Unless you have been living under a rock, you know the ludicrousness that is our country and the gut wrenching realities many in our world are living. Puerto Rico. The Dreamers. Collin Kaepernick. Las Vegas. Health care. The California wild fires. And the commentary our president offers every day on Twitter.
For those of us with PTSD, anxiety, depression, or the like, these are hard times. Even if you don’t struggle with an actual mental health diagnosis, life can feel overwhelming. Whether it’s the needs of your family or the refugee crisis, your finances or the genocide of the Rohingya, your sick dog or North Korean nuclear weapons, we are all in some stress right now.
Not long after being diagnosed with PTSD, I met with a counselor friend of mine and he explained the importance of taking care of myself preemptively. He used an analogy of glass of water that I found helpful in visualizing my stress levels and need for self/soul care.
He said the water in the glass represents the stress in my life. When I implement the things below, the water level lowers. When I don’t, the level hovers near the top. A traumatic or stressful event is the equivalent of a pitcher emptying itself into my glass. If I have not been caring for myself well, and my glass is already full, it will overflow. If I have been keeping my stress levels low, my glass can receive the extra water (stress) without spilling out all over the place. Make sense?
At first glance the list below may seem overwhelming. I get it. Why not commit to one thing this week, add another the next week, another the next and so on? I don’t implement each of these steps perfectly all the time, but the more of them I do, the better I feel.
Get theeself to counseling AT ANY COST. Literally, charge that session if you need to. It’s worth the interest. I cannot stress this enough. If you have trauma in your background, an EMDR therapist is best.
Evaluate your schedule with a friend with a radar for stress.
Ask someone you trust to take a look at your schedule with you, specifically examining for stressful activities or just too many activities period. Honestly reflect on each commitment you have and ask yourself, Is it stressful. Is it necessary? Will someone die if you stop doing it? Can you take a break? The goal here is to eliminate stressful activities as much as possible and to create white space in your schedule.
I know, I know. You’re busy. See #2. Also, that body, mind, soul connection is real. If you can exercise at the same time every day, even better.
Daily alone/quiet/God time.
When we take the things out of our schedule that cause us stress, we can replace them with things that really matter, really protect our mental and emotional health, and connect us with God. If quiet time is new or difficult for you, start with just five minutes a day and increase from there.
Commit to the thing that gives you life.
What makes you feel alive? Commit to doing that thing at least twice a week, three times if you can swing it. This is especially important for parents and caretakers. It’s easy to lose myself in the roles I fulfill and forget what actually fulfills me. The Lord planned the days for me, not the other way around.
We were not made to hold all the hurts of the world, and in this digital hyper-connected age we live in, we have access to all the hurts all the time. It’s not good. Maybe you need to give up Facebook, implement analogue weekends, or take a longer period of time away from the internet?
Get enough sleep.
Even if you don’t thrive on routine, having a plan for getting enough sleep is critical for most of us if we’re going to make it happen. Rhythms and rituals help us follow through with our best intentions. Set a timer for when you want your bedtime routine to begin. Light a candle, make a cup of tea, use a special lotion or oil, read a good book and commit to lights out at the optimum time for you. This one is critical for me. When the shit hits the fan, I am not capable of responding with grace and patience on not enough sleep.
Plan ahead so there are options.
This step applies specifically to those of us living in traumatic environments. How will you stay safe? How will you keep your kids safe? When will you call the police? Can you trust the police? What friend or neighbor can you call to help? Do you have a prayer team you can text for prayer in the moment? What can you do to diffuse the situation? Where is the safest place in your house? Where is the closest psychiatric hospital?
Again, I realize these questions don’t apply to most people’s situations, but if they apply to you, I invite you to think through them, write them down, and talk with a trusted friend or counselor about them.*
Accept the invitation to deal with past trauma.
If you are dealing with secondary trauma or anxiety, there may be an invitation for you to deal with past trauma. Why are you triggered by a certain situation? If triggered is not a word you’re familiar with, think about how your body feels in XYZ situation. Does your heart begin to pound? Do you feel short of breath? Are your hands shaky? Are you unable to think rationally? Do you feel out of control? If so, there may be unaddressed trauma in your past. The present is an invitation to face it head on, with the help of a qualified counselor.
I’m typically not a fan of listicle type posts, but given the time on our world clock, I thought these self care encouragements might be helpful to those of us alive right now.
If you have others I’d love to hear them in the comments!
*If you are in a abusive relationship call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.