When you experience something stressful, your body momentarily goes into “fight-or-flight” mode. Your body calms down after the danger feeling has passed. But the traumatic experiences such as sexual assault can make your nervous system to be stuck in a state of high alert. You become hyper sensitive to the smallest of the stimuli. This is the case for many rape survivors. Flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive memories are awfully common, especially if the memory of the assault is still new. If your nervous system remains “stuck” in the long-term and you develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they can last much longer.
Here is the list of ways you can try to reduce the stress of flashbacks and upsetting memories:
Anticipate and prepare for triggers. Usual triggers include anniversary dates; people or places linked with the rape; and particular sights, sounds, or smells. If the victim is aware of what triggers the upsetting reaction, then they’re in a better position to understand what’s happening and take steps to calm down.
Pay attention to the body’s danger signals. Body and emotions give clues when the victim is starting to feel stressed and unsafe. These clues include feeling tense, holding their breath, racing thoughts, shortness of breath, hot flashes, dizziness, and nausea.
Take urgent steps to self-soothe. When the victim notice any of the symptoms above, it’s vital to promptly act to calm before they spiral out of control. One of the fastest and most real means to calm anxiety and panic is to delay your breathing.
Soothe panic with this easy breathing exercise
- Sit or stand comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
- Take a slow breath in through your nose, counting to four. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale through your mouth to a count of eight, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
- Inhale again, repeating the cycle until you feel relaxed and centered.
Tips for dealing with flashbacks
It’s not always possible to stop flashbacks. But if the victim discovers that they’re losing touch with the reality and feeling like the sexual assault is happening around again, there are measures they can take.
Encourage them that this is only a flashback, not reality. The traumatic event is over and she survived. Here’s a simple mantra that can help: “I am feeling _________ because I am remembering the sexual assault, but as I look around I can see that the assault is not really happening now and I’m not actually in danger.”
Ground yourself in the present. It can help you direct your attention away from the flashback and back to your present environment. For example, try tapping or touching your arms or describing your actual environment and what you see when look around—name the place where you are, the current date, and 3 things you see when you look around.
>>>> Related: Monitor Triggers to Lessen the Risk of PTSD