if that memory is what's fueling your dissociation and making you ungrounded. But, if you're heavily dissociated, and stuck in the past, you're only putting the memory away in the past - not in the here and now. It will continue to find you in this timeline. As you start the grounding process, you'll find that some of the intensity of the trauma material backs down, freeing you up to use other skills that you may have more completely (i.e. containment or modulation); this takes things down another notch, allowing you to get even more grounded, and so on. A positive loop.
What are some of the best, most-easily accessible grounding tools?:
Open your eyes. Uncover your ears. Make as many senses available as you can!
Look around. Try to label 5 things you can see, 5 things of a single color, 5 things of one shape.
Listen. What do you hear? Is it close or far? Loud or soft? Pleasant or grating?
Open up, feet on the floor. If you're curled into a ball, or have your feet tucked up on the chair, try to put them on the floor and press your feet firmly into the ground. Become rooted to the space you’re in (no longer lifted or untethered to anything, just like your currently dissociative mind), but especially free yourself of those childlike, fear-based positions that continue to alert to your brain that you’re in danger. We know they feel self-soothing, but they’re doing the exact opposite to your mind,
De-trance. If you are rocking, tapping, swaying a limb, clicking, or engaging in any other rhythmic, trancing motion, try to start slowing it to a pause or make sure it’s no longer a pattern.
Sit upright. If you are slouching deep in your seat or laying down on your bed, try to sit up. Lying prone can be very disorienting and triggering for many.
Orient. Remind yourself of the date, your age, where you are, and that you're safe now.
Movement. If you feel frozen and unable to move, start by just trying to wiggle your toes or finger tips. Slowly work up the body, little by little, until you regain movement.
Smell. Inhale strong fragrances (they don't have to be pleasant!). Coffee, candles, lemon, lotions, the kitty litter, it doesn’t matter! Just awaken yourself to what’s before you.
Taste. Chew gum, eat mints, or suck on sours. Eat a meal or snack. Drink a very cold or warm beverage.
Touch. Run your fingers over unique textures within reach. Your clothes, the furniture, a zipper, a pet, a grounding stone or fidget item.
There are many, many other grounding tools, as well as a more detailed explanation as to why and how they are helpful, in our aforementioned article, so we'll move on to our next step!
Our inner monologue is far more important and powerful than we tend to give it credit. Self-talk during a flashback can be part of your grounding or be used to keep you calm and steady while you employ other techniques. It can be hard to access your grounding skills (or other tools) if you’re in a panic and can't remember what's even happening to you or who you are. Self-talk can be a vital skill that allows everything else to fall into line.
You can say things to yourself like:
"This is a flashback. It is just a flashback; it is not real. This is not happening right now."
"I am safe now. No one is presently harming me. There is no external threat to my safety right now."
"I am an adult now. My name is ______. I am ____ years old. It is 20__."
"This will not last forever. I have the power to make this symptom go away."
"I am competent. I am able. I have done this before."
"It's important that I get grounded. Dissociating can feel safer, but I've learned it puts me and others at risk. I can do this."
"I can ask for help. I am worthy, even if that's hard to believe right now."
"This is temporary. I can feel it getting easier already. I will be okay."
“I am in control. I get to decide when and how this leaves. I have the power now.”
Find a mantra or phrase that feels right to you, something you know you'll remember when it's time. Talk yourself through the process. It is healthy, helps keep you planted in reality, and reminds you of the power you have now that you didn’t before.
Separating Past from Present
Separating past from present can work on many levels as a combination of self-talk, grounding and reality-testing. It's also a tool outsiders or loved ones can help you with, too! No longer all up to you! During a flashback, it's very easy to be disoriented from the current time or place. You could feel like you're all the way back in the 80's, believe you're a small child, or just in a completely different environment than you truly are. Taking the time to label - in your mind, out loud or in writing - all the things that are different now from the past you're reliving, can help your mind tease apart the complete lack of safety you feel from the security of your present environment.
"It is 20__, not [date/timeframe of the flashback]"
*look at body* "These are adult hands and feet. I am taller now." Observe other physical changes like tattoos, body modifications, health changes, wrinkles or grey hairs.
"There were no smartphones back then. TVs didn't look like this. I didn't have a laptop or desktop computer like this." Notice other anachronisms and things that couldn’t have existed at the time of the memory.
"I live on my own now. This is MY house/apartment. I can drive now. I have children/a spouse/a partner now. These are my car keys. This is my drivers’ license/ID."
“I am currently outside. That happened inside. (Or vice versa.) It was nighttime then, but it’s noon now.” Name several other environmental differences, Rooms, time, days, furniture, clothes, etc.
"I have a voice. Before I would have been too scared to even make a sound right now." [Then use your voice in any form to prove to yourself that it's safe to do so.]
"I am a strong, competent adult now; I am no longer a helpless child. I have options to ensure my own safety, and the safety of others, and I employ them."
Label any changes about your abuser(s): their age, location, relationship to you, if they has passed, etc.
