I Declare Self Care! Recognizing the Need & Just Doing It

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:

  1. Self care is a critical part of the trauma healing process, and
  2. 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
  • stretch
  • 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?


2 thoughts on “I Declare Self Care! Recognizing the Need & Just Doing It”

  1. Meagan, great blog! All very excellent ideas for self care. I’m struggling with a lot at this time. What I really want to do is sleep thru it but I try not to take a nap because it’s too hard to get back up. Sitting in my recliner with a comforter with my dogs in my lap helps me at times.

    1. Thanks Debra. Sitting on a recliner with your dogs – love! Animals can help center us, can’t they? I hear you on the sleeping. Sometimes when you’re down for too many hours it makes you even more tired and, for me, sleeping can borderline on avoiding things. For me, I found a quick 20-30 nap can do a lot though. I have to set an alarm and I force myself to get up when it goes up. Otherwise, I will sleep for too long and wake up even more drained.

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