Self-Care for Trauma Survivors
Trauma is a part of life for us all. From the moment we emerge from the womb, we may experience trauma in dozens of different forms. Thankfully, the human mind is incredibly resilient and we adapt in response to trauma.
The mind and soul do the best they can to manage stressful experiences and we adjust our behaviors in response to them. However, the ways in which we cope with and respond to trauma can sometimes lead to challenges that persist, even after the initial source of trauma is gone.
This guide offers trauma survivors tools for successful self-care – from recognizing symptoms of trauma to engaging in healthy activities that can promote wellbeing. We hope this resource will help provide both utility and peace of mind, as well as stimulating thought and conversation about trauma recovery.
Childhood Trauma Echoes into the Present
For example, the impact of childhood trauma can remain with us into adulthood. This is one reason why people who are experiencing symptoms of a trauma-related disorder do not always make the connection to trauma as the source. We may chalk the milder signs up to work stress or blame them on something else happening in the present.
The reverberating effects of past trauma often manifest as, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, generalized anxiety disorder or other conditions. Self-care is a beneficial pursuit for all of us. It is necessary.
If anxiety, PTSD or other mental health issues are affecting your everyday life, then learning self-care for trauma survivors should be a key part of your recovery plan. Self-care for trauma will supplement the progress you make in treatment. It also helps alleviate anxiety, improve esteem
Understand the Symptoms of Trauma
Trauma can have a significant impact on a person’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Recognizing the symptoms of trauma is key to taking the necessary steps towards healing and recovery. Common symptoms include anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts or memories, hypervigilance, and avoidance behaviors.
If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms, know that seeking help is a sign of strength. With the right support, it is possible to work through the effects of trauma and move towards a more fulfilling life. Remember, you are not alone, and there is absolutely reason for hope. We understand more about trauma and its effects today than ever before. Trauma treatment has advanced a great deal in just the past few decades.
Symptoms of trauma may include:
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Difficulties concentrating and retaining information
- Intense negative emotions, such as anger or sadness
- Heightened startle response to surprise stimuli
- Hypervigilance (constantly on guard)
- Numbness and difficulty with emotional connections
- Avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event
- Feeling detached from one’s body and/or environment
- Self-destructive behavior, such as substance abuse or reckless driving
Why Self-Care for Trauma Matters
Self-care is a core aspect of living a healthy and balanced life for us all. For trauma survivors, it provides essential comfort, safe harbor from symptoms and centeredness. Self-care for trauma involves taking deliberate actions to promote physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Attending to the needs of your body, mind and soul must be a priority. This means not only taking steps to reduce stress and negativity in your life, but introducing more experiences which bring you comfort and peace.
Self-care for trauma and self-love are inextricably bound. This means that practicing self-care helps promote self-love and love for self helps encourage self-care. It is important to recognize self-love and self care for trauma as essential. These are not selfish, needy or inconsiderate to others. In fact, taking care of yourself is a must if you want to be able to properly care for others.
If you are a selfless, self-sacrificing type of person you might think of it this way: The better you care for yourself and show yourself love, the more positive energy and love you will be able to give others. Conversely, if you don’t give yourself the care you need and sink into codependency, you run the risk of hurting yourself and you’ll also be less helpful to the people you care about most.
Learning How to Practice Self-Care for Trauma
There are many approaches to self-care. You are the expert on what makes you feel best and refills your soul most. It may be as simple as setting aside time for a soothing bath, a mani-pedi or hot shave at a barber shop.
Self-care can take the shape of physical exercise, practicing mindfulness meditation or TM or even indulging in your favorite hobbies. What matters most is that we are making time for self-care practices and rituals which replenish the body, mind and soul. All three of these areas need to be nourished.
Here are a few categories of self-care practices to consider:
Meditation and Relaxation
Our modern, constantly connected world can make it difficult to find moments of peace and quiet. Mindfulness, Transcendental Meditation, yogic breathing and other relaxation techniques are proven to reduce stress and anxiety. They can even provide some limited relief from chronic pain and improve cardiovascular health.
Choose the methods which work best for you and can be realistically incorporated into your everyday life. All that matters is you have an effective way to find inner calm and balance. Nearly anyone can set aside 20-30 minutes once or twice a day to retreat into their mind palace. The benefits of meditation and relaxation are often underestimated, but once you make them a part of your self-care for trauma routine, you’ll wonder how you ever did without them.
Benefits of meditation and relaxation include:
- Lower stress levels
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced levels of cortisol (a stress hormone)
- Reduced anxiety/greater calm
- Greater focus
- Healthier sleep
Communing with Nature
We often forget that we are more than mere inhabitants of the natural world, we are a part of it. Humans are animals, after all. Even if you don’t think of yourself as the “outdoorsy type”, time in nature can have a profound effect on how you feel. We’re just wired that way. The sound of a waterfall or waves rhythmically kissing the shoreline.
The smell of earth and flowering trees carried through the forest by a spring gale. The sight of a smoldering amber sunset. These can all bring us a sense of contentment and even joy. Make sure you allow yourself sufficient time to experience the natural world in a calm and peaceful manner, at least a few times a week. Even if a city park is your only convenient access to the natural world, it will do just fine.
Benefits of communing with nature include:
- Reduced stress
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced anger
- Improved cardiovascular health (esp. exercise)
- Improved esteem
- Increased happiness
We are all aware that exercise is good for us. But most people focus on the direct physical benefits of regular exercise. All too often overlooked are the benefits exercise delivers for the mind and soul. Of course, a stronger, healthier body makes you feel better, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
Regular exercise releases endorphins and hormones that affect mood. Just 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise every day can make a noticeable difference in your mood and ability to concentrate. All of these effects can help counteract the symptoms of a trauma disorder and a clearer, calmer mind makes it easier to make progress in your trauma recovery.
Benefits of physical exercise include:
- Elevated mood
- Reduced anxiety
- Lower stress hormones
- Increased focus
- Better circulation
- Improved esteem
One final element of self-care for trauma that’s frequently overlooked is setting boundaries.
Setting boundaries can be difficult but it is necessary for maintaining healthy relationships and ensuring your own well-being. It’s important to communicate your boundaries clearly and assertively, while still being respectful and caring towards others.
This may involve saying no to requests that don’t align with your values or taking time for yourself when needed. Remember, setting boundaries doesn’t mean you are disregarding the feelings of others. It means you care enough to prioritize your own needs and values. It is absolutely a form of self-care. By setting healthy boundaries, you’ll have the space to grow and thrive in all areas of your life.
Benefits of setting boundaries include:
- Lower anxiety
- Improved esteem
- Improved confidence
- “Breathing room” for self-care
- Avoiding “burnout”
- Greater sense of self
Help for Trauma-Related Conditions
Taking steps to improve your mental health can be a challenge. But, seeking professional treatment and support can be a transformative and life-changing experience that’s well worth pursuing. Most people with trauma-related conditions and mental health disorders aren’t fully aware of how their symptoms are affecting their lives, where they come from and what can be done to help. No one deserves to suffer from the consequences of unresolved trauma or an undiagnosed or undertreated mental health condition.
At Reconnect, our specialized mental health programs offer intensive trauma and mental health treatment for a wide range of conditions. From major depression to generalized anxiety, PTSD and CPTSD, our behavioral health specialists are dedicated to helping people overcome and live better lives. If you or someone you love is living with a mental health disorder or the symptoms of trauma, we want to help. Give Reconnect a call at (310) 713-6739 today, to find out how we can be of service.