Self Care In a Time of Darkness

This blog was initially going to be about “self care during the holidays”, however this week the office was filled with people in a state of shock and disbelief over the path many people in our country have chosen. I think one of the more distressing things I’ve heard is that in two separate school systems, there were incidents of exclusionary and racist behavior, resulting in children crying in the lunchroom.

People have become very familiar with the term PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but traumatic stress response is a reaction to an immediate event. What people are experiencing now is a reaction to a moment of extreme disappointment mixed with fear for their safety in the future. So how does a traumatic stress response show itself?

The first thing to realize is everyone is unique and there is no “one” response.  Some of the symptoms can be:

  • An increase in anxiety and/or depression, dark thoughts, sense of hopelessness not experienced prior to this event, loss of motivation for daily activities and self care, isolation or not wanting to be alone
  • Sleep disturbance such as difficulty falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night and unable to return to sleep, disturbing dreams or nightmares
  • Physical symptoms such as crying, heart palpitations, chest tightness and difficulty breathing, headaches, digestive upset such as loss of appetite, bowel disturbances.

What Happens To Your Body During a Stress Response?

On a physiological level, stress causes your body to switch over to the sympathetic nervous system for a “fight or flight response”. This sends a message to your adrenal glands to release the hormones adrenalin and cortisol. Even if released in small amounts, it takes a while for your body to re-calibrate from release of these hormones and return to the resting or autonomic nervous system state.

But there is more to our body’s than physiology and on an energetic level, one of the first things that happens is you take a breath in and although you physically exhale, the energy is not released; it stays inside and becomes stuck. If not released, this stuck energy increases and can cause pain and inflammation.

As someone who works with people on all levels, emotional, spiritual, and physical, I see that during times of stress and darkness, it’s more important than ever for your well being to do self-care. Our society doesn’t address this concept; so what actually is self-care? One person referred to it as “spoiling yourself”; but that isn’t what self-care is about.

What is Self Care?

I think the best way to describe self-care is by talking about self-nurturance. Self-nurturance begins with the acknowledgement that you have experienced a stress, or trauma and are reacting to that physical, psychic, emotional impact on your being. Here are some concrete steps you can take to minimize the impact:

  • Water and food: Make sure you are drinking enough water, staying hydrated. It’s also important to eat regularly, even if your appetite is diminished. You want to keep your blood sugar levels even, and eating small amounts of healthy foods throughout the day is the best way to insure that. It’s best to avoid highly processed foods and foods with lots of sugar in them during these times; they contribute to inflammation and pain. If you are unable to cook, it’s just as easy to find well-prepared foods at your local health food store or restaurants.
  • Rest: Rest is not just about sleep, it’s about relaxing and resetting your nervous system. It’s a good idea to impose a “news blackout”, as it’s very easy to become re-traumatized by watching TV. It’s also helpful to resist the urge to commiserate through social media, as those intense conversations can increase your stress hormones.
  • Sleep: Sleep restores not only your body on a cellular level, but true reintegration of your psyche happens during sleep. If you’re having difficulty falling or staying asleep, there are many natural supplements sold at local health food stores that are safe to use on a short-term basis.
  • Stress reduction: This might be one of the most important aspects of self-care. After a trauma, I’ve seen people act as if everything is fine and they feel able to maintain their normal schedule. If you think of your life as “a plate” and everything you do to maintain your life as items on it, after a trauma, anything that isn’t absolutely mandatory (like taking care of yourself and your family) gets temporarily removed. That’s a thing like making dinner for friends, paying bills, non-emergency doctor or dental appointments. Stay home, hang out with people you are close to and feel safe with, do things that make you feel good, baking, cooking a favorite dish, knitting, coloring, painting, looking through old family photos.
  • Active care: Meditation is something that is easy to do and you can do from the comfort of your home. After a trauma, it may not be easy to meditate, but sometimes a guided meditation, easily found through the internet, can be soothing at times like this. It doesn’t take long to feel the affects of calming your thoughts; even 5 to 10 minutes can make a difference.
  • Exercise: Unplug from your electronic world and go for a walk in nature! Being near water and breathing the air around trees, nourishes your soul and centers your being. Of course, yoga, Pilates, running and anything else you do that gets you moving is also great!
  • Professional help: You are your own best barometer of when you need to seek professional help. As an acupuncturist, naturopath and homeopath, I’ve seen how a few sessions of this type of health care can often help the person re-establish the inner link they temporarily lost. There are homeopathic remedies that are specifically useful for shock and trauma. (Aconite Napella 30c is easily found at your local health food store in the vitamin section. Take one pellet 2 to 3 times a day for 2 to 3 days to help with the initial shock and if symptoms persist, please consult a professional homeopath for further treatment.) Acupuncture easily calms your nervous system, and there are vitamin supplements, which help, replenish depleted energy supplies, as well as calm your nervous system. Psychotherapy is also extremely useful after a traumatic event, as often past traumas are re-stimulated and need to be worked through along with the recent event.

Lastly, I think connecting with loved ones and community, getting hugs and laughing, can be very healing and help you on your way to restoring your sense of self and security in your world.