An EMDR Trauma Therapist's Guide to Self Care

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If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete

The Buddha

Self care is an act of love and compassion for oneself and it comes in many different forms. We can nourish our mind, body and spirit in the following ways: physical, emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, cultural, relational, recreational and vocational. Self care helps us to become wise and compassionate. It also helps us to cultivate self awareness, self reflection and self understanding. As an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) therapist I love helping people heal from trauma. I am honored to sit with people each day, hold space for them and hear their stories or survival against incredible odds. I hear stories related to abuse, suffering and pain. My job as a trauma therapist provides me with hope and inspiration that the human body and spirit wants to be whole, happy, healthy and alive…. and it can! Just like my clients it is important for me to practice self care. I know that if I cannot love and take care of myself then I cannot be of much help to others. Here are a few of the ways that I take care of myself:

Grounding

I ground myself by walking barefoot on the grass in my backyard. I bring attention to each step that I take in a mindful way and feel my breath as I breathe in and out. In the winter, I feel the cool, wet grass beneath my feet and might even feel mud underneath my toes, depending on how good my grass is growing that year. I will walk out in the rain to feel the wet grass under my feet and the cool raindrops on my face. In the summer, I feel the dry grass underneath my feet and sometimes the hot dirt as well. I allow myself to feel connected to the earth, which reminds me that I belong to something greater.

Repeat a mantra to myself

Using affirmations to counter negative thinking is a great way to provide self care. I will often repeat mantras to myself in a loving way. The common ones that I tell myself are: It won’t last forever, everything changes, I am not alone, I am loved, I may not be perfect, but I’m perfect just the way I am, my needs and feelings count too, I will treat myself as kindly as I treat others, I will respond to myself with compassion. My mantras are always changing based on what is going on in my life and what it is that I need in any given moment. I like to write my mantras down on a sticky note and put the note on my bathroom mirror where I can see it every day.

Talk kindly to myself

I am always surprised at how quickly negative thoughts about myself can come up even when I least expect it. I have to catch myself when I say things to myself like, that was stupid or you blew that. These negative thoughts seem automatic and just “slip out” before I can even stop it. I practice catching these negative thoughts and talking kindly to myself. I might even place a hand on my heart to show love for myself or say reassuring comments such as, it’s okay, your alright, you got this, or no big deal. I have to work with my doubting or critical mind by being gentle with myself. I try and remember to talk to myself like I would talk to a friend.

Light a candle

I enjoy lighting candles for self care. I have many different types of essential oil candles at home that I use regularly. I choose a scent based on how I want to feel or how I am feeling at the time. I might light an orange and lavender candle to provide a soothing calming effect or a patchouli and frankincense candle for a reflective state. Besides using candles to calm or invigorate me I also light candles when I am thinking positive loving thoughts about someone and wanting to send them light and love.  

Practice mindfulness

I love the idea of neuroplasiticity and that my brain is not static but can rewire itself. I know my brain is like most people’s brain in the fact that it is going non-stop. Did you know that even when we are sleeping our brains are scanning our environment?  So what better way to work with our brains then through mindfulness. Mindfulness means to be intentionally present, with curiosity and without judgment. Mindfulness gives me the space to breathe and find a skillful response to whatever I am experiencing in life rather than just being on autopilot. It creates the clarity that helps me to see the things I can change, and helps me to soften into the things I cannot change. Mindfulness reminds me that life is precious and every moment is an opportunity to be present in the here and now. I use mindfulness when working with my clients in order to be attuned to them and to myself with a quality of mindful attention.

Go to my calm, peaceful place

I use my internal calm, peaceful place to provide me with a sense of safety and relaxation. One of my favorite calm, peaceful places is a visual of being in a field of wildflowers. This special place is a visual that I use that has been installed through bilateral stimulation (right/left tapping) which is an EMDR related technique. I will bring up this internal resource to calm and soothe myself when I need too or just to increase or support a clam state that I am already feeling.

Being in nature

One of the quickest ways for me to feel grounded is to get outside. Getting outside everyday allows me to get light even on cloudy rainy days in the northwest. When I can’t get outside I try and sit by a window in order to see nature or open a window to hear the sounds outside. Being in nature reminds me that I belong to something larger than self. Seeing the seasons change, plants flourish and die reminds me of impermanence. The understanding of impermanence helps me to appreciate each moment which makes life sweeter. When I am in nature I am reminded of the healing elements that are in us and in the world.

Move

Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and to feel healthy. I do some sort of exercise everyday 6- 7 days a week for at least 30 minutes a day. I will walk, ride my street bike, mountain bike or stationary bike, walk on my treadmill, go for a hike, lift weights, do some stretching or yoga and my new favorite activity, kayaking. Moving helps me to feel more energized it shows respect for my body and helps me to reduce stress and to get a good night’s sleep. I know I am more mentally strong when I am physically strong.

Being with my dog

I love the unconditional regard my yellow lab Hanna shows for me and others. Being with her makes me feel special and loved. My dog is a great teacher of mindfulness for me. I am reminded by her daily to stop, slow down, pay attention and to feel. She reminds me of this by greeting me each morning and each evening  with her tail wagging, licking my hand, sitting next to me to be petted and looking at me with limitless trust and love. Our animals can sense what we are feeling and will often times try and regulate us if we are not regulating ourselves.

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I get my own EMDR therapy- My EMDR therapist helps me to process my own distressing life events. I know firsthand how EMDR therapy gets to those hard to reach places within us that will often take years of traditional talk therapy to address. I like the way EMDR therapy helps me to heal myself. This type of therapy allows my mind and body to access the information that I need within me to heal. It is different than being taught a skill by a therapist or encouraged to think differently. Instead EMDR is experiential, it activates the mind and body in a way that allows my own internal wisdom to come forward and a beautiful flow of my mind and body to repair and release the hurt that I have experienced. It is deep, it is healing and I experience lasting change. It really is remarkable to watch my clients respond to EMDR therapy and to feel it personally myself!

My self care practices are evolving and changing just like I am. I try to be kind and gentle to myself when I forget to practice self care or when I think that “I am just too busy.” I know that the way I feel about myself is directly related to how I treat myself. I find purpose in the work that I do and appreciate being able to walk beside and support my clients on their healing journey. As a trauma therapist I know that it is not always easy for people to provide themselves with self care or self love. For some of my clients the act of self care can feel counter intuitive because most of their lives they have felt unworthy or undeserving of love. Other times my clients have a strong inner critic inside that tells them that they are failing or not getting it right each time they practice a self care act. We can appreciate the parts of ourselves that block us from feeling better and taking in self love and compassion. We can try and explore those sides of us and give appreciation for the ways that they have kept us safe in the past. Just the act of curiosity, openness and understanding can be an act of self care and a great way to start healing. Finally, I am reminded by what Eckhart Tolle tells us, that if we “get the inside right, the outside will fall into place.” Inside is where our love waits for us.

Lemecia & the VWS Team