Category: <span>Mood Improvement</span>

20 self-care practices for complex trauma survivors

20 self-care practices for complex trauma survivors
Self-care practices boost trauma healing

Trauma therapies, such as Attachment-Focused EMDR, are often essential to lead to a full recovery from complex trauma. Despite being highly effective, trauma therapies’ positive results are intensified and felt long after treatment termination when combined with a diverse plan of self-care practices. Here are 20 self-care practices for complex trauma survivors to help you promote and maintain mental/emotional, physical and relational wellbeing:

  1. Get enough sleep: practice good sleep hygiene and prioritise sleep to feel re-energised and less reactive.
  2. Eat healthily: choose wholefoods and avoid the ones which are rich in refined carbohydrates (white pasta, bread, etc), caffeine and smoking, and lower alcohol consumption to help reduce anxiety.
  3. Exercise or do physical activity regularly: do yoga, Pilates, start running or brisk walking, join a gym, or have dance lessons to get that endorphin kick and prevent depression.
  4. Socialise: avoid isolation – which could also make you more prone to having depression – by meeting up with friends while also trying to make new ones.
  5. Practice good personal hygiene: shower daily, keep your nails, hair and teeth clean and wash your hands after using the toilet.
  6. Get things done: commit to completing tasks you have been putting off to regain a sense of competence and self-efficacy
  7. Have fun: remind yourself to do fun things and be with people that make you feel good
  8. Spend time in nature: go for hikes, even if short ones, or for long drives in the countryside to declutter your mind and reduce arousal
  9. Do something different: practice an activity that makes you feel a bit uncomfortable or out of your comfort zone to stimulate cognition (memory, attention and perception)
  10. Try out alternative medicine to treat seemingly unsolvable aches and pains: book an acupuncture, massage, aromatherapy, Rolfing, craniosacral or chiropractic session
  11. Take a break from social media: read a book, listen to music, or try sitting still and connecting with your surroundings instead of dissociating from it while staring at a screen
  12. Be selective with what you watch and read: avoid watching the news or films and documentaries that trigger you. Go for content that leads to laughter, loving feelings and pleasure over fear and anger.
  13. Allow yourself to take a break: listen to your body and respect its need for relaxation. Do not keep putting off making a doctor’s appointment when needed.
  14. Reduce screen time: limit phone and computer use to certain times of the day. Do not touch your mobile phone 2 hours before bedtime if you suffer from sleep disturbances.
  15. Do grief work: take time to sit down somewhere private to cry and feel angry about what you are going through or were submitted to when growing up.
  16. Meditate and do breathing exercises: ground yourself by sitting down and focusing on your breathing.
  17. Do affirmations: practice positive brainwashing by listening to affirmations that target your insecurities and vulnerabilities daily.
  18. Listen to and believe in your feelings to honour your boundaries: choose to believe in what you feel and say no more often.
  19. Reduce dramatically or cut contact with individuals that have a negative effect on you: favour spending time with people who accept, listen and support you.
  20. Do not allow your trauma history to define you: work on changing your narrative in a way that highlights your resilience, inner strength and post-traumatic growth.

To develop a healthy and enjoyable self-care routine, make it your own. Choose practices with which you identify or feel in the mood to try out. Then, practice at least one of them daily. Show true love for yourself by creating a habit of making time for healing and personal growth – especially when you are not feeling well – to regain a sense of wholeness and connection and lead a pleasant, enjoyable life.

Grieving 2020’s losses

Grieving 2020s losses
When we do not process significant losses, we struggle to move on

Most people would agree that 2020 was a challenging year. Some might even express their discontent more strongly and state that it was “a terrible year”, or “the worst year ever”. Referring to the year just gone in such a negative fashion unavoidably leads to high expectations for 2021. But what if the changes we are anxiously expecting do not materialise as soon as we would have liked? Are we emotionally prepared to accept the circumstances in a more patient, centred manner?

For the majority, the answer is no.  That is because most of us have not grieved 2020’s losses yet. When we do not process significant losses, we struggle to move on. If the concept of grieving last year’s losses feels too abstract to you, imagine 2020 as a life changing event such as moving in with someone you love. Before the move, both of you plan everything together, excitingly. You envision a cosy and beautiful place you have created together. You see friends coming over for dinner and having a wonderful time. Then, as you are getting ready for the big move, one of you loses their job and the other gets diagnosed with a serious illness. Suddenly, you are forced to put everything on hold. And, what is worse, you have no means of predicting when things will get better or if you will ever be able to make that dream come true any time soon.

Such losses make us very sad and very, very angry. Because we were raised in a culture of emotional neglect, however, neither of these emotions are addressed and dealt with in a healthy fashion. Despite not connecting and processing them adequately, we do feel them, make no mistake. Even though emotion phobia is so prevalent, the sadness and anger we carry remain stored in our bodies, which tends to damage not only our emotional, but also our physical health. With regards to relationships, life dissatisfaction and built-up anger are usually projected onto others, an unconscious process which also damages their quality.

