What Self-Care Can Look Like After Trauma

It’s easier said than done; when you’re recovering from trauma, going to a spa, socializing with friends, or treating yourself to a vacation may not sound as appealing as it should. And it’s okay if it does not sound appealing at all. According to Van der Kolk, “the essence of trauma is feeling godforsaken, cut off from the human race.” (2014) When a survivor feels detached from her world, from her relationships, from her body, it’s hard to think of self-care. 

However, self-care, or the process of “taking steps to feel healthy and comfortable” can help survivors cope with the short-term or long-term effects of trauma from sexual assault. (Rainn.org) Especially for trauma survivors, it is important to engage in “activities that lower the physiological adrenal surge from trauma” (De Lorenzo, 2018) And it does not have to be huge self-care activities; the little steps like going for walks, drinking enough water during the day, and practicing affirmation, counts in reducing the surge of trauma. 

 

Feet up against a couch, as if resting at home

Get more rest

Again, this may sound simpler and easier said than done, but getting a healthy amount of sleep is beneficial especially to those recovering from trauma. It is important to listen to your body especially when it is telling you that you need some rest. Many survivors struggle with a regular sleep schedule, so if you are experiencing issues, please consult your doctor. 

 

Woman mindfulness exercise

Mindfulness self-care

Embracing mindfulness offers survivors a gentle pathway to reconnect with the present moment, grounding themselves, and finding peace and calm amidst the storm that memories and trauma can bring. Individuals who are experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) “are usually out of touch with their physical sensations; mindfulness can help mend that relationship by allowing the individual to become more aware.” (Parke, 2019) Simple mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing exercises, guided meditation, or mindful walking are some self-care activities that survivors can practice daily. 

Another easy mindfulness activity? Coloring! Coloring activates your frontal lobe, which means that your brain is organizing and problem solving. Coloring regularly allows you to relax from the day and focus on one thing; the present. Here’s a Coloring Book for Survivors you might enjoy: https://salalsvsc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/8.5×11-final-printing-and-sharing.pdf

 

Establishing healthy boundaries

Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is an essential aspect of self-care for survivors. Learning to recognize and honor personal limits, assertively communicate needs, and prioritize self-preservation fosters a sense of safety and empowerment. Establishing boundaries in relationships, work, and daily interactions helps survivors reclaim agency over their lives, and overall regain that trust and self-esteem that were lost after a traumatic experience. Be comfortable saying no, especially when it protects your peace. 

 

Physical self-care

Nurturing physical well-being is integral to holistic self-care. Exercise has been proven to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal. (Guszkowska, 2004). 

Being active releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good, and also helps you concentrate, sleep well, and feel better. Combine it with choosing more nutritious foods, prioritizing rest and sleep, and you’ve got a good formula for physical self-care. Engaging in relaxation techniques with physical activities like yoga or tai chi, can help enhance overall health and vitality. If regular exercise routines seem too rigorous and overwhelming right now, don’t worry. There are fun ways to be active without committing yourself to a gym membership. You can dance your heart out in the living room when it feels right for you, choose to take a longer, perhaps more scenic walking route from work, or try a new type of workout that you’ve never done before. Little steps count, as long as you take the first one. 

 

Crystals, dried fruit, and a journal page and pen

Emotional self-care

Emotional self-care refers to “the act of becoming aware of and identifying what you are feeling, and allowing yourself to channel those feelings in a way that benefits your overall wellness.” Emotional self-care is important because “Emotions affects how you feel everyday, and when you have a healthy attitude about your emotions and know how to express yourself, you will be better equipped to handle the trials and tribulations of life. When you are not in touch with your own emotions, you are more likely to experience depression, stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues.” (Advantage Care Health Centre, 2022)  

Journaling is one way to practice emotional self-care. When you write down your thoughts and feelings regularly, it can have many benefits for your mental health such as reducing stress, anxiety, and depression by helping you process and release negative emotions, and focus on positive ones,improving your well-being and mood by increasing your gratitude, resilience, and self-esteem, and enhancing your self-awareness and self-distance by helping you gain new perspectives and insights on your life. (Source: healthline.com) 

You can also practice saying affirmation statements to yourself as you start the day, to help “reprogram our subconscious mind, which has undoubtedly been affected by the abusive words and actions [you have] undergone.” (Arabi) By saying these affirmation statements out loud, you are challenging the voice of trauma and abuse, and turning it into a powerful combat against your wounds and insecurities. “A postive affirmation can gently interrupt the pattern of ruminating over such harsh comments by replacing the toxic though with a loving one.” 

