For decades, my c-PTSD prevented me from giving myself a break. It told me to keep going, keep pushing through the stress, the pain, the memories, the fear, the anxiety. It told me to dissociate - float away and pretend I don't feel anything - so I could get through the day. Then, when everything built up and I'd inevitably hit a breaking point, my c-PTSD told me I was weak for needing a break.
Letting c-PTSD run the show was great for my career (work, work, work!), but for my mental health and relationships?...not so good.
When I was ready to learn more about my c-PTSD and work on not letting it rule my life, I focused heavily on "doing the work", like going to therapy, talking to doctors, reading books and articles, and talking about my trauma until I was blue in the face. I was going to "ace" this c-PTSD thing. And there I went, "fixing myself" at a million miles an hour. Except that didn't work well. I'd collapse into anxiety-driven exhaustion at the end of the day, angry at myself for not "being healed yet".
Anyone who's worked on personal development knows it's serious Work, with a capital "W". And with any kind of work, we need to make sure we're giving ourselves enough space to recover before we hit the pavement again. But I wasn't doing that. I was just "go, go, going". My intense attitude toward "fixing myself" was actually activating my PTSD more than ever. Not what I was shooting for!
I started realizing I needed to give myself mental and emotional breaks as I did my trauma work. This really hit home when I started writing my memoir. I was spending 5-10 hours a day writing vividly about my trauma. I'd come home to my boyfriend so drained I could barely talk in full sentences. Writing this book has been a huge healing process, but it's also been gut-wrenching (regurgitating up painful memories - gee, who thought that might suck?). This writing experience helped me finally learn that:
- Self care is a critical part of the trauma healing process, and
- I'm not so good at it!
So, I started practicing self care more often. There were two parts of it for me: 1) recognizing when I needed to practice self care, and 2) actually doing it.
Part One: Signs When Self Care is Needed
When I noticed these things are happening, I know it's time to focus on self care (I'm not an expert here yet, but everyday I'm getting better):
- Having trouble communicating with others (forgetting words, talking too fast or slow, or using very basic "caveman-like" language)
- Feeling pain pop up all of a sudden, such as:
- jaw pain from clenching/grinding teeth while sleeping or during the day
- headaches, rubbing my eyes or feeling stress around my temples or neck
- general widespread aching (similar to when I have a fever)
- Getting shaky legs or rapidly tapping feet or fingers
- Feeling exhausted, like I can barely keep my eyes open
- Getting a "bubbling" stomach out of the blue, feeling like I could vomit (or actually doing it)
- Feeling my chest tighten and getting a rapid heart rate
- Feeling I "need a drink right now"
- Suddenly experiencing extreme emotions - like screaming at the top of my lungs in my car when someone cuts me off (not my normal reaction)
- Laughing uncontrollably (this one sucks because it can get weird/embarrassing. I'll start laughing like a "normal person" but then I can't stop and sometimes it leads to tears)
- Getting "over frightened" (for example, someone accidentally bumping into me and it sends me into a frenzy)
- Feeling a strong urge to eat a lot of unhealthy food
- Rushing through activities when I don't actually need (or want) to hurry (like brushing my teeth in a frenzy or speed walking when I don't intend/need to)
There are more examples I could write here, but the above are my "big tells". Are there any "tells" you get that I didn't mention? Feel free to post in the comments. It might help someone else who reads this.
Part Two: Stopping Myself & Actually Practicing Self Care
Once I'm aware it's time for a self-care tune up, I need to actually practice it. Sometimes my self-care activities can take as little as a minute or two, other times it can involve me taking a few hours or a whole day off. Here are some self-care go-tos that have worked for me...
- stop whatever I'm working on at the moment- walk away from it for at least 10 minutes
- say "no" to people that day - set boundaries and not take on more work
- get up and go for a walk (even a short one inside the house/office or go walk the dogs)
- take some deep breaths (I know it's annoying to hear that, but it really works to chill out our sympathetic nervous system, read more here)
- turn off the lights and meditate for a few minutes (free meditation apps can really help here)
- drink a glass of water
- eat something healthy
- turn off my phone
- stay off social media for a bit
- shake out my arms and legs, and imagine the anxiety shaking off
- spray essential oils to awaken a sense
- go get some exercise (something fun)
- play with my dogs/be around animals
- sit/lay down and imagine myself physically grounding myself into the earth
- write some quick lists about things I'm grateful for and/or things I've recently accomplished
- drop everything and read a book
- go write a letter to a friend I haven't talked to in a while
- lay down and take a nap
- create something with my hands
- take a bath
- go get a massage
- go float in a weightless tank (sensory deprivation!)
- take the day off and do something fun - visit a museum or explore a part of the city I don't know much about
- take the day off and do very little - get in pajamas, order some food in, watch a movie - turn my brain off
There are many other things you can do for self care, these are just my go-tos. What are some of your favorite self-care activities?