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.

The Reason Bestselling Author and Former APA President Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman Wrote Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry

By Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD
Lawrence C. Kolb Professor and Chairman of Psychiatry
Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
Psychiatrist In Chief New York Presbyterian Hospital – Columbia University Medical Center
Past President, American Psychiatric Association

As a psychiatrist who has cared for patients and conducted research for over 30 years, I have published over 600 scientific articles and 10 books for scientists and health professionals, but never anything for the public at large. Then I came to a realization.

Over the course of human history until the latter part of the 20th century, untold millions of people suffered from mental illness and substance use disorders because there were no treatments and little that could be done to help them. However, now that is not the case. We have an array of evidence-based treatments that work, for most mental and substance use disorders. However, because of lack of awareness, shame and embarrassment or lack of access to competent care or insurance coverage, people just aren’t getting them. Imagine if the population of our country was afflicted with infectious diseases like pneumonia, tuberculosis, smallpox and HIV and they did not seek or could not get antibiotics, vaccines or protease inhibitors.

This is the reality for millions of people in the U.S. and around the world and it is a reality that is no longer tolerable. It is simply unacceptable that the greatest barrier to symptomatic relief and recovery for mentally ill persons is not a lack of scientific knowledge or effective treatments, but stigma.

It is for this reason that I wrote Shrinks, The Untold Story of Psychiatry; to tell the fascinating and scandalous story of mental illness, and psychiatry’s efforts to understand and treat them.   Shrinks describes the origins of our understanding brain disorders that affect mental functions and behavior and the evolution of the field of medicine responsible for their understanding and care. It describes psychiatry’s development from a mystical pseudoscience to a bona fide scientifically guided medical discipline that helps people and saves lives, while revealing exemplary case studies of patients. The book also makes an urgent call-to-arms for the public and media to start treating mental illness as a disease rather than a state of mind. As a member of this profession, I think you will find this story incredibly illuminating and inspiring.  

But don’t just take my word for it, here is what some other distinguished authors said.

“Jeffrey Lieberman has produced a masterful behind-the-scenes examination of psychiatry—and, by extension, the human condition. His epic narrative charts the unlikely ascent of the ‘stepchild of medicine,’ paralleling Lieberman’s own professional transformation from eager psychoanalytic student of Freud to neuroscience-minded president of a reformed American Psychiatric Association. A wise and gripping book that tackles one of the most important questions of our time: what is mental illness?

—Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree and The Noonday Demon

This is an astonishing book: honest, sober, exciting, and humane. Dr. Lieberman writes with the authority of an expert, but with the humility of a doctor who has learned to treat the most profound and mysterious forms of mental illnesses. This book brings you to the very forefront of one of the most amazing medical journeys of our time.”—Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies

“Shrinks is a must-read. . . A smart, important, accessible book.” (Patrick J. Kennedy, former congressman, founder of The Kennedy Forum, and co-founder of One Mind).

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/29/books/review/shrinks-by-jeffrey-a-lieberman-with-ogi-ogas.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-psychiatry-emerged-from-the-wilds-to-become-a-medical-discipline/2015/03/06/dba5733c-b939-11e4-9423-f3d0a1ec335c_story.html

Weekend Edition with Scott Simon NPR 3/14/15

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2015/03/14/392798128/from-freud-to-possession-a-doctor-faces-psychiatrys-demons

Charlie Rose PBS Interview 4/8/15

http://www.charlierose.com/watch/60542652 http://www.hulu.com/watch/775815

For additional information visit:

http://www.jeffreylieberman.com/shrinks.html

www.amazon.com/Shrinks-Untold-Psychiatry-Jeffrey Lieberman