If you've been reading my blog posts for a while, you'll know the topic of self-care is really important to me.
It's important because as a partner to a survivor, I know the high risk of secondary traumatic stress. It's important because partners struggle with overwhelm and exhaustion. It's important because for most partners finding time and resources for self-care is challenging and I want to make that easier.
People often think of self-care as doing something. While self-care does imply an activity, it does not have to involve something extra, luxurious, or time-consuming. In fact, I find it to be the opposite. Self-care is often most effective when it is the regular, consistent, and daily business of tending to one's self.
Self-care is most effective when it is the regular, consistent, and daily business of tending to one's self.
Barriers to self-care
For partners, the daily and consistent care of self can be swept away by the turmoil of a loved one's complex PTSD symptoms. I am the first to admit when my partner is struggling, it's really hard to keep up a good care routine. In general, this deprioritization during these times is not because of poor boundaries. It's more like living with an individual with a chronic illness when the needs are high. This is important to know so that partners (and others) don't blame themselves for not trying hard enough.
There is also another scenario in which both partners have unaddressed childhood trauma. In this case, there can be barriers to self-care as a result of trauma. Trauma-informed therapist and blogger Robyn Brickel is a great resource on this topic. You can also hear her talk about self-care on the podcast Therapy Chat.
Given the likely disruptions to self-care, can partners establish and maintain a self-care routine? How can they do that on a daily basis?
I believe partners can, but we need to think about self-care a bit differently within the context of activities of daily living.
I call this type of self-care 'non-negotiable' and I've come up with a list of nine ways I practice it.
Non-negotiable number one: Sleep
When stress is high, sleep is often impacted. Maybe you sleep too much or can't fall or stay asleep. I have struggled with the latter and so I've had to strategize ways to get enough rest. For me, that means maintaining a regular sleep schedule. For example, I intentionally cut out most evening activities after 9 pm and sometimes, 8 pm.
If sleep disturbance becomes chronic, please see a healthcare practitioner.
Number two: Keeping a low-maintenance living space
Having a simplified, low clutter home helps me feel less overwhelmed inside. I make an intentional effort to not let piles of paper, books, clothing, and things take up space. And I don't buy extra things for the home we don't need.
Number three: Eating as healthily as I can
I am not a perfect eater and when things are challenging at home, this area is definitely impacted. However, as an overall strategy, making better food choices helps me feel mentally and physically stronger.
Number four: Minimizing alcohol (or other substance) use
I have no issue with drinking a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage, but I intentionally minimize and sometimes abstain when stress is high. It helps me stay alert and focused. Because alcohol can impact sleep, I always proceed with moderation.
Number five: Movement
I write about this often because exercise has always been a big part of my self-care routine. However, it doesn't have to be an extraneous workout. In fact, that may not the best choice when your physical reserves are low. But physical movement of any kind is always great. Even better, if you can do it outdoors.
Number six: Not overloading my schedule
Leaving buffer space is one of the best things I do to mitigate stress. Planning ahead, assessing personal and professional invitations, prioritizing personal time with my family...all of these help me avoid overwhelm.
Number seven: Seeing healthcare practitioners when needed
I have been so tempted to postpone seeing my healthcare practitioner when I need to. However, I've learned that it's important to make these kinds of appointments a priority. A partner being sick is not helpful for anyone. The same goes for ensuring my children get to healthcare appointments when needed.
Number eight: Support
I realize this is a challenging one, but trying to identify one or two people who you identify as 'supportive'. These individuals may not directly support you in your challenges as partner, but may be a calming presence in your life.
Non-negotiable number nine: Doing things that nurture me
This does not have to be big. Wearing a favorite sweater, reading a good book, or baking a cake...these are simple and easy things to do.
If you are a partner, I encourage you to make a list of your non-negotiable self-care. What are you already doing? What would you like to do more or less of? What areas can you improve on?
Remember, as a partner, you deserve self-care. You need some every day.
Will you practice non-negotiable self-care?
To learn more about support for partners, go here.