Label any other major life changes: geographic locations, professions, people you know now that you didn't back then, other appearance changes, pets, etc.
List (or listen to) popular music, movies, entertainment you enjoy now. Remind yourself these things did not exist back then.
Acknowledge the positive supports you have in your life now: new pets, friends, a therapist, a partner, family members, etc.
Internal communication is a bit more specific to those with DID/OSDD, but can still be applicable to those with C-PTSD or PTSD in different ways. It is also not quite an "easy, basic skill", as was the case in the other tools offered. This is definitely more of an advanced skill, however, it is very important to include because failing to check inside has the potential to render alllll your other grounding/symptom management tools ineffective. It may come as a surprise to some, but alters in a DID/OSDD system, or even just parts of a less compartmentalized C-PTSD individual, are capable of sending flashbacks your way on purpose. It is not always with nefarious or hurtful intent. It's often with the counterintuitive desire to protect or is being used as a means of communication. This may look like handing you pieces of memory they feel are important for you to know, feel, or be reminded of, or showing you what they’ve been struggling with alone for weeks - ‘asking for help’ in the only way they know how. When this is the case, using symptom management to make the flashback go away may just exhaust you.
If you already have some well-established communication inside of your mind, you can certainly ask them these questions more directly. But, if you aren't there yet, or if you don't have differentiated alters at all, you can still send these thoughts back into your mind and see what bubbles up. For those who are just starting to establish communication with their system, sometimes opening that line during a flashback can be the first successful connection to come through.
Some questions you can ask alters/your mind: (Then, open yourself up to allow the answers)
"Is there a reason I'm being shown this flashback right now? Is someone sending this to me?"
"What are you trying to communicate by making me relive these images/feelings/physical pain?"
"Is someone else in a flashback but came/got too close to the front of the mind? Can we do a role call and see that everyone is grounded and present?"
"Are you trying to make me feel as unsafe as YOU feel right now about something else happening in our life?"
"Do you want to scare me back into silence?" "Is this your way of reminding me we aren't supposed to talk or tell anyone?"
"Are you trying to incapacitate me? ...make it so that I can't go to work/go out with a friend/accomplish x task/leave the house/see x person/etc?" "Why are you afraid of me doing that?"
"Did something trigger you that I don't know about? Did you see/hear/feel something really familiar that I didn't notice?"
"Are you feeling ignored? ..like I don't care? ..like I'm not listening to you or taking your feelings into consideration? Are there other ways you could get my attention that don't include re-traumatizing me?"
"Are you oriented to the present? I know that it's 201_, but do you? How can we work on getting grounded together? Do you need to look through my eyes or feel in the body that we are safe and not in danger right now?"
"Did someone else inside order you to share this memory with me? If so, you can say so without revealing yourself to me. I want to talk to them, not you; you're not in trouble."
"Am I being punished for something? Can it be shared with me what I did ‘wrong’ or which rules I broke without this flashback? I can't have a conversation with you about it or make amends if I can't think straight."
There are many ways to appeal to parts inside to get to the root of why a flashback may have been sent your way. It is also possible to send these thoughts throughout the mind even if you do not have parts or a system. Many aspects of the mind may still be operating under similar pretenses and using these symptoms as a protective defensive mechanism -- maladaptive as that may be. Appealing internally may strike a chord and enlighten you to what the real issue is. The answer may just "click" the moment you ask, even if you can't hear a direct/"audible" reply. Once that has been discovered, you will be better able to tackle things appropriately, to meet that need or fear, instead of just exhausting yourself on symptom management skills that won't work until that primary issue is resolved.
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We sincerely hope these four basic, foundational tools will be able to help you find relief and distance during a flashback -- no matter what stage you're at in your healing. Once armed with more stability and a framework from which to work, you can then explore more detailed and elaborate skills with confidence! We will absolutely be covering more of those, namely imagery, containment, modulation, and the various journaling tools that are extremely helpful in the fight against flashbacks. (We've already introduced a couple!) So, stay tuned.
Please don't hesitate to share some of your go-to strategies for flashbacks below and consider bookmarking this page for quicker, more direct access should you need it while you're struggling!
MORE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:
✧ Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
✧ Distraction 101: 101 Distraction Tools
✧ Self-Care 101: 101 Self-Care Techniques
✧ Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201: Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
✧ Imagery 101: Healing Pool and Healing Light
✧ DID Myths: Dispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative Identity Disorder
✧ Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
✧ Trauma and Attachment: 3-Part Series on Attachment Theory with Jade Miller
❖ Article Index ❖
WHAT IS GROUNDING?
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?
