How Long Do Flashbacks Last?

Those who suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder may experience flashbacks (PTSD). Posttraumatic stress disorder patients can relive the event that caused the disorder by having flashbacks. A flashback appears differently for every person. Flashbacks in PTSD are associated with particular types of nightmares and recurrent thoughts about the traumatic event.

What Are Flashbacks?

When you experience a flashback, you either vividly recall all the specifics of a sad event or get the feeling that it is happening right now. Flashbacks occasionally resemble watching a video of what happened, even though they hardly ever include images or a complete account of what happened. Any of the following scenarios could occur:

  • Getting comprehensive or imperfect photographs of the incident.
  • Smelling or hearing flavors, smells, or noises connected to the trauma.
  • A physical experience, such as pressure or discomfort.
  • Experiencing the same emotions as during the trauma.

It’s possible that specific people, locations, or circumstances may cause you to experience flashbacks because they somehow stir up memories of the trauma. Additionally, you might have seen that flashbacks appear to occur at random. Every few minutes, several hours, or even every day, flashbacks can happen.

What Do Flashbacks Feel Like?

When having flashbacks, many people experience a range of feelings. Even when we’re joyful, they can still occur. They can be terrifying and frightening since you are reliving your trauma and it feels like it is actually happening. You can encounter a series of visions or a scene from a movie, hear sounds or voices, or feel touch. Your body may respond similarly by sweating or beating more quickly if you can taste or smell something that triggers memories of your trauma.

You might experience anxiety, panic, and helplessness as a result of flashbacks. As a result, you can experience loneliness and communication difficulties. You can feel incredibly angry, guilty, or numb.

When Do Flashbacks Happen?

A flashback could result from an incident. Your memories may come to you suddenly or you may be aware of what causes them. Sometimes anything that acts as a reminder of the things that have happened in your life can set them off. There is a lot of evidence linking the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch to triggers. Sometimes specific or strong emotions, even delight, might trigger flashbacks.

Typical triggers include

  • Watching the perpetrator or someone who resembles them.
  • Hearing the offender’s voice or a voice that sounds like theirs.
  • Unique mannerisms, facial features, actions, or clothing.
  • Several odors, including those of alcohol, flowers, and aftershave.
  • Songs or other musical works.
  • Personal communication
  • Unwanted physical interaction
  • Having a variety of emotions, including depression, joy, fear, and entrapment.

The list above is not exhaustive. Flashbacks and the events that trigger them are all unique, as are the individual, the trauma she has experienced, and the way her mind has reacted to the abuse.

Tips On Coping With Flashbacks

Despite the fact that flashbacks can be extremely upsetting, there are some things you can try that may be beneficial. You could:

Focus on your breathing 

You can cease breathing normally out of fear. This is why it could be beneficial to concentrate on taking five even, deep breaths.

Keep an object of the present close by

During a flashback, some people find it beneficial to touch or concentrate on a specific object. This might be anything you select to keep in your pocket or handbag or anything you decide to take around with you, such as a keychain or a piece of jewelry.

Tell yourself that you are safe

It could be beneficial to tell yourself that the trauma is over and that you are safe right now. It could be helpful to write down or record some supportive remarks while you’re feeling better because it might be challenging to think clearly during a flashback.

Keep a diary

Making a note of what happens during a flashback may help you see patterns in what triggers them. You might also learn to recognize warning signs that something bad is going to happen.

Don’t fight the flashback

Even though it could be challenging, try to take a few deep breaths and give the memory a chance to emerge. In fact, using food, drink, drugs or self-harm to numb the agony of a flashback can make the anguish of unearthing suppressed memories worse and last longer. Although it can be challenging to alter these ingrained coping strategies, doing so will ultimately prove to be quite beneficial. 

Emerging memories will likely feel stronger and more powerful as they vie for your attention if you attempt to ignore or push them away.

Try grounding techniques

You could find that doing grounding techniques will help you manage your thoughts and stay present. You could, for instance, count the things of a certain class or color or orally describe your surroundings. Our page on self-care for dissociative disorders has more information on grounding techniques.

Look For Treatment

The most efficient technique to stop flashbacks and dissociation is to receive PTSD treatment. Flashbacks and dissociation could be symptoms of a problem with how to absorb or discuss the traumatic event you just went through. To deal with this, treatment is a possibility.


In order to treat PTSD and minimize the symptoms of dissociation and flashbacks, a range of psychotherapy approaches can be used. A few of them are listed below:

Cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of talk therapy, assists patients in identifying and altering the ideas and feelings that contribute to their symptoms (CBT). To alter how traumatic experiences are viewed, cognitive processing treatment (CPT), a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is employed. 

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) uses bilateral eye movements to help patients process trauma.


There are no FDA-approved medications for the treatment of flashbacks or dissociation. But some prescription medications might be able to help people manage their PTSD symptoms. These include:

Paxil(paroxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine), and Zoloft (sertraline), are examples of SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which are sertraline-based drugs 

Additional SNRIs (selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) include Effexor (venlafaxine).

The Bottom Line

Flashbacks are a typical symptom of PTSD. They could make you feel as though you are reliving all or portions of the incident. Anything that reminds us of the traumatic event often triggers flashbacks. There are strategies for coping with flashbacks as well as possible prevention actions, like self-care, and practices.

 If you are having trouble managing your flashbacks on your own, you might want to consider speaking with a healthcare provider for additional support.

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