A trauma happens when someone feels threatened with serious harm, whether it is physical, mental, or emotional and is all too common. After a traumatic event, individuals respond in any number of ways. Many people are able to recover from their trauma in a short while, using natural supports they have available to them. Others, however, may experience intense thoughts and feelings that last a long time.
Taking care of yourself is an important part of any recovery process. Self-care practices are those things we do for ourselves to maintain and improve our emotional, mental and physical well-being. We’ve all heard about how to live a happy and healthy life; eat right, exercise and get plenty of rest. But there are things you can put into place that may ease the pain and help you as you heal.
The Case for Self-Care
As easy as it seems to remember to take care of yourself, life is busy. There are always things to do, work can be stressful and important things start to take a back seat. Even more difficult is to tend to self-care after a traumatic event. Just getting out of bed can be a chore. However, routines can help create a sense of safety and security, things you may feel robbed of after an act of gun violence. Practicing self-care can not only help you to begin building safety and security, it can also act to prevent burnout and potential re-traumatization. Athletes practice their sport to build fitness, skills and habits that will help them perform and rebound better when they need to perform. If you practice self-care, you are giving your body the things it needs to be most effective.
Building a Self-Care Plan
That’s right. You need to plan for self-care. Self-care is a practice that doesn’t happen without intention. When we write things down, setting goals for ourselves that also have timeframes, we are more likely to follow through. But you may not know where to start. Planning for self-care is different for everyone as not everyone finds the same activities helpful or restorative. You may have needs, limitations and strengths that are different from others around you. Following these steps may help you to build a self-care plan that is realistic and easy to put into practice. As you are building a self-care plan, be gentle with yourself and understand that after a trauma it may be difficult to do this all at once. Give yourself permission to do as little or as much as you feel you can.
Step 1: Identify your current self care practices.
Assess what you are currently doing now to address your needs, both things that seem to work well and things that aren’t working for you. Also remember that some activities are not healthy even though they seem to be helping you in the moment. Some people, for example, turn to alcohol or drugs after a traumatic event to numb the pain they feel. Alternatives like taking a walk, talking to a friend or journaling your feelings are ways to address the pain by processing them physically, mentally and emotionally.
To start the planning process, you will take a look at what coping skills you use on a regular basis. On a piece of paper, take 5 minutes to write down all of the different ways you currently take care of yourself. Once you’ve finished, take another 5 minutes to put them into categories of “positive” strategies and “negative” strategies.
Step 2: Identify your self care needs.
Our minds and our bodies are connected; there are a lot of demands to keep everything on track. It may be easier to think about the things we need to keep our bodies moving, such as food, water and rest. But we all have other needs to meet our whole selves. We have emotional, psychological, social, professional, and spiritual needs.
Once you’ve made your list of coping skills, take out another sheet of paper and make three columns. Column one will list all of the areas of needs in our lives. We’ll call this column a category of need or area of self-care. Feel free to add others if you don’t see them all here:
Column two is for the list of coping skills you’ve identified, both the positive and the negative. We’ll call this column current practices. Place each coping skill from Step One into a particular category. This will help you to see what are areas of strength, while at the same time help you to see areas where you may need more support. Keep in mind that after a trauma, you may have lots of holes and need more support. Remember, be gentle with yourself.
The final column, column three, is for things you’d like to do or try. This can be something you’ve heard about or has been recommended to you by a family member, friend or maybe a co-worker or doctor. Brainstorm all of the things that might help you as you begin to work your plan.
Step 3: Make a list of self care practices you would like to try.
Now that you have looked at what is currently working or not working for you, and you have a list of new ideas that might work, it is time to review everything to think about what you believe will continue to be helpful along with what you believe will be helpful on the “like to try” column. Once you’ve thought about these things, scratch off those things you think aren’t really helping, or might even be harmful. Now you have a final list of things you can plan to practice!
Step 4: Consider any challenges you face in practicing self care.
Consider what challenges or barriers you face in practicing self-care. When dealing with trauma, there can be a lot of barriers, like feeling exhausted or having to deal with the practical issues after a shooting, such as a criminal court case. Some things are out of your control, others are not. You decide what’s right for you right now.
Step 5: Write down your self care plan.
Write it down. Take a new sheet of paper and decide what you plan to do each day to address all the parts of your whole person. Refer to your final list of coping skills and address each category of need each day. Or, if that seems like too much right now, commit to one thing you can do each day and build from there.
Some Ideas for Self-Care
We all have are go-tos for self-care. Some people love to read or watch movies; others enjoy going outside for a walk or run. If you can’t think of anything or feel like you’d like more ideas, here are some to consider. Some of these ideas may just work in the moment; others may become long-term joys:
- Begin a journal
- Plant a small garden
- Learn a new hobby
- Try your hand at crafting
- Learn how to cook something new
- Start a blog
- Write a letter to a friend who lives far away
- Play a game
- Make a gratitude list
- Practice yoga
Check-In with Yourself
After you write your self-care plan, don’t forget it or put it at the bottom of a drawer. Give it the space in your life it deserves. You can keep your plan in your planner, on your mirror or refrigerator. Place your plan somewhere safe and somewhere you’re not going to forget.
A plan is a living, breathing thing. That means it can change any time you’d like it to change. If the coping strategies you’ve chosen to do aren’t working for you for whatever reason, you can change them. Before you do, though, reflect on why it might not be working. Is there a barrier you can remove, or would you prefer to move onto the next idea? Whatever you decide, remember you are worth the care and attention you plan to give yourself.
DISCLAIMER. This information does not and cannot constitute or substitute medical advice. This fact sheet merely provides general information and coping tips. More importantly, mental health conditions are complex, people differ widely in their conditions and responses, and interactions with other conditions and treatments are best evaluated by a physical examination and consultation with a qualified clinician. Everytown suggests that this page is a good starting point to discuss potential needs with your physician or other health care practitioner.