“How do you practice self-care?”
It’s a question I’m asked a lot.
I have a list of answers.
- Enough sleep
- Keep extra-curricular commitments to a minimum
- Spend time outdoors
- Talk with friends either by phone, text, or social media
- Read stimulating material (yes, trauma books are a form of self-care for me!)
Mostly, these things work well. Running clears my head. Reading is enriching. Contact with friends makes me feel cared for. Sleep helps me focus.
But what happens when regular self-care routines aren’t enough? What if, even with diligent or increased application of self-care, you still aren’t bouncing back or you’re feeling worse?
What Do You Do When Self-Care is not Enough?
A month ago, the collision of two situations knocked me off my feet and nullified my self-care routine.
One was a particularly difficult flashback experienced by my survivor husband, Derek.
The other was the growing opportunities of my online blogging and advocacy work.
Neither situation was anyone’s fault. My husband can’t help it when he is swept into the throes of a flashback. I am happy and excited about my growing business.
Now, Derek and I have gotten pretty good at navigating the world of trauma flashbacks. We have code words and questions. We use humor to diffuse them. I am not thrown off by them as much as I used to be.
But this was different.
This type of flashback was an emotional flashback, which in my opinion, is the dirtiest, darkest, and most disorientating type–not just for the survivor but for the supporter. I’m providing the following information to give you an idea of what these flashbacks are. (You can be sure I will be writing more on these in the near future!)
Emotional flashbacks are sudden and often prolonged regressions to the overwhelming feeling-states of being an abused/abandonned child. These feeling states can include overwhelming fear, shame, alienation, rage, grief and depression. . .Flashbacks can range in intensity from subtle to horrific. They can also vary in duration ranging from moments to weeks on end where they devolve into what many therapists call a regression. Pete Walker, Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, p. 3.
Emotional flashbacks are destabilizing for me as well as for Derek. I describe it like a tsunami that sweeps through our home. We all feel the impact of Derek’s distressed nervous system.
At the same time as the flashback was sweeping through our home, I was preparing for three guest interviews plus trying to maintain the weekly blog plus keeping up on social media plus preparing for a new website. . ..
The flashback tsunami and the growing work commitments collided and left me reeling.
I lost five days of work.
And even when I was able to get out a blog post, I could tell something wasn’t right. I couldn’t seem to shake the effect of the collision.
I continued on trying to work while using my well-established self-care routine. But I was struggling. It was while I was out for my regular jog that I realized a few things:
- I was not bouncing back.
- To ignore and to continue adding to my schedule could be disastrous for me and my business.
- I needed to take self-care to the next level.
How Do You Know When You Need to Take Self Care to the Next Level?
Here are a few thoughts on recognizing when you need to go there and what to do about it.
1. Admit that you are struggling and that you need to do more.
- Recognize that you are not bouncing back.
2. Let your closest supporters know.
- Reaching out to your safe people will help you feel less alone.
3. If you need even more support than your peer supports can offer, find someone to fill in the gaps.
- Consider paid counseling, coaching, or therapy
This is what I decided to do. I realized I needed to have a regular appointment time to talk.
4. Consider taking a complete break.
- Two days or two weeks can make a difference.
Another decision for me. I am taking two weeks off to recharge.
5. Be kind to yourself.
- Anyone who lives with an adult survivor deserves kindness because besides the survivor, partners feel the trauma the most.
Let yourself off the hook. It’s okay to pull back for a bit.
6. Let go of the fear.
- Recognize that your health must take priority over every other area including work, family, and friends.
One of my biggest fears about taking a break was that somehow it would jeopardize my work. The recognition that without going to the next level of self-care I would jeopardize my business encouraged me to take time away.
- After you recharge, take the time to evaluate.
- Perhaps there are more efficient ways of living your life. Perhaps there are new and better self-care strategies for you.
I’ll certainly think about this in the coming weeks.
8. Don’t be surprised if you have to go the next level of self-care in the future.
- Yup. Expecting and accepting that life will throw curveballs or send tsunamis will help you recognize and implement the next level of self-care when needed.
9. A Special Word for Partners
If you do not yet have a self-care routine in place, I urge you to establish one as quickly as possible. Having a base enabled me to quickly connect to the urgent need for greater self-care.
Taking time for self-care is an important part of regular routine. Taking self-care to the next level can help you recover from the irregular and unexpected collisions and tsunamis of life.