Grounding is an incredibly important skill for anyone with a posttraumatic or dissociative disorder. Being present and in the here and now is absolutely paramount to a person's physical and mental wellbeing. While it may not always be comfortable to be grounded, and can sometimes even be downright agonizing (particularly when one is experiencing intense or upsetting emotions, physical pain, or any unpleasant life circumstance), it is the only way to ensure basic safety as well as prevent additional psychological symptoms. When we are ungrounded - no matter where on the spectrum of severity - we are immediately more vulnerable to flashbacks; intrusive images, thoughts and sounds; self-harm urges; switching (DID); and many other destabilizing symptoms. Being ungrounded can also even create the illusion of safety and protection, when in reality it's when we are at our most vulnerable and unable to judge who and what is safe around us. So, unfortunately, the very skill that protected us the most during our trauma and is what got us through becomes a maladaptive, and at times dangerous, coping mechanism in adulthood. So, what can you do?
For starters, just being able to recognize your personal warning signs of dissociation, as well as where you fall on the spectrum, is a great start. Once you've been able to label the range of your personal spectrum (maybe from just a little foggy to fully rolodex switching, or from abnormally absent-minded to completely depersonalized), identifying what things look and feel like for you at each stage in the gradient will serve you very well. Consider making a personal 1-10 scale and describe what a 5 looks like versus a 2, a 7 or a 10. This will help you be more self-aware when you are actively dissociating, better able to communicate what you're experiencing to others (which gives them a chance to be more helpful), and most importantly, by breaking things down in this way, you can more clearly consider what interventions will be most effective for you. What you're able to do when things are at a 2 and you're just starting to drift may be completely out of reach when flashbacks are raining down on you and you can't even remember where you are.
Our list of 101 Techniques here includes interventions that can work at various levels of groundedness (as well as in different locations/scenarios), but they definitely won't be useful at every stage. Additionally, many of these will be incredibly helpful to one person but could even make things worse for another. Personalization is key when it comes to grounding. Some activities may also be triggering for one survivor but just the ticket for someone else. (Everyone's triggers and sensitivities are different and that's perfectly okay. There's no shame or guilt to be had if you just can't try something. Just keep moving along until you find the next good one for you!) Take what you can use here and leave the rest. But also, don't be afraid to try things that don't immediately appeal to you. You may find that what you thought would never work for you may be the most effective thing you've ever tried! ..and vice versa! Trial and error is another key here!
So, here is our list of 101 Grounding Techniques. We will likely keep adding to this and make additional new posts as we collect even more. So, go ahead and bookmark this for when you might be scrambling and in need of some help! It'll always be here for you. And the BEST part is that you get to add your own and share with other survivors who are in the same place as you. Leave them a comment here and share your go-to grounding techniques. Working together and brainstorming through the hard stuff as a collective is how we all heal more effectively, more meaningfully and much more quickly! So, let's hear 'em! No tool or technique is too silly or insignificant!
Here we go! Let's do dis.
101 Grounding Techniques
Open your eyes! (Sounds simple and obvious, but you’d be amazed how instinctively you close them during symptoms, and just how much more you dissociate with them closed!)
Put your feet on the floor. (I know it feels safer and cozier tucked up in a ball or with your legs up on the chair, but pressing your feet firmly into the floor and opening up your body is a grounding must!)
Uncover your ears. (Another “duh” one, but for many in flashbacks, it’s instinctive, aaand not something most wanna let go of easily. But holding that position keeps your brain convinced that you’re in danger. Plus! You can’t hear! ;) And you’re gonna want your hearing.)
Name 5 things you can see.
Name 4 things you hear.
Name 3 things you can smell.
Touch a variety of textures and fabrics. List them to yourself as you do so. Describe them to yourself. Do you like them? Dislike them?
Remind yourself of the date/year. (Or look on your phone to learn it.)
Remind yourself of your name, how old you are, where you are, and why you’re there.
Take several deep deep breaths. Exhale longer than you inhale.
Start separating the past from the present. (Notice all the things that are different from the memories or thoughts that are being so intrusive - i.e. electronics that weren’t around back then, that you’re outside now not inside, that there are people around you that you didn’t know then, that you're an adult, that you live somewhere else, etc etc.)
Look at your hands and feet. Notice they’re adult hands. Orient yourself to your body as you watch your fingers move.
Disengage from staring off or focusing too intently on one object or area for too long.
Stop swaying, rocking, or other rhythmic behaviors that may be trancing you. Yes, we know just how enticing and comforting and mindless this can be, but it may be making things worse. If you’re struggling instead with feeling frozen, try rocking just mildly BUT try not to fall into any sort of “rhythm”.
Vocalize. Say something to yourself. Hum. Sing. ..anything to hear and feel your voice in your throat. It also reminds you that you HAVE a voice.
Turn on some music. (Try to keep the music current if you’re struggling with flashbacks.)
Splash your face with/run your hands under cold water.
Chew mint or cinnamon gum. Notice the intense flavor and powerful scent.
Suck on mints or sour candies - or anything with a really intense taste and smell. You don’t have to like it, it just needs to get your attention.
Repeat a calming mantra to yourself.
Internal communication. Remind parts who may be triggered that you’re safe and okay, just upset or experiencing symptoms right now.
Name 5 things you can see that are blue.
Spot 5 circles you can see in the room/your line of vision.
Find all the diamond-shaped items you can see. (This one’s harder!)
