It is essential that we nourish our inner worlds so that we can remain connected to our natural creative impulses.
Self-care is a necessary element to transforming a victim story and reconnecting you with your essence. Eating well and making sure you exercise are important, however I am talking here about behaviours and activities that nurture your psyche rather than your body (although your body also benefits).
Most of our time and energy goes into the day-to-day demands of earning a living and achieving what our societies and conditioning deem as success. When we don’t meet the standards imposed on us by these external ‘authorities’, we can be unnecessarily hard on ourselves. The trouble is, putting pressure on ourselves to do more, and better, can be counter-productive; this is how people end up stressed and burnt-out. This stress and burn-out is amplified if your emotional health isn’t robust.
My attempts to conform to society’s norms contributed to my developing PTSD; rather than make my health a priority, I focused on what I had to do to be acceptable according to cultural criteria, the result being that my recovery has taken longer than it might otherwise have done.
There were several practices, however, that I started in the early days following my escape from my tormentor that I have maintained over a number of years. One, in particular, that I heartily recommend is keeping a journal.
I came to journaling after a friend suggested I work through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way in order to deal with the shock that overwhelmed me after being held against my will and sustaining systematic abuse over an intense six-week period. The fall-out from my ordeal was intolerable and I was struggling to keep myself together.
The Artist’s Way is a twelve week course that professes to help readers recover their creative selves, but for me it achieved so much more than that. It kick-started the journaling practice that has kept me sane, helped me to uncover who I really am, develop my intuition and gain wisdom from my experiences. The insights I realise when journaling are never-ending; it is a master-tool for anyone interested in attaining personal growth.
Julia refers to the practice as morning pages and the instructions couldn’t be simpler: every day, as soon as you wake up, write three pages of whatever is in your head (stream-of-consciousness), longhand. Spelling and grammar are unimportant; the objective is ‘the act of moving the hand across the page… Nothing is too petty, too silly, too stupid or too weird to be included.’ Morning pages are meant for your eyes only and as such you are free to vent without restraint.
Research carried out in the USA by Dr. James Pennebaker has demonstrated the beneficial impact on health after writing about emotional upheaval (he suggests talking about your concerns into a voice recorder if you’re not keen on writing); I can vouch for Dr. Pennebaker’s findings and encourage you to try out journaling for yourself!
[N.B. Be aware of rumination when writing about upsetting events. Dr. Pennebaker advocates writing for no more than four days in a row about specific traumas. If you write often, focus on solutions and problem solving to gain maximum benefit from your practice]
Another self-nurturing practice is walking in nature. My favourite nature walks are by the sea; I live within 15 miles of the East Anglian coast and walking there helped to disperse the adrenaline that flooded my body as a consequence of constantly being on ‘high-alert’ (a symptom of PTSD); without it I believe I could have developed more serious health problems. Research in Japan and Finland, furthermore, shows that walking in the woods (called ‘forest bathing’ in Japan) reduces stress and enhances the immune system.
Other known self-care activities include making time for a long, luxurious soak in the bath, practicing relaxation, meditation and mindfulness and taking up yoga or tai chi (all of which I can recommend). Experiment to see what works for you; you’ll know when you’ve found an effective self-care pastime because, whilst engaged in it, you will feel peace and contentment at a deep level. When you can get yourself into an optimal state like this you are connected with your essence, which is the opposite of feeling victimised by life. Acting from this position of inner strength enables you to make rewarding life choices
An affirmation suggested by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way is:
Treating myself like a precious object makes me strong.
It’s a mantra that has served me well; let it nourish and strengthen you, too.