Support: find your resources.
No, I’m not talking about financial resources – although money does come in really handy for paying a therapist. What I’m talking about here is both inner and outer resources that you can turn to for help in coping with tough times. They can help you to create your own sense of safety. Resources are things that hold you when you’re feeling down or scared. They can help re-center you when you’re feeling out of balance. Think of Maria trying to focus on her favorite things during a thunderstorm in The Sound of Music
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens,
Brown paper packages tied up with strings,
These are a few of my favorite things
At this point, you're either singing along, or you don't know why you're reading this. Bear with me. The point is that resources - the things that help us feel better - come in many different forms - they can be people, places, things, experiences, or ideas. And, yes, even whiskers on kittens. They can be past, present, or desired future. When you access them, they may either be physically present, or simply called into mind. Think of times when you have felt safe, cared for, relaxed, strong, or just plain good. What was it that helped you feel that way? If you write down a few resources now, you’ll have an easier time calling them up when you need them. Take the time to come up with at least a few, and then return to this Key often.
Here are some ideas:
Drawing, painting, or creating something can allow you to express parts of your inner world that won’t come out with words. Even just the act of using your hands to connect with some material can be soothing.
Lavender oil: Aromatherapy with lavender oil has been scientifically shown to have a relaxing effect.
Flower remedies: Before the ubiquitous “there’s an app for that” catchphrase, there was the lesser known “there’s a flower remedy for that.” There is a flower remedy for everything. Research may be sketchy on these, but if nothing else, the placebo effect is real. Bach makes its Rescue Remedy available in gum, candies, and spray, as well as the typical drops. Another good one to try is Elm, for “feelings of overwhelm.”
Modeling Dough: Play-doh, Mohdoh, or your own homemade modeling dough can be grounding and relaxing to play with.
Is there a community you either are or were a part of, where you’ve felt safe and secure? High school band, knitting group, book group, sports team? Close your eyes and remember how it felt, and hold the feeling for a few minutes. Or, if it’s possible, spend some time with the community.
There is now ample research showing that exercise: boosts your mood, helps ward off depression, and has lots of other health benefits. Regular exercise has been shown to be just as effective at reducing depression as prescription antidepressants. As with food, balance is important here too, so see also Key 5.
Are there any experiences that make you feel good in a healthy way? Taking a hike, dancing, playing mini golf, singing in the shower, baking cookies, petting a dog, planning a vacation, feeling the strength in your muscles as you’re running? Personally, I like riding on a roller coaster - just so I can do some socially acceptable screaming. Does planning your week on your calendar give you a sense of control or security?
Focusing on the Good
In Key 1 you heard about our tendency to focus on the negative. It takes mental effort to shift our focus to our good experiences. Rick Hanson has some great practices to help with “Taking in the Good” – many of them free on YouTube or via his enews. Parts of you may resist this – as Hanson says, you may think “‘I don’t deserve to feel good’; or ‘If I feel good I’ll be vulnerable; or ‘It’s vain to feel good.’” Hanson’s work can help you with this. He recommends recognizing that in this moment you are basically safe, and gives tips on extending the good experience in terms of time, space, and intensity. He adds “But grieve, be with what’s there” – in other words, don’t make it another avoidance technique (balance is important as we’ll see in Key 5).
I’m not recommending emotional overeating here! But food can be a resource if it’s something that helps you feel well taken care of – either because you have good memories of a particular food, or because it’s something you felt deprived of as a child and can now provide for yourself. In moderation! If you have an eating disorder, please be especially cautious of using food as a resource (see more on this in Key 5).
There’s something about getting your hands in the dirt that can be very grounding.
Writing has been shown to reduce PTSD symptoms and depression. Journaling can be a great outlet. See Key 7 for more on this.
Meditation and Yoga
Meditation can be a great way to feel resourced, but be even more careful with this than with food. Seriously. Meditation and other mindfulness practices can be especially helpful for traumatized people, but also especially difficult for us. For many survivors, difficult emotions and sensations may arise, and for some of us, just focusing on the breath can be triggering. Start small, in an environment where you feel supported, and with a method that is trauma-aware, such as the iChill app, which uses the Trauma Resiliency Model. Meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn considers it malpractice to do meditation without yoga with traumatized people. Start with yoga in a group where you feel safe, and start to get comfortable with bodily sensations.
Many of the resources listed on this page can feel safe or nourishing because of the memories attached to them, but just in case I missed anything, feel into any times in your life where you felt safe and secure. Calling up this memory can be a way of resourcing. A particularly memorable lunch with a friend, your grandmother’s smile while she kneaded bread dough?
Is there a song that helps you feel at ease? This could be music for relaxation, or it could be any genre that for you helps you relax, or feel strong, feel understood, or feel loved.
Are you getting enough time outdoors in nature? Richard Louv says many of us aren’t, and that this is bad for us. He calls it Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). You could read about it, or just go outside.
Proper nutrition can help you feel resourced. As Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.” Having too little vitamin D and iron can leave you feeling low, but only supplement if your doctor recommends it. Food allergies can also sap your energy if you’re not aware of them (common allergens include wheat, soy, dairy, nuts, and corn). There’s not a lot of research on this, but some studies show that having PTSD or other extreme stress for years, can strain your adrenal glands. Some alternative doctors will prescribe supplements intended to support worn out adrenals. Lastly there’s some evidence that B-12 deficiency is associated with panic attacks and mood disorders.
In general, whether you were abused as a child or not, stabilizing your blood sugar will help balance your mood. A good way to do this is to reduce the amount of sugar (as well as most sugar substitutes) and refined carbohydrates that you eat, and increase your intake of protein and healthy fats.
Is there a person with whom you feel consistently safe? A therapist, a close friend or relative, a teacher, a clergy member, a co-worker, or even an ancestor you never knew but whose strength you can feel?
Where do you feel safe? Is there a place you feel completely and consistently safe, where you can take refuge? This could be a place you go to regularly, a place you’ve only been to once, or even a place you’ve only imagined going to. A particular room in your home, a friend’s sofa, a park bench, a hotel, an island, a yoga class, a seat in the back corner of a coffee shop, a beach you imagine visiting.
Ask yourself this question: what would taking care of myself look like right now? It could be doing nothing, reading a book, taking a nap, buying yourself flowers, planning a vacation, booking a therapy session, eating lunch earlier in the day than you normally would, or any number of things. Your answer won’t always be the same. Listen to yourself.
For some people, faith is an important part of recovery. If this is true for you, what helps you feel most resourced: God, a guardian angel, a prayer, singing or chanting, your community, a specific belief?
Is there something that when you are with it, it gives you a sense of security or strength? A blanket, a stuffed animal, a rock, a favorite T-shirt, a gift from a friend?
Was there a time in your life that you look back on yourself with admiration or pride? This former self can be an inner resource. Is there a ‘you’ that was not affected by abuse? Or a future vision of yourself as strong?