Find 3 things that are orange. (...or any other rare color.)
Call up a friend or safe person to talk to.
Sing along with the radio or your iPod. (This is particularly useful in the car.)
If you’re driving and starting to drift, grip the steering wheel and notice all of its grooves and edges and seams. (If you’re too dissociated, immediately pull over and start re-grounding while sitting still before driving again.)
Crack a window (this is particularly useful in a car, but works at home, too). Feel the wind and notice the new sound by your ears.
Trace all the fabrics and seams of furniture or clothing articles within reach. Note to yourself the difference between the cool buttons, rougher denims, soft smooth surfaces, and jagged zippers.
If you are lying in bed when it begins, sit up. Laying down can make it much more difficult to ground and your other techniques may less effective.
Journal. Write down what’s happening - particularly if it’s upsetting. Fold the page over into the book so you can't see anything you wrote anymore. Seal up and contain the dark stuff there and shut the book tight where it can’t bother you anymore. Then reconvene with other grounding techniques once it's away.
Write a note to someone, or even yourself. Feel the pen or pencil graze against the paper and notice the color as it hits the page.
Play calming apps or games on your phone or tablet. (If they are trancing, try to play something else or turn the phone off if you can't resist.)
Stretch. Open up your body so wide and press your feet firmly into the ground. Orient yourself to your body from the top of your head to the tip of your toes.
Dance. If you have the room to do so, do a silly dance or a even a serious one. Notice as you regain your balance and coordination from when you started.
Try some brain puzzles like Sudoko, word searches, or game apps with puzzles that require problem-solving.
Send text messages or write yourself a note on your phone. Feel your fingers tapping the glass as you type and try hitting all the right letters. Notice any of the haptic feedback with each long press or short tap.
Pet a kitty or dog or other animal that may be around.
Take your dog (or cat ;) ) for a walk.
Change scenery. If you’re in the living room, go to the kitchen. If you’re in the bathroom, head to the dining room. If you’re in the bedroom, walk outside. If you’re outside, go somewhere new. A change of scenery can do a lot, even if you don’t know why the first place was causing you so much grief.
Watch some funny videos on YouTube. (Maybe even make yourself a playlist of good laughs for when you’ll need them.)
Put on hand lotions or antibacterial gels that have a strong fragrance. Are they cool or warm? Thin or thick? Soft or stinging?
Paint your nails. Notice the intense scent and vibrant color. Guys can do this too!
Take your current nail polish off if you have any on. Notice the pungency of the acetone. (Please don’t do this if you’re extra ungrounded. Your skin and potential furniture items will not appreciate an accident.)
Feed your pets if you have them.
Eat something - you may be very hungry. Notice all the different flavors and textures and scents. Perhaps choose something with a lot of flavor.
Get a cold, cold glass of water. Feel the coldness in your throat and against your hand. Notice the slippery condensation on the glass with your fingers.
Drink coffee - even if you don’t like it. Though, be careful about making it too hot. That can be hard to judge if you’re too ungrounded.
Take a bath or shower if that isn’t triggering or an OCD behavior for you. Notice the water pressure and temperature. Smell each individual product before using it. If the shower itself is what’s making you ungrounded but you must take one, narrate to yourself the steps you're taking - almost as if you were hosting a YouTube tutorial. Name the products you're using and even describe to yourself why you like/use them. (Also, bringing music that REALLY pumps you up can really help you stay grounded if you're struggling with showers.)
Play a guitar or piano, or other instrument (if that’s something you can do). Heck, play them even if you have no idea what you're doing! Listen to all the crazy notes you can make. Feel the strings or keys and all the various textures against your fingertips.
Reality-test with a friend. If you aren’t sure if something you’re feeling, seeing, hearing or thinking is real, ask a safe friend to help you decide what is fact from fiction, flashback from present, old trauma messages or your current situation.
Check inside to see if parts need something and/or if they are keeping you ungrounded on purpose or just to get your attention (DID-specific). Try to meet their needs if they reveal them to you and if they are reasonable. Engage in more elaborate internal communication if not.
Watch a cartoon or kids movie - particularly if you have younger parts inside who need the comfort. Do this even if you don’t have parts. You probably still need it, too. ;)
Snuggle up with a suuuuper soft and snuggly blanket or robe. Feel how incredibly warm or soft it is. Notice its threading and colors. What does it smell like?
If you’re outside, slip off your shoes and press your toes into the ground. Is it cool or warm? Jagged or soft? Squishy or muddy? Pavement or macadam? Grass or dirt?
Jump up and down or bounce on the balls of your feet. Feel your shoulders and arms flop and flounce about.
Change all the notification bells on your cell phone. Each time they make a new noise that you aren’t used to, you’ll be startled back to awareness.
Take any medications you may have missed. Use your PRN’s if necessary; take pain or anxiety medications if that is what is causing your dissociation.
