Recovering from Trauma Must Include Self-Care

By Debra Faes-Dudden

Recovering from trauma is an ongoing process that involves awareness, abreaction,  acceptance, and change on emotional, physical, and psychological levels. Self-care during recovery is essential in order to achieve wellness.  But for many survivors of trauma, self-care needs to be taught during the recovery process because they often have very low self-esteem and self-worth.

Fortunately, as I did the work to heal from trauma, there was attention and guidance given in self-care.  The first symptom of my mental illness was debilitating panic attacks.  I was pregnant at the time and when I had one. It literally brought me to my knees.  My family  physician recommended psychotherapy to learn relaxation techniques versus taking anti-anxiety medication due to the pregnancy.  The psychologist made a tape that involved progressive relaxation exercises combined with breath work.  I practiced the taped exercises three times a day and found they stopped the panic attacks.  After the birth of my son, I continued psychotherapy because I had found a place where there was room for my authentic voice to surface.  Memories of early childhood sexual abuse gradually surfaced in the form of night terrors, flashbacks, body memories and abreactions.  At that time I had two children and a husband to care for as well as a part-time night job that left little time for self-care.  I was so used to taking care of other people all my life I really did not know how to focus on self-care.  I also did not feel worthy of taking the time.  As the years passed I felt more and more anxious.  I found the meditation was not enough to stop the panic attacks so I began anti-anxiety medication.  Some years later I was admitted to the psychiatric floor of a local hospital due to severe dehydration and low body weight.  I was diagnosed as having a dissociative disorder, anxiety, and depression.  I was told I needed to take care of myself and went on to learn that taking care of one’s self means becoming aware of what one needs in each moment of the day  and giving it to one’s self.  Recovering also meant working on my self-esteem and self-worth.  In time, I came to acknowledge that I am important and worthy of good health, joy and nurturing from other people.

As part of the recovery work, I compiled a list of activities and ideas for emotional, psychological, and physical health that I gained from what people have told me and ideas that best fit my authentic self and unique needs (see below).  Trauma affects the body, mind, and spirit; therefore, remember that an important part of recovery is in feeling worthy of giving time and attention to one’s self in order to achieve wellness.

ACTIVITIES FOR EMOTIONAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL, AND PHYSICAL HEALTH

  • Mantra:  “May I let go and be filled with peace.”
  • Meditate and journal daily.
  • Take 3 deep breaths 5 times per day.
  • Focus to find peace and joy in your home.  
  • Know you are safe.  
  • Stay in the moment.
  • Yoga once a week.  
  • Walk in nature for fresh air, the quietness or to music 3x/week.
  • Get a massage or facial.
  • Dance to your favorite music.
  • Paint how you feel.
  • Listen to birds chirping, waves crashing, fire crackling.
  • Sleep/rest when fatigued.
  • Daydream your desires.
  • Look at the natural beauty around you (sky, trees, flowers, streams).
  • Look at the stars and moon at night.
  • Experience how a work of art moves you.
  • Know that there exists something greater than any negative feeling you are experiencing.
  • Find and commune with people who share your personal spiritual beliefs.
  • Wear comfortable clothes you like.  
  • Ask for a hug when you need one.
  • Feel cool rocks, earth, and flowers.
  • Burn lavender incense.
  • Gather fragrant flowers for your home.
  • Drink comforting herbal tea.
  • Eat comfort foods.
  • Make healthy self-care choices each moment.
  • Say ‘No’ when you need to —  healthy boundaries are ok.
  • Drink a lot of water.
  • Eat fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Stop judging, mind-reading, fortune-telling, and catastrophizing.
  • Be aware of what you expose yourself to because it can activate repressed trauma.
  • Put in place a support network.
  • Call help-lines when you need to.
  • Schedule an extra therapy appointment when needed.
  • Focus on healing (release of emotions) in psychotherapy each week.
  • Prioritize when making a ‘to-do’ list, including time for self-care.
  • Socialize with positive people, family and friends you can be yourself with.
  • Laugh and be silly.
  • Remind yourself you are worthy of attention, healing, and joy.

Editor’s Note:  Debra Faes-Dudden is the author of When Cries are Silenced.  It is a book of artwork and poems created during her healing from early childhood sexual abuse.  The book is available in print on Amazon.com.

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