WOW Toronto’s Survivor’s Empowerment Journey Resource Guide contains 30 days worth of journal prompts for survivors. Click here to download a copy of the guide. 

 

women hugging each other

Surround yourself with people who will listen to you

An effective method of self-care after trauma is simply talking to someone. It does not have to be about the traumatic experience as you may not be there yet, and that’s okay. But finding people who will listen and let you talk about how you’re feeling is very important. If there is fear of judgment, group therapy is another option where your feelings and thoughts are kept within that safe space. It could also be helpful to talk to other individuals who have had similar experiences to yours, or with a therapist who is adept at navigating trauma and PTSD. If you’re not comfortable sharing with a group, finding a person who you know will support you in your healing journey is also beneficial. 

WOW Toronto will be running a 12-week Workshop Program for women-identifying survivors of sexual assault, rape, or gender based violence. The program will be run like a community support group, and will offer sessions on self-love, self-discovery, and regaining trust and self-esteem. If you are looking for a welcoming group to hold your hand in your healing journey, we can help. Whenever you are ready, get in touch with us a inquiry@wowtoronto.org

 

If you’re still struggling with self-care, this questionnaire may help you determine where and how to start: https://philome.la/jace_harr/you-feel-like-shit-an-interactive-self-care-guide/play/index.html

 

When to seek professional help

Don’t wait until trauma overwhelms you. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, seek professional help if you are experiencing severe or distressing symptoms that have last 2 weeks or more, such as, but not limited to:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Appetite changes that result in unwanted weight changes
  • Struggling to get out of bed in the morning because of mood
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of interest in things you usually find enjoyable
  • Inability to perform usual daily functions and responsibilities

Speak with your family doctor or a health professional. You can call or text 988 if you are experiencing a mental health issue, or are in distress. Help is available when you need it. 

 

Remember, the journey of healing and recovery from trauma is not a straight line, and does not happen overnight. Engaging in self-care activities can serve as a guide towards healing and empowerment; the most important step you have to take is the first one. Self-care is never selfish; it is a profound act of self-compassion and reclaiming your strength. You deserve to heal and live a fulfilling life. 

 

Sources:

  1. Advantage Care Health Centre. (2022). Emotional Self-Care: What It Is and How to Make It Part of Your Life. Retrieved from https://advantagecaredtc.org/emotional-self-care/
  2. Arabi, Shahida. 5 Powerful Self-Care Tips for Abuse and Trauma Survivors. National Domestic Violence Hotline. Retrieved from https://www.thehotline.org/resources/5-powerful-self-care-tips-for-abuse-and-trauma-survivors/
  3. De Lorenzo, C. (2018, December 17). 7 Self-Care Strategies You Can Use To Manage Trauma Triggers, According To Experts. Retrieved from https://www.bustle.com/p/7-self-care-strategies-to-help-manage-trauma-according-to-experts-10087377
  4. Guszkowska M.. Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood [in Polish] Psychiatr Pol. 2004;38:611–620. [PubMed] [Google Scholar][Ref list]
  5. National Institute of Mental Health. Caring for Your Mental Health. Retried from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/caring-for-your-mental-health
  6. Parke, S.A. (2019). Self-Care and Trauma [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://sites.bu.edu/daniellerousseau/2019/04/29/self-care-and-trauma/
  7. Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) – https://www.rainn.org/
  8. Van der Kolk, B. (2009). Yoga and Post-traumatic stress disorder [Interview]. Integral Yoga Magazine, 12-13.

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