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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Managing When Memories Flood Back

Saturday, March 31, 2018
I wrote this article for the local paper on the anniversary of the devastating floods that hit our town in March 2017. But you can apply these techniques to your memory of any awful happening.

It’s been a year now, and a lot of water has gone under the bridge, so to speak. We’ve hosed away the mud, and supported each other through the process of rebuilding our community. But even though life seems to have returned to normal, many of us now feel nervous when it rains. Thinking that it could all happen again can rattle even the strongest of us.

If cyclone season makes you particularly nervous this year there’s a good reason, and there are strategies you can use to help yourself cope.  First, through knowing how your mind works, then working with it. 

As far as your brain is concerned, it’s important to keep scanning the environment for potential threats. If your senses of sight, sound, smell or touch detect something that reminds you of the flood (like the sound of rain, the sight of the river coming up or the smell of mud) your brain is instantly alerted: you’re in danger. As a result your emotions take you right back to how you felt at the time of the flood and physical indications follow. This reaction is really helpful when there’s an actual threat; not so helpful when it’s just a memory.

A key technique when this happens is to get an important message through to your brain: that there’s no genuine threat in this moment and although there was a flood last year you’re actually safe right now, right here. Some people find gently reminding themselves that it’s just a memory is enough. Others find it helpful to use the physical sense of touch or smell to bring themselves back to the present.  Touching or smelling an object that makes you feel good can help; perhaps a favourite blanket, or a smell that triggers happier memories. 

You might not be coping despite these strategies. Signs you could use extra help include 
  • having trouble managing your moods (particularly when ‘triggered’ by a memory), 
  • if you’re using alcohol or drugs to manage your feelings, 
  • notice your relationships are struggling, 
  • you find yourself going ‘spacey’ when those memories materialise, 
  • nightmares or flashbacks often disrupt your sleep, or 
  • you get weird physical symptoms without a medical cause. 

If this happens, some time with a professional can help you manage your feelings. The most difficult part of getting help, though, is actually acknowledging that you need help, and making the arrangements to sit down with a practitioner.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'How to avoid developing PTSD'

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