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Self-Care After Trauma

What is self-care? No doubt you’ve heard the term, but what does it really mean? What do you think of when you hear the phrase? For many, the first thing that comes to mind is the quintessential bubble bath. Self-care is seen as an indulgence, or a way of pampering ourselves. And for some, that belief brings up guilt. It’s not uncommon for people to think of self-care as selfish. So let’s set the record straight. Self-care is more than just bubble baths and manicures, and self-care is not selfish. Self-care, rather, is about acknowledging and honoring our emotional, physical, intellectual, social, and spiritual needs. It is literally taking care of yourself. It’s tuning in and paying attention.

Self-care might look like eating when you’re hungry and resting when you’re tired. It might look like taking a walk in the sunshine or reading a book. It might be having a hard conversation with the friend who hurt your feelings. And yes, it might actually be a bubble bath.

With this in mind, what is self-care after trauma? The process of getting past a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events can be daunting to say the least. It can be a long, frightening, arduous road towards recovery and healing, and it definitely takes courage, but it’s a process that is also do-able. If you’ve experienced trauma, it’s important to know you are not alone and that help and support are available.

In fact, that’s the first step of self-care after trauma, and it’s so important that it bears repeating. If you have gone through trauma, you are not alone. Help and support are available. And you deserve to heal. Trauma survivors often struggle with feelings of shame and isolation, but knowing that others understand, and that perhaps others have gone through it too, can help reduce both shame and isolation. Advocacy groups, support groups, individual therapy, friends and family, and community resources are all out there and available. You are not alone, support is available, and you deserve to heal.

If self-care is about meeting our needs, the next area of focus is physical. After a trauma, you may be flooded with emotion, or you may feel shut down, but either way, it’s easy to lose sight of some of the basics. Eating, drinking water, sleeping when you can…these things are vital. You may not be hungry but your body needs nourishment. You might not feel thirsty but your body needs to be hydrated. Even getting back to some basic hygiene if you haven’t showered in a week is helpful. Brush your teeth, wash your face, put on clean clothes. Meeting these basic physical needs is not always easy, but it’s a good step forward.

Movement after trauma is another form of self-care. No, that doesn’t necessarily mean go work out for an hour at the gym, it means take a 5-minute walk. Stretch your legs. Do some gentle yoga. When you’re ready for more you can do more. Whatever form of movement or exercise you enjoy, go for it and get back to it. With movement, it’s about releasing endorphins and sometimes letting go of negative emotions and energy. 

Weather permitting, spend some time outdoors. Connection to the natural world can be very healing and is good for the soul. You may combine this with movement, of course, such as going for a mindful hike, or, simply, find a quiet park or garden space and enjoy the fresh air and the natural beauty around you.

Get creative and engage your senses. Self-care after trauma might include writing or journaling, art therapy, coloring, painting, or music. What sounds fun? What feels calming? Something as simple as playdough (yes, even for adults) is a great self-care resource. Or, level up and invest in some essential oil therapy dough. Dig in the dirt. Garden. Take a class you’ve always wanted to take. Write often. Look for journal prompts if you feel stuck, or just write what’s on your mind. Write a story. Or simply use a stack of sticky notes to write one word or phrase as quickly as you can until you’re all tapped out. The point is, there are no rules. Turn on music that moves your soul or makes you happy. Bake some bread or make some cookies. Any and all of the above are creative forms of self-care.

Honor your energy. Are you tired? Then rest. Take a nap. Does the idea of meeting that coworker for lunch just feel overwhelming? It’s ok to take a raincheck. If you’re really not up for something, honor that and find an alternative that feels good to you. Don’t force yourself into situations you aren’t ready for or comfortable with.

Practice compassion and give yourself permission to be wherever you are in your healing process. Whatever you are thinking and feeling, it’s ok. Try not to judge it. Healing takes time and there is no right or wrong. Your emotions are valid. Your process is valid. If you’re struggling with negative thoughts, talk to someone. Challenge any negative beliefs by responding with kindness. Remind yourself often that you are worthy and practice positive affirmations. People often find it really helpful to listen to podcasts or specific meditations related to trauma. Above all, be gentle with yourself. Remember that self-care after trauma is a vital part of the healing process. It’s a time to really tune into your “self.” Pay attention to and honor your needs, wants, thoughts and feelings. Working with a therapist can be a valuable resource as you navigate the healing process. You are not alone and you deserve to heal. Self-care is not self-indulgent or selfish, it’s essential. And you are worthy. To learn more, call (805) 842-1994

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