I had the joy of corresponding with someone new this week. He emailed me via my website and we discussed pain. Real pain. Reaches-into-your-core-and-lays-everything-out-on-the-table kind of pain. Pain that leaves you choosing which cards to pick up. And which to leave laying face down.
Our correspondence made me begin to think about the ways that suffering from pain, like the loss of a loved one, can feel similar to suffering from pain after trauma—the loss of one’s self.
And about how many of you might find yourselves experiencing pain in a way you never have before. In a way that challenges your faith. In life. In love. In yourselves.
In a way that you’ve never felt before. Your pain might be affecting your body. Your appetite. Your nervous system. Making what you are experiencing similar to what most people experience after having suffered a trauma.
Pain, Trauma and the Nervous System
While healing from trauma, I’ve been learning about my nervous system, and I am able to pick up on the signs of when it’s regulated and when it’s not. Here is what comes up the most when my nervous system is unregulated:
- I dwell on/stay stuck on the past
- I dwell on/stay stuck on the future
- I try to control everything that myself and those around me do
- I have a difficult time understanding what I’m feeling and making decisions
- My body tightens up, and I become stiff, tense
- My thinking becomes scattered and/or I start saying the wrong words
- My motor skills start to worsen, and I become clumsy
- I am unable to follow a routine/feel antsy while trying to complete tasks
- Either my mind races, or I’m dull, bored and uninspired
- I either oversleep, or I can’t sleep more than a few hours
- I either feel like I have to move a lot, or I feel like I can’t move at all
- I either overeat, or I under-eat, unable to tell when I’m nourished
- I can only eat plain or bland foods
- I am easily startled by sudden, loud noises
- I feel sick when overstimulated by strong smells
- I feel dizzy from too much movement — either watching it or experiencing it
- I become easily overwhelmed
And I find I am quick to:
- Have a fight-or-flight response
- Fawn (give others what they want while putting my needs aside)
- Have panic attacks
- Have meltdowns
- Have suicidal thoughts
Practicing Self-care and Creating a Self-care Routine
I’ve found that in order to help myself when my nervous system is unregulated, I have to practice self-care. For me, that means having a sensory diet and practicing mindfulness. To help me regulate my nervous system. To help me feel safe in my environment and in my body. To help me have hope.
We all need self-care. And that looks different for each of us. For some it might mean doing yoga. For others, cooking or biking. Knitting or coloring. And for some of us, it means getting out of bed. Showering. Taking each day one thing at a time. One day at a time. For when you’re suffering from pain or if you’ve suffered a trauma, sometimes one thing at a time is all you can do.
Practicing self-care also means doing the things that bring us joy. Ending things that don’t. Releasing. Letting go. Surrendering. Even (or arguably, Especially) when you’re suffering. When you have to fight even harder to see the light. Because that just means it’ll shine that much brighter when you find it. So to help you get started, here are five steps to creating a self-care routine (that will regulate your nervous system too*):
Step #1: Take five to 10 minutes to consider all the ways you incorporate self-care into your day:
- Brainstorm for a minute or two.
- Make a list of all the things you do for self-care.
Step #2: Ask yourself (and modify your list if necessary):
- What does my self-care look like?
- How often do I practice it?
- What do I notice when I let my needs go for too long?
Step #3: Categorize each thing you do for self-care as:
- How you move, nourish and rest to nurture your body.
- How you learn, relax and stay curious to nurture your mind.
- How you are creative, giving and playful to nurture your soul.
Step #4: Make a promise to yourself that you will do one thing from each category at least once a day.
- Once you master that, add one more thing from each category.
- Then add another.
- And so on.
Step #5: Reflect on your self-care list at least once a month and change things that no longer serve you; add things that do. Consider:
- How you can be kinder to yourself. More forgiving. More loving.
- How you can take the opportunity to grow when you are unhappy.
- How you can take your self-love and use it to help others.
To all of you suffering, I wish you light and love on your journey to heal. *You are different than me. The information I provide is based on my experience. Always consult your intuition and team of experts regarding your own health.
This story originally ran on Psych Central on May 28, 2020. Since Psych Central has been sold, the link to the original is no longer available:
Cover photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash