The more I read about trauma recovery, the more I hear about the importance of self-care.
Self-care is any activity or practice in which you choose to engage to maintain, regain, or attain balance, well-being, and health in daily life. It involves the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual care of self.
Simple, right? Maybe not. For trauma survivors, the implementation of self-care practices can be difficult, especially if you’ve come from an abusive background where you haven’t experienced comfort, nurture, and love.
Furthermore, some self-care suggestions aren’t practical. Talking to a friend might not work if you struggle with trust; going out for coffee may not be an option if you’re on disability income.
My Self-Care Journey
In the last year, I’ve had to take self-care seriously. Living with someone (in my case, my husband) with complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is stressful, draining, and just plain hard. I’ve been forced to make changes to my schedule, lifestyle, and commitments.
I wouldn’t wish PTSD on any family, but I believe the self-care practices I’ve implemented have been hugely beneficial: I’ve grown in creativity, I treat myself with greater compassion, and I’ve learned to say ‘no’.
I use the acronym STOP as a way to categorize my self-care practices.
What is STOP?
S stands for sleep, silence, solitude, and space.
Introvert or extrovert, the benefits of silence and solitude – even for short periods – are medically documented.
Spending time in solitude is actually a very healthy thing to do—it gives us an opportunity to balance the busyness. It’s not only a mindful act, but a self-compassionate act too. – Elisha Goldstein, PhD, What Five Minutes of Silence Can Do for Your Brain
- Start small: 2 minutes, 5 minutes.
- Sit and look out the window.
- Sit quietly with a pet.
- Sit and drink tea in silence.
- Notice the small sounds around you: the hum of the furnace, rustling leaves, or the movment of your breath.
- Draw your attention to the moment.
T stands for tenderness.
To show tenderness means to treat yourself or others with kindness, compassion, and care; the opposite of driven, critical, and rough. This can be a challenge for survivors.
What are healthy ways to treat our minds, bodies and emotions with kindness and comfort?
- Hot or cold drinks. (I prefer hot).
- Take a bath.
- Read comforting books.
- Watch an uplifting movie.
- Listen to quiet music.
- Spend time in nature.
Research shows even brief interactions with nature can soothe our brains. – Dr. David Suzuki, Nature calms the brain and heals the body
O stands for to organize.
Don’t panic! Not the cleaning, purging, and paper sorting kind.
Self-care settles and reorders your internal world.
I’m not sure how this works, but engaging in creative activities helps with internal organization.
And, creativity is not just for artists. Trust me on this one. I used to think I wasn’t creative!
- Journal. Write a story. Write a poem.
- Paint, draw, or color.
- Go for a walk and observe nature.
- Take photos.
- Buy one house plant, and take care of it.
- Bake or cook.
- The list is endless.
Complex, creative activities like knitting, cake decorating or crossword puzzles can create a non-medicinal, feel-good high. – Robin Shreeves, Why crafting is good for mental health
Remember, no one will know what you are doing. You can always tear up your creation. Give yourself permission to experiment.
P stands for pause.
Pull-back, Pare-down, and Pause your schedule.
Prioritize self-care, especially if you are a trauma survivor or a supporter.
- Evaluate your schedule. Is there an extracurricular commitment that can go? (Perhaps you’ll only need to pare down for a short time until stressors resolve)
- Include time for physical exercise.
- Use a rating system for invitations. Are you excited about an event (like an eight of 10)? Or is it a three?
- Saying ‘no’ can be a huge issue, survivors or not. If you really struggle to say ‘no’, seek help. I recommend the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
Remember, recovery takes time. Self-care takes time.
Listen to yourself. Take care of yourself.
And as always, if you are struggling to implement self-care, seek professional help.