Help with moving on
Most people will be able to recover after being affected by suicide. For some, moving on can be more difficult. Some people may continue to be affected by feelings of trauma, or experience flashbacks and nightmares about what has happened.
A flashback can feel like you are in the middle of a traumatic event all over again. It can happen any time – months or even years after the incident. It can be a very scary experience as the same stress reactions can happen to your body, causing your body to enter fight or flight mode again. It’s important to note that a flashback is not the same as dwelling on the event, or finding it difficult to stop thinking about the event. We cover this more in the section on ruminations below.
You may experience a flashback when your memory is triggered by something you see, hear, smell, or feel. It can be helpful not to try to ‘fight’ the flashback, but to notice it, remind yourself it is a memory from the past rather than actually happening now, and try to allow it to pass from your mind. You can try to spot the differences between what is happening NOW versus what was happening THEN to help this.
An approach that has been found to be helpful in reducing flashbacks is to make time to calmly think over, talk over and or write about the trauma, rather than always push the memories from your mind. This gives you some control over the memories, helping put them in the past where they belong, rather than have them intrude on you unexpectedly.
As your brain heals and recovers from trauma, flashbacks often become less powerful and decrease. If this isn’t happening, and you are concerned, then contact your GP for advice. You may have your own coping strategies, but in the immediate term, the following grounding exercises can help you to cope if a flashback occurs.
- Backwards from 100 in 3s, in 2s or in 1s depending on your confidence with numbers.
- Count forward in 7s
2. Grounding with your senses
• Take a deep breath, and then start to mentally catalogue the things you see around you. Notice even the mundane details (e.g., that electrical outlet is white, and is a little bit crooked).
• Choose an object and describe it in detail: colour, shape, texture, light, shadow.
• Colours: Notice and name 5 red things, then 4 blue things, 3 green things, 2 yellow things and then 1 white thing. Or find all the green things in a room, all the red things etc.
Smells are an incredibly powerful way of coming to our senses. If you are deliberately paying attention to a smell, you are truly in the present moment. Try to find a smell that has positive associations for you - maybe one that reminds you of happy times, or a smell which you enjoy. Carry it with you and use it to bring yourself back to the present moment if you get caught up in an unwanted memory.
Hold something cool or smooth, such as a small pebble, moving it around in your hand and focusing on how this feels.
• Suck a very strong mint • Bite into a lemon
•Listen to the sounds you hear around you - inside the room and outside. Try to identify at least 5. Notice the layers of sound (e.g., the sounds behind the sounds). Notice how sounds rise and fall, their pitch and timbre.
• Put a favourite piece of music on and try to pick up the different instruments
Sit in a location where you will be able to relax and focus for a few minutes. Focus your attention on the sensations in your feet resting on the floor.
Rest your attention on that area for a little bit. Relax. Be curious. Watch. Breathe. Begin to focus on specific sensations. What do you notice?
Is there pressure on any part of your foot? Are there different temperatures?
Do you feel any sensations like slight tingling, your shoes touching your feet, or air moving around? Describe in your mind or out loud the characteristics of the sensations on the bottoms, insides, and on the surface of your feet. Feel what it feels like to be supported by the floor. Feel how solid the floor is. You may think to yourself, “The floor supports me.” You can slide or push your feet against the floor to make that sensation stronger if you want. Feel the floor just a little bit longer than you feel inclined to. Breathe.
Move your attention around your body, using the same technique, e.g., the back of your legs, your back against the chair.
3. Mind Body Ground Linking Exercise
Dwelling and rumination
Rumination is when you repeatedly think about the event, what has happened since and things linked to it. This can feel out of your control. You may find yourself repeating the experience in your mind, dwelling on what could have been different, and asking yourself unanswerable questions like, “why?”, “what if?” and “if only?”
Looking back at the memory of the event can be a positive part of processing what has happened, However, if you find that you’re repeatedly going over and over the same situation without getting anywhere, you need to notice and break the cycle of dwelling.
Below, we have included some activities you can try.
- Set aside time to write down your thoughts and think about what has happened, instead of letting it become a ‘niggle’ in the back of your mind. When the time is up, set aside what you have written down or thought about.
- Practice mindfulness. It can often help to spend a few minutes a day sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing. Relaxing music or sounds may help, and make sure you plan this time into your day, even if it’s for 5 minutes.
- Talk to a friend. Talking about what has happened and your thoughts can help you to see things in a new perspective, and connection is known to help you move on.
- Focus on the positives. When you feel yourself starting to dwell, try writing down three things that make you feel safe, you enjoy, or that you are grateful for.
If you continue to have problems with rumination after giving the above tips a go or have concerns about your mental health, contact your GP to arrange an appointment.