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Too many people ignore good self-care. They try to get through the day feeling ‘not OK’ inside. They may abuse their bodies to cope with stress. Is that you? Life doesn’t have to be this hard.
Many people don’t realise they’re dealing with the impact of trauma. Trauma changes the nervous system. It can leave people struggling with thoughts and feelings that cause turmoil inside.
Many kinds of experiences can lead to trauma. It often follows a sense of danger to life and safety, with no way out. Your brain and body remember the feeling. They adopt a new state of arousal – ready for fight, flight, or to freeze.
Events that can lead to trauma
- Violence (at home, from crime, war, an accident, or on a screen)
- Living with someone’s substance use
- Feeling alone or isolated emotionally
- Living with a physical or mental illness
People with traumatic stress often do things that may seem like self-care, but are really attempts to avoid feeling triggered. They often don’t know what good self-care looks like. They see no choice but to try to numb, dull or stop feeling so badly, because they haven’t found a way (yet) to explore trauma safely. Good self-care becomes much harder for trauma survivors.
Why people avoid getting help
- Don’t know how to trust others
- Have learned to tolerate high levels of pain and distress
- Don’t believe they deserve the good that life has to offer
- Underestimate the presence and impact of trauma
- Do you recognise any of these signs below?
Signs you need better self-care due to trauma
1. You avoid going to the doctor. When you’re sick you think: ‘I’ll be fine. No big deal.’ You skip check-ups and ignore doctor’s office reminders. Self-care – You take care of your body, whether it’s a check-up or you’re sick. You ask to have someone else in the room with you, or to talk through each step, if that’s what you need to feel safe.
2. You sleep poorly. If you don’t sleep well, you try not to care. You resign yourself to whatever disturbs your sleep. Self-care – You accept that you need (and deserve) eight hours of sleep. You set up your space and your routine to get the rest you need.
3. You seek comfort from (usually unhealthy) food. Your relationship with food is a struggle. Are you living on carbs, sugar or alcohol? Are you binging, purging or using food to self-soothe? You have shame around food. Self-care – You nourish your body to function well. You enjoy eating without shame.
4. You disregard the need for exercise. You don’t take time for healthy physical activity. Self-care – You enjoy moving your body. Whether you join an exercise programme or not, you find ways to move that feel good to you.
5. You don’t ask for help. You try to do everything yourself. You feel alone in the world. It seems better not to ask so you won’t be disappointed. Self-care – You know when you need to say something. You know asking for help can lead to healthier relationships.
6. You’re overscheduled. You commit without leaving time for yourself. You seek self-worth in doing more for others. Self-care – Creating healthy boundaries for yourself, and doing things you enjoy because you enjoy being yourself.
7. You use alcohol or drugs to relax. You can’t get through the day without a drink or something mood-altering. You may be using alcohol or drugs to manage your emotions. Self-care – Finding comfort and emotional connection with others. You have favourite activities or comfy clothes to relax yourself.
8. You inflict pain on yourself under stress. You pinch or dig your fingernails into your skin. Other self-harming behaviour includes pulling out hair or nails, hitting or slapping yourself, piercing or burning the skin or striking hard surfaces. Self-care – You find healthy ways to release stress, like exercise, connecting with a good friend, meditation, yoga, or even mental health blogging.
9. You’re highly stressed about money. You work hard to be frugal. Your relationship with money is a constant source of worry and strain. Self-care – You see money as a way to fill your needs and wants. You know you deserve to have it, save it and spend it, in a balanced way.
If you identify with any of these signs, I encourage you to consider finding a trauma-informed therapist. With good trauma-informed care, you can heal traumatic stress, and live in a happier, healthier, more fulfilling way. Self-care is more than managing just to survive. It’s how you thrive.
Robyn Brickel is the founder and clinical director of Brickel and Associates in Alexandria, Virginia. She brings a strengths-based, trauma-informed approach to her treatment.
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