If you are in a car (passenger or driver), adjust the seat into a different position - even one that’s just slightly uncomfortable. Stretch your legs out far and lift your head up tall. Wiggle about. If you’re a passenger, look around the inside of the car instead of out the window for a bit. Then switch. (..your gaze, not parts ;) )
If you are the driver, keep your eyes peeled for green cars. Notice every license plate with a B in it. If it’s a particularly long drive, play the alphabet game (but not to the point of real distraction. We want safer driving here, not less!)
Use your imagery techniques - particularly for pain or intense emotions. Dial them down to a manageable level. Set a 15 minute timer to check back in and observe what level they're at now. It’s okay if they're "worse". The goal is just to be aware of where they are at, not necessarily improving or changing them (unless you want to).
List or write down your feelings in that moment. Describe them in extreme detail. If they were a color, what would they be? If they were a weather condition, which would you see? A temperature? A texture? Loud or quiet? Animate or inanimate? Soft or sharp?
Make some mint or other herbal tea. Inhale the scent deep into your lungs. Sip it before putting anything in it. Is it bitter? Then fix it how you like it. What were the differences?
Do some jumping jacks or just a few sit-ups or push-ups. (You can also workout for longer too, but it's not necessary.) Get the blood flowing. Jog in place. Shake it off like T Swifty and feel the blood as it rushes through you and your limbs buzz as you re-awaken and re-enter your body.
Read a book or a magazine.
Listen to an audiobook or your favorite podcast. Or, find a podcast you’ve never listened to before and give it a try.
Watch something on Netflix or Hulu. Keep it upbeat and current. If you know the oldies-but-goodies are safe for you and won’t disorient you, relish in those re-runs!
Do something goofy - particularly if you are in NO mood for nonsense. Pat your head and rub your tummy. Try to say ridiculous tongue-twisters. You’ll end up cracking up (or being so annoyed!) that you’ll still be way more grounded than you were moments ago. If you're extra grumpy, use that cynicism for a "Try Not to Laugh Challenge" online. The worst that happens is you get some chuckles. Or puppies.
Put in your earbuds and go for a run or a long walk. Get away from where you are and notice allllll the sensory changes outside. Narrate to yourself all that you see and feel and how it's different from where you were.
Progressive muscle relaxation. (There are great guided imageries and how-to steps for this online. This can be really incredibly useful for many, but can be trancing for others at first. Do what works for you!)
Go down the alphabet and list girls’ names for each letter. Then boys’ names. Then unisex. Or try to come up with silly pet’s names for each letter instead. How creative can you get?
Try counting by 3’s or 7’s. Try to get to 200. Then try multiplying by them.
Look out a window or up at the sky. What color is it? What shade name would you call it? Are there clouds or none? Are there stars or no? Can you see the moon from where you are? What about the sun? Any planes out there?
Use safe place imagery if you are having no luck orienting with your present surroundings. Mentally retreat to your safe place in as explicit of detail possible. When you’re feeling calmer, slowly start orienting yourself back to your current surroundings. Start back at the beginning of this list and come back into the room, into the present, and into your body.
Step away from social media or scrolling on your phone. This can be incredibly trancing for some without realizing it. Sit your phone across the room and spend at least 30 minutes doing something entirely different.
Color in an adult coloring book or doodle. Make silly crafts or fingerpaint if you have kid parts that need some attention. Do it even if you don't have parts.
Go swimming if it’s an option or isn’t a triggering experience for you. Notice the water and its temperature. Notice how you can both float and sink. Recreate this in a bathtub if you don’t have a pool ;)
Wash your face or brush your teeth. Do a face mask or use some other self-care toiletries to freshen up. Notice all the smells and textures. Notice how they feel on your skin and how refreshed and alert you feel.
Tap the sides of your kneecaps. Or, cross your arms, making an X on your chest, and tap your collarbones with your fingertips. Give your body some new neural feedback and stimulation to take in. Notice how it feels both weird and rhythmically calming at the same time. Observe your level of anxiety as you do - how does it change?
Do yoga or tai chi if you’re familiar with either and find those to be useful to you. Make it up as you go even if you don't actually know what you're doing ;)
Play a sport that you enjoy (or heck, even something you’re bad at! It certainly requires more effort that way!). Shoot some hoops, pepper with a volleyball, kick around a soccer ball. Or, just make up your own new game!
Organize a desk drawer or closet shelf. Clean your makeup or artist brushes that you’ve probably neglected for quite awhile. Clean your sneakers or something else you’ve been needing to do but keep forgetting.
Vacuum a room or do the dishes. Feel the vibrations and sweeping motions of the vacuum …or the temperature of the water and scent of the soap if you’re washing dishes. (If these cleaning/organizational things will trigger OCD tendencies you may have, maybe skip these and try the OTHER hundred techniques! Or, y'know, just make everything SUPER messy instead. :) )
Take some ice in your hands or place it in a baggie and hold it for a little while. (Make sure you’re at least grounded enough to know if it’s too extreme of a cold. We don't want you to damage your skin.)
Take some pictures on your phone or with a digital camera. Play with filters or photo editing apps/software that you’d never normally pick. What cool things can you make?
