10 techniques to help control painful memories and flashbacks this Christmas

Party scene

Christmas can be a particularly difficult time of year for people who are recovering from sexual assault. At a time when party season is in full-flow and many are full of Christmas cheer, survivors can find it hard not to stand out for the fact that they are coping with significant trauma.

If your experience involved being sexually assaulted at or after a party or night out – a common experience for many – it can be doubly hard to engage in celebrations when you are experiencing flashbacks and parallels with your experience.

Fortunately, there are ways to help you cope with these powerful emotions when they occur – whether that be in the form of anxiety before you go out, or flashbacks when you’re on a night out.

Grounding

Grounding is the term given to a series of techniques that help to ‘ground’ you in the moment you are in, rather than the memories or flashbacks you have. Grounding techniques help you to create a distance from the feelings and memories that have come to you and help you return to the moment you’re in.

Physical techniques

Hold a piece of ice – feel it in your hands and count the seconds until it starts to melt.

Savour tastes – take a small bite or mouthful of something you can eat or drink, savour the taste and pick out the flavours.

Pick out sounds – listen to the different voices and sounds you can hear and distinguish between them.

Focus on your breath – breath deeply and feel how the breath fills your lungs and how they deflate as your breath out.

Use the 5-4-3-2-1 method –count backwards from 5 and list things that you sense while doing so. For example, 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell and 1 you can taste.

Mental techniques

Use an anchoring sentence – tell yourself your name, age, place and date of birth and where you live. Begin to elaborate with details about the weather and what you can see and hear.

Do some mental arithmetic – try doing your timetables in your head, or add, multiply or divide different numbers you can see.

Describe what you can see – describe what you can see in detail, include what you’re wearing and who you’re with.

Visualise your favourite place – think of your happy place, why you like it so much, what it is about it that makes it so special and gradually travel back from there in your mind to where you currently are.

Imagine putting painful memories in a box – visualise taking your painful memories and locking them away, before returning to the place you’re at.

Bookmark this page and keep these simple techniques to hand to help you when you need it. Like anything, these will become more effective as your practice – but it doesn’t matter if you’re doing something for the first time or the 100th, these will help you get on top of any painful memories or associations when you need to.

Need a bit more of a helping hand?

We’re here for you, when you’re ready – whenever that is, contact us.

 

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