Self care during crisis
Trudging uphill in battle and fighting for what's important, the last thought that might come to mind right now is self care. We're caught up in a storm of fight or flight, and many of us go into problem-solving mode or find ourselves stuck in a spiral of anger, fear, and sadness.
Self care is crucial when we find ourselves fighting to overcome adversity. If we don't take the time we need to replenish ourselves we will inevitably be unable to keep the pace and burn out, exhausted mentally, spiritually, and physically. Unable to go on, it can leave us feeling ill and guilty.
I think it's safe to say that we are living through some traumatic moments in history right now. How it affects you, and how you cope may look different than how someone else is affected and coping, but it makes an impact and can leave scars nonetheless. There's no way to know exactly what the impact will be and what the scars will look like, but the trauma will be there, and trauma that isn't transformed is transferred. You may have heard the saying:
Hurt people hurt people.
Since the last thing we need is more people hurting each other, I wanted to share some tips and advice for self care during this distressing time to keep us strong in the pursuit of justice.
Feel your feelings -
It can be very hard and uncomfortable to sit with our emotions and just feel them. It's usually not the pleasant emotions we run from but the painful ones like fear, anger, sadness, and shame. We are not our feelings, and that can be hard to remember in the midst of them, but it's true. Emotions offer us a form of communication with ourselves. When we sit with our feelings and investigate them we often find an unmet need behind them. For example; if you're feeling angry, you might also be feeling afraid because anger is a secondary emotion to fear. If you investigate that fear and ask what it needs to feel safe again and what can be done right now in this moment to help it, you might find any number of answers in response. Maybe it's a simple cup of tea, maybe it's a social media break, maybe it's a nap under a warm blanket. This is not meant so much to take away your emotion all together or to ignore the cause of it, but to give your nervous system a chance to recuperate so you can keep fighting later instead of pushing through and damaging your health and wellbeing.
Journaling is a great way to feel our feelings. It gives us a chance to get it all out of our head and onto paper. Just let it all out, don't think about what comes out of you and don't judge it, just let it flow. Once it's all out, you might notice some relief, and if not, try to sit with the feeling and investigate it through journaling as well.
Listen to music -
Ever hear the phrase music soothes the savage beast? I can't speak for everyone, but a lot of the time when I find myself stuck in an emotion music has had a way of lifting me out of it. Especially if it's music I can move to or sing with. There's an actual science behind this; Our minds are constantly telling our bodies stories, and sending out messages about our level of safety, if we are focused on stories surrounding fear and danger our bodies are receiving the message that we are in danger right now and it causes a cascade of stress hormones to be released into our systems that if left unchecked can lead to a depleted immune system and the well known "fried" feeling. When we move our bodies in dance we are sending signals back to the brain that we are safe and in control, and we give our nervous system a chance to "shake it off". Singing, humming, or chanting (even gargling) can stimulate the vagus nerve, and this nerve is inextricably linked to the part of our nervous system (parasympathetic) that's in charge of our ability to rest and relax.
Be in nature -
Whether you're on a walk or sitting in your backyard watching the sky and the birds, being in nature means getting outside of yourself. You begin to get the sense of a bigger picture, that life is happening all around us, and you're a part of it. Witnessing a flower in full bloom, a bunny hopping, a bird feeding, a stream flowing, are all examples of the beauty that surrounds us and serve to remind us that life finds a way. It gives us chance to just be for a while and lose ourselves in appreciation.
Watch something funny -
When we're stuck knee deep in the mud of hard emotions, the furthest thing from our minds is laughter, but laughter during hard times is most important. Laughter enhances the intake of oxygen which is much needed when we're stressed and not breathing fully, laughter releases endorphins, our natural feel good chemicals, laughter stimulates circulation helping ease tension in the body, and laughter can bring a sense of closeness and connection by way of our mirror neurons when you watch a funny movie with friends and/or loved ones.
Play with your pet -
Playing with a pet relaxes our nervous system because when we run our fingers through their fur, look into their sweet innocent eyes and see them looking back at us it releases oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine which are all hormones involved in feeling relaxed. Caring for another being gives us a sense of meaning and purpose, and that can go a long way in relieving anxiety. Our pets are experts at living in the present moment, so when you slow down enough to spend time with them and pet them, you're giving yourself the opportunity to be in the present also.
Meet your basic needs -
Sleep, food, water, and bathing are basic needs. These are also some of the first things to go out the window when we're going through a highly stressful time. We can sleep too little or too much, forget to eat or eat too much, and forget basic hygiene when we're in a prolonged state of fight or flight. It stands to reason that if these needs aren't being met, our physical and mental health will be affected negatively. Make sure you're getting enough sleep so your immune system stays strong, eating well to keep up your energy, drinking water to stay hydrated, and bathing to feel good in your body.
Do something that brings you joy -
You might have recently picked up a new hobby and there's no better time to dive into it than now. If not, that's okay too, just do something that brings you joy and is within reason regarding the current state of what can be done safely right now. Maybe that's dancing, maybe it's a board game night with friends over Zoom, maybe it's a chat with a friend, maybe it's riding your bike, whatever you enjoy doing throw yourself into it whenever you're starting to feel the weight of it all getting a little too heavy.
There's so much more I would love to expand on about trauma and how it's stored and how we can work with it and our coping mechanisms, but that's all for another day. This is a time for outrage and anger, and it's justified, we are right to be full of fury. It does take its toll though, and we need to stay strong because this is only the beginning.