Watch a documentary on YouTube or Netflix. Find a subject that either completely fascinates you or even one you know very little about. What new things can you learn?.
If you’re struggling with grounding after nightmares, scribble down the nightmare in a journal - just the surface of what it was about. Then fold the page over or up real tight into the journal (or even tear it out completely). Know that it is contained in there and it’s not coming out again. Then remind yourself of the date, where you are, how old you are, and that it was just a nightmare. Then try to do some pleasing, safe-place imagery type visualizations before laying your body back down for some rest.
Light some candles. Notice the glow and the flicker. What do they smell like? Can you feel the warmth coming off of them? (If you are REALLY struggling with grounding, please please please don’t do this one. We don’t ever want you to catch anything on fire. But if you’re just loosely struggling or feeling a little fuzzy, this a great option.)
If you’re struggling with derealism, start naming all the things you know to be inarguably true. You know what name is on your birth certificate. ..how old you are now. ..where you live. ..where you are standing. ..that it is either day or night. ..that you are either alone or in the company of people. Continue on until you feel yourself becoming more rooted in reality. Then you can start challenging the things you weren’t really quite so sure about. (You may need a friend to help you and that’s okay. If you're a Hunger Games fan, you can think of it as the Real or Not Real game with a loved one or parts inside.)
Squeeze or massage your muscles. If this isn’t triggering to you, deeply dig into the muscles in your shoulders and down your arms. Move your thighs and calves around until you feel all that fresh blood finding them. Notice all the new and interesting sensations you feel now that you weren’t feeling before.
If you are frozen still, just start with very small movements. Start with just wiggling and scrunching your toes. Then try rolling your ankles. Now wiggle your fingers or tap them on a surface. Roll your wrists. Slowly work up to bending your knees and elbows. Hips and shoulders. Roll your neck. Open your mouth and stretch your jaw. Feel all the parts of your body slowly come back to life. All it takes is a small start, don't worry about the rest until you're there.
Take a nap or get ready for bed. You may just be so overtired that you’ll never be fully grounded until you get some rest.
Fold laundry or do some other similar busywork that requires a good bit of motion but also gives you something like scent and texture to work with, too. (Who wants to be fully grounded for doing laundry anywayyyy ;) )
Drink a carbonated beverage. Notice all the fizzies in your nose and down your throat.
Disengage from anything that’s too overstimulating. You may have too MANY things going on at once. Turn down a TV or stop music that might be playing. Leave crowded or busy rooms. Keep yourself engaged with your surroundings but also disengage from too MUCH sensory input.
Keep a grounding stone or similar item in your pocket when you’re out and about. Run your fingers over the stone, contort a Tangle into different shapes, or notice all the notches in your car keys. Find an item like this that works well for you!
Keep a 3x5 card attached to your sun visor in the car, or in your wallet, that clearly and boldly states what year it is, how old you are, where you live, that you are safe now, and a mantra that you may find to be soothing. Personalize it for you and your specific triggers or points of confusion - things you know you get hung up on. That way it can remind you when you aren't able to remind yourself.
Do the same with bathroom mirrors, nightstands, bedroom walls or any other place that you know you commonly struggle. You can make them either discrete or super bold depending on your living situation or understanding of those around you. Referring to these can save you a ton of mental energy when you find yourself in a sudden and intense spell of dissociation and can't even remember what you're supposed to do or think or what coping skills even are.
LAUGH. However you can, by whatever means, try to do something that makes you laugh. It’s one of the most fail-proof ways to get more grounded (even for those whose default coping mechanism is humor and avoidance. Laughing wholly and authentically with your body can still make you more present than you were.) One fail-proof way? Try to LAUGH WITHOUT SMILING. ….you’ll soon be dying over the sound that just escaped your mouth and the ridiculous face you just made trying. You won’t be able keep from bursting into real laughter! And, if you don't believe us or are too proud to give it a try, at least enjoy this video for a laugh. Good luck! “Hurr huh hurrrrr.”
MORE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:
✧ Flashbacks 101: 4 Tools to Cope with Flashbacks
✧ Self-Care 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
✧ Distraction 101: 101 Distraction Tools
✧ Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201: Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
✧ Imagery 101: Healing Pool and Healing Light
✧ DID Myths: Dispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative Identity Disorder
✧ Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
✧ Trauma and Attachment: 3-Part Series on Attachment Theory with Jade Miller
❖ Article Index ❖
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The holiday season is stressful for everyone. But for many with Complex PTSD and dissociative disorders, it can be the absolute worst time of year. While there are often bright spots, there are unique struggles that trauma survivors undeniably face as the year comes to a close. Whether out and about, or gathering with family, the holidays can be so loud and busy and overstimulating - in other words, a nightmare for anyone with a posttraumatic condition. But there are countless hidden things survivors can often struggle with that many may not even realize - including survivors with a different history. Many of you will have to face family or extended family that were the source of your trauma. Others will have to gather around unsupportive or toxic family/friends who don't value your mental health or personal wellbeing. For many survivors, the holidays are actual anniversaries of past trauma or violence. The holidays are also an unforgiving battleground to the many who struggle with food, disordered eating, and/or addictions. To add insult to injury, an upsetting number of trauma survivors are grappling with chronic physical health issues, too - most of which came as a result of their trauma whether they realize it or not. They're going to be in pain -- wanting to engage but unable. The list goes on and on - and, we know just how hard many of you will be fighting just to stay above the water. We want to help however we can.