Therefore, if you want to face 2021 with a fresh attitude and protect the health of your relationships, I highly recommend fully grieving 2020’s losses, such as the missed opportunities of moving and interacting with others freely, travelling, meeting up with friends and family, socialising with colleagues and neighbours, dating, meeting new people and making new friends, finding a new job, moving and all the other activities and events that colour our existence. If you need help processing any type of loss, please keep on reading the following articles:

How to process emotional pain

5 self-soothing techniques for healthy grief processing

2 signs you are behaving in an emotionally dependent way

2 signs you are behaving in an emotionally dependent way
Having no time for anything also indicates an over reliance on intellectualisation, social interaction and movement as defence mechanisms not to connect with emotions

The habit of relying on external factors to regulate negative feelings and emotions is at the core of emotional dependence. People, things, work, food and exercise are all examples of external factors which are commonly used to make one feel balanced or “better”. While a certain level of dependence is healthy to nurture secure attachment, for instance, constantly searching for someone or something outside the self to help one deal with the discomfort that lies within – without consciously connecting with it – often worsens one’s ability to process emotions in a functional way in the long term. To raise your awareness or prevent you from perpetuating such tendency, here are 2 signs you are behaving in an emotionally dependent way:

You do what you can not to spend time alone

Focusing the attention on others distracts us from having it on our own selves. Emotionally dependent people tend to equate being alone to feeling lonely, restless and/or somewhat uncomfortable. That belief feeds a constant need to be surrounded by people in order not to feel that emotional discomfort. Such avoidant behaviour – or emotion phobia – signals a maladaptive tendency of not wanting to connect with the inner world, address and fully process negative emotions.

You do what you can to stay “busy”

Although activities such as studying, socialising, helping others, working, cleaning, talking and even exercising may be productive, they also work as perfect excuses for not thinking or, most importantly, feeling. As being busy is much more socially acceptable than connecting with negative emotions, since we come from a culture of emotional neglect and intolerance, endless to do lists and “no time for anything” might also indicate an over reliance on intellectualisation, social interaction and movement as defence mechanisms not to connect with emotions such as fear, anger, sadness and shame, as well as feelings of abandonment, emptiness and rejection.

Looking outside the self and relying on the external world to gain distance from emotions and, therefore, “deal with them” correspond to emotional dependent attitudes that strongly affect mental health and wellbeing. To embrace an emotionally autonomous stance, learning how to spend time alone and in stillness are essential for anyone who wishes to freely reconnect with the body and feel more centred in an organic, adaptive way which also boosts personal growth and emotional maturity.

Loneliness and emotional vulnerability

Loneliness and emotional vulnerability
Persistent loneliness is often followed by feelings of rejection, abandonment and low-self-esteem

At times of social isolation, it remains pertinent not to neglect the extreme negative effects it has on our mental/emotional health. Despite the current focus being on physical health as the only threat to wellbeing, it remains crucial to raise awareness of how isolation may have an even stronger impact on our psyches and quality of life in the longer term. In order to understand the link between loneliness and emotional vulnerability, here are 3 signs/feelings/mood states that indicate how you may be negatively affected by a lack of social contact:

Sadness and melancholy: as we have been wired for connection and intimacy, being with others and enjoying their company makes us feel more human and alive. Even if you are an introvert, a certain level of social interaction is required to promote a sense of identity and belonging. As the human presence, voice and touch are also soothing, a friend, colleague, relative or spouse, for instance, can be a source of emotional support. When we lack that and feel lonely, however, moments of sadness tend to last longer. As the days go by and loneliness lingers, we may become hopeless, melancholic and even depressed.                 

Shame and frustration: persistent loneliness is often followed by feelings of rejection, abandonment and low-self-esteem. Despite being, at times, a consequence of our own lifestyle choices and rigid beliefs about relationships, loneliness can make us feel “not good enough”, “inferior” or “less than”. Not feeling worthy of the company and love of others brings about resentment, anger and even hatred, which are felt on a deep level and are often not fully registered by the conscious mind.

Fear and desperation: feeling alone, not seen and without access to emotional connection and support may trigger the fight or flight response. That is because we also need others to feel safe.  As human beings are only able to survive and thrive in groups and with the help of other humans, complete isolation – even when seemingly coherent at times of a health crisis – may cause stress, hypervigilance and anxiety. When we are submitted to a climate of fear that seems endless, desperation sets in, which may, in turn, lead us to resort to dysfunctional, extreme and risky behaviours to regain a sense of safety and wellbeing.

As our emotional health continues to be neglected by governments, the medical community and other authorities of the health sector, it remains of the utmost importance to be creative and dedicate time and effort to personal care. If you feel lonely and emotionally vulnerable as a result of isolation, do what you can to feel connected, firstly with your inner self and then with others. There is still much you can do that respects the social distancing guidelines that will ameliorate your mood, you just need to search for what suits and complements the authentic you.

