6 Self-Care Strategies for Difficult Times
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PREFACE BY MARI BERLIN
In 2021, I faced a tough period of narcissistic abuse and a separation that threw my emotional world into chaos. The experience was so intense that I thought about hospitalization three times, worried that I might lose my grip on reality. It was clear to me that to overcome this, I needed to focus on basic self-care: eating, sleeping, and exercising, even when I didn't feel like it. When I couldn't eat, I relied on meal replacement drinks, and despite not being someone who enjoyed walking, I forced myself to take 30-minute walks twice a day as a way to work through the pain. On many of those walks, I would end up crying, but it felt like a necessary release. I needed to walk off all the emotions and the abuse. I didn't want it to get stuck in my body.
I also turned to making collages, which allowed me to represent my internal state without needing words. Creating these visual expressions of my feelings was unexpectedly comforting. I continued with this form of art therapy until I felt I had said everything I needed to through that medium. Automatic writing also helped me sort through the confusion in my head; it was like unraveling a tangled ball of yarn, thought by thought.
I realized the importance of keeping my mind clear and focused, which led me to stop drinking alcohol temporarily. I needed all my mental faculties to get through this ordeal and recognized that alcohol would only hinder the process. Staying sober became a crucial part of my strategy to come out stronger on the other side of this experience.
Now that I've made it through to the other side, I can look back and discern a lesson within the hardship I endured. I've never been one to embrace the 'gratitude for struggles' mindset, but the intense pain I experienced undeniably served as a catalyst for change that I couldn't have achieved otherwise. My past, riddled with childhood trauma, had led me to adopt unhealthy patterns and negative self-beliefs. The acute emotional pain I went through shattered these longstanding patterns, much like breaking a mold. It might sound cliché, but it's true—through the cracks inflicted by this pain, the light began to seep in, illuminating parts of me that had been in the dark for so long.
This journey of transformation was paradoxically destructive and creative. It tore down my defenses, the very ones I had built as a child to shield myself from pain, allowing me to start anew. Stripped down to my most vulnerable, I was, in essence, reborn—a new version of myself that had finally broken free from the shadows of childhood trauma. It was a profound rebirth, leaving me both exhausted and in awe of the duality of my role as both the caregiver and the nurtured. By emerging from this grueling process, I stand as proof that it's possible to transcend your past. If you find yourself in the depths, remember, rebirth is possible, and you too can find your way back.
Here is one of the collages I did during this period of my life. I hope it will give you the courage to keep going. You are not alone. I have been in this dark place too and was able to find my way out. I have no doubt that you will too.
6 SELF-CARE STRATEGIES FOR DIFFICULT TIMES
Difficult times are inevitable and often unpredictable, throwing us off balance and challenging our well-being. During such times, self-care becomes not just beneficial but essential. It’s an anchor that can hold us steady in the roughest of seas. Here are six self-care strategies to help you navigate through the storms of life with resilience and grace.
1. Mindfulness: The Art of Anchoring Yourself in the Now
When life becomes a tempest, our thoughts can become untethered, drifting to worries of the future or regrets of the past. Mindfulness is the practice of bringing our attention back to the present moment. It’s about experiencing life as it unfolds, with acceptance and without judgment.
- Mindful Breathing: Start by dedicating a few minutes each day to mindful breathing. Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and focus solely on the rhythm of your breath. Inhale and exhale slowly, feeling the air move in and out of your body. This simple act can center your mind, reduce stress, and ground you in the present.
- Body Scans: Progress to mindfulness body scans, where you pay attention to each part of your body in turn, noticing any sensations without trying to change them. This can connect you more deeply with yourself and help release bodily tension.
2. Physical Activity: Movement as Medicine
Physical activity is a potent self-care strategy. It can elevate your mood, reduce stress hormones, and boost your energy levels. Exercise triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.
- Routine Exercise: Incorporate at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise into your daily routine. It doesn’t have to be strenuous; a brisk walk, a gentle yoga session, or a dance around your living room can be immensely therapeutic.
- Nature Engagements: Whenever possible, take your exercise outdoors. The fresh air, natural light, and the calming presence of nature can magnify the benefits of physical activity, providing a double dose of revitalization.
3. Connection: Weaving a Web of Support
Humans are inherently social creatures, and in times of distress, connections with others can be a lifeline. Whether it’s sharing your worries, enjoying a shared experience, or simply feeling the presence of another, social connections can provide comfort and perspective.
- Reach Out: Make it a point to reach out to friends or family regularly. Schedule calls or meet-ups as part of your routine. If you’re not up for talking, even a text exchange can be uplifting.
- Support Groups: Consider joining a support group where you can connect with others going through similar experiences. Sometimes, the mere acknowledgment that you’re not alone in your struggles can be incredibly healing.
4. Nutritional Well-being: Fueling the Body to Empower the Mind
What we eat has a profound impact on how we feel, both physically and emotionally. During tough times, it’s common to reach for comfort foods, which may provide a temporary lift but can ultimately lead to a crash in mood and energy.
- Balanced Diet: Strive for a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains. These foods provide sustained energy and the nutrients your body needs to cope with stress. If you don't have the energy to cook or get food, meal replacement drinks are a good alternative.
- Mindful Eating: Practice mindful eating by paying attention to the taste, texture, and sensations of your food. Eating slowly and without the distraction of screens can improve digestion and satisfaction with meals.
5. Restorative Sleep: The Bedrock of Resilience
Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Sleep is when the body repairs itself, consolidates memories, and resets our emotional landscape. Without adequate rest, everything else—our mood, energy, productivity, and ability to handle stress—is compromised.
- Regular Sleep Schedule: Establish a regular sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps regulate your body’s clock and can help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
- Sleep Environment: Optimize your sleep environment. Ensure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows, and consider a white noise machine or earplugs if you’re easily disturbed.
6. Creative Expression: The Healing Power of Creativity
In times of struggle, tapping into your creative side can be a powerful way to process emotions and foster a sense of peace. Creative expression allows you to communicate feelings that might be hard to verbalize, and it can be a deeply cathartic and therapeutic process.
- Journaling: Begin with journaling, which has been shown to have tremendous benefits for mental health. Whether it’s writing down your thoughts in a stream of consciousness, penning poetry, or keeping a gratitude journal, the act of putting pen to paper can be a release valve for bottled-up emotions.
- Artistic Endeavors: Delve into any form of art that speaks to you—painting, drawing, sculpting, making music, dancing, or crafting. You don't have to be an accomplished artist; it’s about the process, not the product. The goal is to lose yourself in the flow of creation, which can be both meditative and exhilarating.
- DIY Projects: Engage in do-it-yourself projects around the home. Creating or improving your surroundings can give a satisfying sense of achievement and a much-needed distraction from stress.