Because so many of you will have very different holiday plans, different trauma histories that will involve very different triggers, and varying levels of safety or stages in recovery -- when it comes to managing your symptoms, there can be no one-size-fits all guide to getting through. But, there are, however, some universal things that remain true for most everyone. We care very deeply about your health and wellbeing and don't want you to feel like you're going at it alone. So, here are some of our suggestions to help get you through the holiday season safely, with your sanity intact, and knowing someone has your back. Take what applies to you and leave the rest, and please feel free to comment some of YOUR suggestions as well to keep extending support to our community of survivors.
Our list to get through the holidays:
Stay grounded. Remaining grounded is your first and strongest line of defense to any of the things you'll face during the holidays. If you aren't grounded, none of your coping skills will be as effective. Keep textured items in your pockets, bags, and/or car. Carry a notecard on you or in your phone that can remind you of the date, that you're safe and an adult now, as well as any other orienting details that are important to you. Keep your feet on the floor whenever you can. Try to refrain from staring off or zoning out when things get too dull (or too heated). Keep your phone on you to play music or engage in interactive apps whenever you feel yourself drifting. Look around the room - take note of all the pretty things that catch your eye as you look about. Talk or engage with someone if you can; vocalize in some way if you're alone. Step out and wash your hands or face in cool water. Go outside for a bit to reinvigorate yourself with fresh air or cold temperatures. Anything you can to stay present in the here and now! (We have 101 Grounding Techniques right here for ya if you need them!)
Remember: You have a voice. This is your life, your safety, your sanity. You matter. You are allowed to set boundaries for yourself, say no, change your mind, make choices that honor you. If you don't want to visit with someone, or know seeing them will trigger or stress you too greatly - you DO NOT HAVE TO GO. We understand that for some of you, particularly those who still live with unsafe people, saying no would actually put you in danger. We understand that necessity and do not want to encourage you to put yourself in harm's way. But for those of you whom it just feels scary or would make you feel guilty, ask yourself if those temporary feelings are more important than the endless, unpredictable amounts of distress spending time with those people would cause you. Use your voice. Set boundaries. You are an adult and are allowed to say no now and have it be respected.
Plan ahead. One of the best strategies to prevent an utter disaster is to plan ahead in the most detailed way possible. List what kinds of things you're going to do before to make sure you go in to any stressful event confidently and steadily. Describe the things you're going to do for yourself during to make sure you're grounded, level and calm. Then, be incredibly specific about what you're going to do after to decompress and unwind, and then [most importantly!] what you'll do for self-care. This is called a "Before/During/After Plan" or BDA.
Don't forget the basics. It sounds painfully simple, but it's so easy to forget. Take your medications. Eat well. Stay hydrated. Force yourself to rest your body and mind even if you cannot sleep. Don’t neglect your physical health. These things are as much your foundation as being grounded is. Forgetting any of these basic needs can make you more vulnerable to symptoms, which can lead to a full unravelling later.
Internal communication. Those of you who have internal parts (DID/OSDD) will need to make sure you're doing a lot of internal communication. Acknowledge with one another the difficult, painful, scary, or triggering things that you're going to be facing. Validate those feelings and fears with each other. Then, together, plan ahead for how you'll work together and arrange yourselves for each event on your calendar. Also discuss what you might do to honor one another, perhaps even share gifts if that feels right. (..even if those gifts to one another are as simple as letting a part watch a movie at home later, or color a picture. It doesn't have to be a material present :) ) Acknowledging and validating what's so painful about these holidays will make you less likely to be blindsided by traumatic material mid-holiday celebration if someone inside encounters a trigger you never saw coming.
Incentivize. It's no secret that many survivors struggle with self-harming or other self-destructive behaviors or addictions. Others are warring with their absolutely devastating depression, OCD, or similarly incapacitating conditions. Get yourself a gift or other incentive that you aren’t allowed to have until January 2nd (or after each individual holiday). If you got through the whole holiday season self-harm free or were able to accomplish things you were too depressed or too afraid to do, it's waiting for you to open when you've met your goal!
Let yourself grieve. It seems counterintuitive to lead yourself into painful emotions, but it makes them far less likely to bubble up just as you're getting comfortable or having a good time. Let yourself be sad. Let yourself be angry. Let yourself grieve lost holidays or entire childhoods of happy memories. Allow yourself be upset about what your traumatic experiences have robbed you of or made more difficult. Take a moment to be angry about neglectful and/or dismissive family and friends who won't support you the way you deserve to be supported. Once you've given yourself a moment to feel these things, your mind will feel freer to enjoy the holidays and less determined to remind you that it was really, really hurt by all that's associated with them.
