Focusing on our health is always important, but it is especially vital as you heal after trauma. And with all the added layer of stress that the world is dealing with at this time (between politics and the current outbreak), I want to gently remind you to take time for self-care.
An overwhelmed body is a dysregulated body that is more likely to miss important cues about needing rest and unplug from the news and social media. Yes, we want to stay informed but we must also be mindful of the impact worried thinking can have on our feelings and create additional stress in the body.
Learning about self-care was part of my healing journey after trauma. I had learned a lot about trauma. I understood the impact but had been fortunate with a healthy body, so the long term impact had not shown up in my biology except for very painful migraine headaches and depression. The toxic level of stress I had lived with my whole life had not registered yet.
Back then, my self-care (which wasn't really self-care because it was only hurting me) mostly consisted of the 3 most common ways many survivors use to not feel the pain: stay distracted (for me, this meant overworking), numbing the pain, and repressing/avoid my feelings at all cost. It just hurt too much to think about it. I was in too much pain and too ashamed of what had happened to me. In the process, I had completely disconnected from myself and my needs. This strategy worked for a while but what I learned is that all of those strategies were short-term solutions and actually making me feel worse. By practicing mindfulness, (the ongoing practice of accepting what is going on inside, choosing to become aware of it, and sit with it without judgment) over time I found a better and healthier way to respond to intrusive thoughts and difficult feelings and sensations in my mind and body.
Adding self-care to my life back then was also difficult because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted and needed. I was really hard on myself about this, too. It was embarrassing. I was a grown woman, but I didn’t know how to care for myself in a loving way. I did not know what it looked and felt like to kindly take care of Svava.
However, I was very skilled at taking care of family and friends. I knew what they needed and I would go out of my way to make sure those needs were met. I always put them first, often at the expense of my own self-care. It was much easier to focus on other people.
If you also find yourself ignoring your own needs and focus only on the needs of others, I want you to know I understand. I’ve been there and I’m here to tell you that you can start to change that.
Any change begins with awareness. Pay attention to what works, what doesn’t work, and what needs to be tweaked in your life.
The best way to do this is to make a list:
Seems like a tall order, doesn’t it? It did to me. With a busy work life and a family of five, I had no time in my day for taking care of “me.”
But I was determined to do it, so I kept trying. I knew I had to take daily loving action to change my lifestyle, to make my self-care a priority, or I would never fully heal.
Then an amazing thing happened. Because I kept choosing to be curious about what I needed and not judge myself when I felt short, I began to feel better about myself. I was shocked to discover self-care was helping me heal and it was making me healthier than I had ever been. I was probably even reversing some of the long-term impacts the abuse had on my body.
Slowly, I started to treat myself with the respect and love I deserved. The more self-care I practiced, the stronger and more resilient I felt. It felt so good to finally know how to make myself healthy again. I was healing from the inside out. I know that the body is so good at healing itself, my job was to support it in doing what it does best, staying healthy.
You can do this too! Make today the day you take those first steps toward your own self-care. It won’t feel comfortable at first, but keep trying. You’ll be glad you did!
To get you started, I am including a self-care bingo I created for my support group to give them ideas for self-care. See how many of these loving actions you cross off in a week or even a weekend!
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