Louise Harder, Director & Strategist, The Army of Survivors
Self-care (n): Any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health (PsychCentral)
This means I actively engage in an activity that is solely for myself and my needs; this does NOT include checking email, multitasking, working on that one task I forgot about this morning, running errands, or making dinner for my boyfriend (though if you can convince your boyfriend to make you dinner, I say count that as self-care!).
Self-care is critical after experiencing trauma. Want to know how I know this? I may have some experiential data on this. I know exactly what doesn’t work by lived experience.
After my sexual abuse, I avoided self-care at all costs. See, the abuse replaced feelings of self-confidence and belonging with shame and embarrassment. I found it difficult to comprehend the need to replenish my own needs when I didn’t see myself as worth replenishing. I filled my time with so many tasks, that I wouldn’t have to think about the trauma. And it worked… temporarily. Then it did not. This brought me down a dark hole in my life.
You want to know how I found myself out of this dark hole? I allowed myself to get a haircut. Yup, that is right: I scheduled a hair appointment for a basic cut. I had convinced myself for over a year that the $30 it cost for a haircut would better be spent elsewhere. I was wrong.
Since that haircut, I have learned a few things:
If you go a year or longer without any self-care, including a haircut, plan on chopping everything off. You will likely have to start all over.
Self-care needs to be done on a regular basis. The exact amount of time will depend on your specific needs, but according to my therapist, everyone needs a little self-care at least daily.
Also according to my therapist, petting the dog doesn’t count if you are simultaneously sending out work email. It does count, however, if you are petting the dog while reading a book for pleasure…
Self-care does not need to be expensive or time consuming. Self-care could be as simple as using your favorite scented body wash in your daily shower routine.
If you struggle with incorporating self-care into the daily routine, like I do, get out your Google Calendar (or whichever platform you use) and schedule it in.
If you aren’t sure where to begin, see the list of self-care activities below and pick your favorite seven to try this week. Soon you will be a pro and can create your own list with what works for you.
Self-care may not be simple right now, but I promise it gets easier with practice.
List of Self-care Activities:
Watch a funny YouTube video.
Get a mani/pedi.
Try acupuncture. Read up on it if you’ve never tried it.
Get a book from the library (free) or bookstore about some topic you’ve been interested in
Use a planner or a calendar to intentionally schedule “me time.”
Listen to music that inspires and motivates you.
Write a list of things you’re grateful to have in your life and post it somewhere you can see it often. We have a tendency to focus on the negative, so remind yourself of the good stuff.
Go through your closet and purge the clothes you haven’t worn in years. Donate them to a charitable organization.
Engage in some type of exercise. This could include walking, biking, hiking, running, swimming, a fitness class, yoga, and/or strength training.
Share a kind smile with strangers on your way to and from work. Some people may go all day without anyone acknowledging their existence.
Start a cycle of encouragement. Tell someone near you what you appreciate about them. They may return the favor when you need it most.
Buy yourself a fancy coffee instead of making your own
Call someone you care about to talk
For fun, dress your pet in a silly costume and take them on tour to make others smile.
Learn a new hobby, such as sewing.
Learn a breathing exercise and practice it for a few minutes each day.
Intentionally reestablish contact with someone you’ve lost touch with and would like to reconnect.
Try out a form of martial arts.
Take a moment at the end of each day and consciously list a few good things in your life. This can help refocus your emotions on all the positive things that happen each day, even when it doesn’t seem like it.
Turn off your phone and step away from the computer.
Work on a puzzle or play a board game.
Go out with friends.
Start/write in a journal how you are feeling and what is going on in your life.
Engage your creative mind with a form of art. This could also include coloring in an adult coloring book.
Take a long shower, dry your hair, and put on clothes that make you feel good.
Watch the sunrise or sunset.
Ask someone for help.
Attend therapy: individual or group.