Take time for you. You don't have to be "on" from Thanksgiving to January. You don't have to be "on" morning to night on any holiday either. Take breaks. Leave the room. Take a walk outside. Sit in peace in a bedroom or unoccupied room for a moment. Those 15 minute breathers will do you and your nervous system wonders before returning to the festivities.
Support system. If you have friends or family that support you heathily, connect with them. Make it a point to fill them in on what's going on and what's worrying you. Plan to connect with them even if for just 5 or 10 minutes before/after holiday gatherings. We know that many therapists aren't available during holiday weeks, so touching base with friends and family that have your back can help you feel less stranded or as if you've been abandoned in your weakest moments.
Breathe. Again, it sounds so simple, but you'll be amazed how many times you're completely overwhelmed and are actually holding your breath. Take several deep cleansing breaths every time you feel your tension meter rising.
Limit alcohol/substances. The holidays don't make this super easy for those who like to partake, but any level of intoxication can make traumatic material just a trigger away from flooding you. ...and leaving you quite defenseless against it. Try to be extra responsible during tough times - even if your whole body is zinging or feels so pressurized you're going to burst. Going for another drink makes you far more vulnerable for everything to actually come cascading out of you - especially if you were already tense enough to 'need' that drink.
Remember: You do not have to stay. Just like before, your needs matter. You are not obligated to do anything you don't want to or for longer than you desire. You do not have to feel guilty. You don't owe anyone an explanation for why you're leaving, where you're going, or why you want to go so soon. You are allowed to leave early. You are being a proactive bamf by taking care of you. If you don't think you can count on your voice to be strong enough in the moment, make plans to see someone immediately after a gathering and make it known ahead of time that you can’t stay long. Don't have anyone free to do that with or are traveling? There are even apps that can help you get out of a situation you don't want to be in. :) Even if you have to get clever about it, you are still allowed to go when you've had enough. Period.
Physical safety. If you MUST visit (or already live) with unsafe people, and things escalate but you don’t feel you can leave the room, step outside, or leave entirely…. If at any moment you feel things are going to erupt into violence, apps like SafeTrek exist that will bring the police to your location without you ever making or answering a call. (This app is valuable for many other scenarios, for trauma survivors especially, and is highly recommended. It is available for iOS and Android.) You can also dial 911 yourself if you feel you can and just leave it open for an operator to listen to the chaos. Many are familiar with this, and they may be willing to send a wellness check. If you don’t feel either of those are safe options, or that a visit from police would make things less safe for you later, take some time now to brainstorm what WOULD feel safe to you. Can you make a plan with a friend that would have them call you if you text a certain word? To interrupt the chaos? To force them to hush because someone on the phone might hear them, or because you had to get up and go to another room? Do you have an ally in the family/friend group who could help you? What feels right to you? If your answer is “Just take it” (the abuse), I urge you to reconsider. You are important. You are valuable. You are worthy of basic needs: safety. You do not need to accept this or endure this any longer. You have a voice and you have a brilliant mind that can find something else. Anything else.
Conquering loneliness. Many of these tips revolve around gatherings with others. But, for some of you, much of the holiday season is actually spent alone (either by choice or circumstance). Since loneliness can breed all sorts of darkness in the mind, plan your own holiday time for you. Make the day a day that you treat yourself like you never do. Watch movies, take a bath, paint your nails, turn your music up, watch new shows on Netflix, read a book, make yourself an elaborate meal, celebrate yourself and how far you’ve come. Go ahead and make all of those slummin it with the fam jealous that you were at home having the time of your life in your PJs, coloring an adult coloring book, with Christmas cookies and tea. ;) But, more seriously, if you really feel like it's just going to be too hard even if you make it a fun day for you - just like those spending time with others - make a plan for the day. Outline it. What will you do before to make sure you're at your strongest? What are you going to do during to keep yourself steady? And what will you do after to decompress and take care of yourself? Let's hope your plan has TONS of self-care and self-treating in it. You deserve it!
Be kind to yourself. The holidays are hard. For everyone. Yes, even those who have it all together. It's never going to be perfect. You're likely going to make mistakes, have bad days, be a little short with someone you love, or have a day that you aren't the most patient. You may stumble, or even completely fall apart. While we hope that doesn't happen, it's okay if it does. Life is a process, and every year is different. None of us get it right every time, or even most of the time. The best and only thing to do after something goes wrong is to practice some self-kindness. Cut yourself some slack and remind yourself that now, if any a time, is the time you need comfort the most...especially from yourself. Be gentle. If you wouldn't tell one of your friends they were stupid or bad for making the exact same mistake, then you aren't either. Breathe. It's okay. You're gonna be okay.
And we're here. So, you're going to be more than okay :)
We are sending you the best wishes and warmth from all of us at Beauty After Bruises. You are always in our hearts and we'll be thinking of you tons this holiday season.