How to process emotional pain

How to process emotional pain
Most mental health problems are intrinsically connected to a resistance to fully feel and process negative emotions

Most mental health problems are intrinsically connected to a resistance to fully feel and process negative emotions. When we come to understand that our trauma and emotional pain remain in the body even when we try to deny them in our minds, processing them becomes a natural course to healing. If you agree with that premise but find the whole process daunting, here are four simple steps on how to process emotional pain:

1- Connect with the body without fear

If you were raised in an environment of emotional neglect like the most of us, your tendency is to repress, deny or avoid negative emotions. In order to start feeling them, move the attention inward in a mindful way. Resist the habit of attempting to distract yourself from them and connect with the negative bodily sensations deeply.

2- Ride the wave of emotion

As you start connecting with the emotional pain, you will notice it more and feel it more intensely. That is totally OK. As emotions are fleeting, they will come and then go. Trust this truth, stay with them and allow them to ebb and flow. Feeling emotional pain is not pleasant, undoubtedly, but it is manageable. As we were all wired for feeling and processing it, remind yourself that you can stand that emotional (and at times even physical) discomfort.

3- Challenge irrational thinking

Negative emotions usually follow negative thinking. Therefore, you can feel stuck in your emotional pain or extend its life by not questioning dysfunctional thinking. Because most negative thoughts are biased and irrational, they fail to explain reality objectively. Consequently, they corrupt your perspective of yourself, the world and others, triggering fear, sadness, anger and shame. When riding that negative emotion wave, ask yourself “What was I thinking just now?”, consciously question irrational thinking and identify cognitive errors.

4- Focus on the positive

After you have allowed yourself to feel, ride the emotional wave to completion and challenge negative thinking, it is time to frame the situation differently, in a more realistic and empowering fashion. Give meaning to your suffering and allow yourself to re-organise your narrative from a personal growth angle. The very fact that you had the courage to feel your emotional pain and be yourself in an authentic way is already so remarkable, that deserves your full appreciation.

Learning how to process emotional pain, as outlined above, may not be easy, but it is certainly adaptive and rewarding. As you start building a different relationship with your body and emotions, you feel more whole and connected, not only with your own self but also with life and others. Furthermore, as your emotional maturity and autonomy develop, your relationships tend to flourish and become more fulfilling. I hope you have the courage and willingness to see beyond your pain and enjoy the benefits of embracing it and fully processing it with acceptance.

Conditional wellbeing

Conditional wellbeing
Feelings of enjoyment should not only follow an act of effort or good behaviour

Do you have a habit of putting your happiness on hold until “something good” happens? Do you say to yourself, “When I buy a house/get married/have a boyfriend/girlfriend/make more money etc., then I will feel good”? If yes, you suffer from what I call conditional wellbeing. Conditional wellbeing is to make good feelings about yourself, the world and other people dependent upon external factors. This approach to life is often at the centre of much of our unhappiness, however, and general discontent. So if it is so unproductive to our emotional health, why do we do it?

I believe that our culture of delayed gratification, as well as our rigid beliefs, have great influence on how we approach our wellbeing on a day-to-day basis. As children, we are often made to believe that good feelings of enjoyment should only follow an act of effort or good behaviour. Parents use rewards to make us do what they want us to do, as in “You can have ice-cream after you have done your homework/tidy up your room”, etc. When such schemes are reinforced through consistent practice, our brains automatically create an association between work and fun, as if we were only entitled to the latter if we did the former.

Our beliefs about “happiness” and “being worthy of feeling good” also interfere with our ability to enjoy ourselves for no reason. What do you usually associate with pleasure and good moments?  Does it tend to involve free time, people and things, eating and drinking? Are you always engaged in some kind of (special) activity when you create this mental picture? If yes, your beliefs about personal wellbeing could be limiting the way you perceive and experience it, making it conditional.

Some people only allow themselves to feel enjoyment after a long day’s work, at the weekend or when away on holiday.  Without noticing, their lives become all about chasing that reward, as if they did not deserve to have it without sacrifice. You need to earn it to enjoy, right? “No pain no gain”, so they say. Those beliefs are, of course, cognitive traps. While they keep you running on that wheel like a deluded hamster, the true satisfaction of living that comes from true, uncompromised self-expression become even more far-fetched.

If you identify with the above, and would like to reconnect with a healthier sense of joy and wellbeing, I suggest the following:

1- Stop over identifying with negative feelings: have you lost touch with life’s little pleasures because you are so focused on the negative? When you only have time for the big fish, life becomes a tedious and unsatisfying waiting game. Try maximising the pleasure that comes from waking up in the morning and having that delicious cup of coffee, or refreshing shower. Anything that gives you a good feeling is worth your attention and can change your experience, moment by moment.

2- Master the art of feeling happy just for being alive: make a point of taking a few moments throughout the day to feel good about being you. To achieve that, show gratitude and appreciation to yourself mentally, while you connect with good feelings in your body. If they do not come up naturally, create them, consciously, and experience them mindfully for a couple of minutes.

3- Drop the perfectionism: challenge thinking that revolves around “If I…, I would…” and “When I…, I will…” and start valuing yourself for who you are and not who you “should have been” in an unfortunate past, or “could be” in an idealised future. The same applies to the people and material things you convinced yourself you should have in order to feel happy. Tell yourself you are worth happiness and joy, right at this moment. When you genuinely feel that way, you attract good things, effortlessly.