The thing about experiencing trauma is that it’s not only difficult to deal with, but it’s also usually pretty sudden. One minute everything is normal, and the next you’re completely blindsided by an extremely stressful, often life-changing event.
Trauma is a relatively wide category encompassing occurrences in one’s life that cause physical, emotional, spiritual or psychological harm, ranging from a death in your family to being held up at gunpoint to a childhood trauma to living through a once-in-a-generation global pandemic. Regardless of the event that has occurred, for your body and mind to heal, self-care should be a top priority for those who have experienced the trauma.
Self-care, therapist Sarah Boone tells SheKnows, it is essentially akin to “firmly placing your own oxygen mask on yourself first in order to meet your own needs before attempting to meet the needs of those around you.” It is essential that before you are able to continue with your day-to-day, you take the time to honor the feelings your body is experiencing, both physically and mentally.
“Our bodies hold all of our experiences. It is crucial to learn how to digest our emotions and our experiences so that they don’t build up in our bodies and create tension, tightness and disease,” Pleasance Silicki, health educator and author of Delight: 8 Principles for Living with Ease and Joy tells SheKnows.
Ultimately, our fight-or-flight response kicks into full gear in reaction to a traumatic event as the body copes with a threat to survival, Boone adds. In the days, weeks, months and sometimes years following a traumatic event, it is common to encounter triggers in your environment, which can be as simple as a smell that was present during the trauma.
OK, I’m ready to tackle this — how do I get started?
Before any self-care can begin, it’s important for you to take a nonjudgmental stance with yourself. (Think Good Will Hunting — “It’s not your fault”).
Often, victims exert so much time and energy thinking about the what-ifs. What if I had done that differently? What if I had turned left instead of right? Boone recommends eliminating the self-blame; it’s the first step toward healing. Blaming yourself for what has occurred may give you a temporary feeling of control over the events that transpired, but in the long run, this will do more harm that good, so stop carrying the weight of the experience on your shoulders.
What type of self-care is best for me?
Post-trauma plans are different for everyone. It is not a linear process with a checklist, says Boone, a notion that can be challenging to accept for many. For some, self-care can mean seeking the help of a licensed professional and discussing the events that occurred.
For others, they find an alternative approach to addressing the trauma is helpful in healing the body. For instance, Silicki teaches the ancient holistic practices from Ayurveda and uses yoga and the wisdom of these ancient systems to help with modern healing and uses daily practices like breathing, journaling and taking a walk around the block to help integrate, heal and then be able to move forward.
It’s been over a year — why don’t I feel better already?
There is no real time frame for healing even though our minds may say, “Enough already! Get back to work! You should feel better!” Sometimes, our bodies need more time to process what has happened.
Through her practice, Silicki hears a lot of women say, “I should be over this by now!” The aim of self-care is to guide people from their thoughts, moving the head into the body and approaching one’s experience with a holistic view so one can eventually release the trauma from the body.
I just don’t have the time to deal with this
For many, self-care can be a time-consuming endeavor, and with the lives we lead today, there never seems to be enough hours in the day. If you are convinced you don’t have the time to let yourself heal from a traumatic event, Boone recommends at the minimum considering sharing the details of your traumatic even in a safe space with someone you trust. It’s helpful if this person is a professional, but it can also be someone close that you trust. By sharing your story, you are allowing your body to feel all the feelings, which in the immediacy can lessen the intensity of what you’re carrying with you.
A traumatic experience can feel like it consumes you, your thoughts and your day-to-day, but it doesn’t have to. Taking the time for a little self-care can go a long way.
A version of this story was published April 2018.