Ruth Jewell escaped domestic violence more than three decades ago, but she still feels the effects today. In social situations, she doesn’t like to make small talk with her back to a corner. She feels closed in, anxious. It brings back memories of the way her abuser would try to confine her.
“If people, especially males, get too close, I take a deep breath and try to remind myself that this is not 35 years ago.” Today, as a domestic violence advocate, Jewell knows her reaction to certain triggers like this is normal. “Survivors develop protective responses that don’t shut down. It’s more about managing them than stopping them.”
But what if a survivor doesn’t have the means or ability to see a therapist to work through their trauma and the triggers that follow? Luckily, there are some at-home methods that can be utilized to aid in the healing process.
Symptoms of Trauma
“Some of the most common responses to trauma include hypervigilance or constantly feeling on edge, flashbacks, sleep issues—nightmares in particular—memory difficulties, depression and anxiety,” says Paige Carambio, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist whose specialties include treating trauma and anxiety. She adds that trauma survivors may also feel numb or angry, can struggle with poor self-esteem and may have an overly negative sense of self.
“Relationships can also suffer, as a survivor may have a hard time feeling safe, trusting other people and allowing themselves to be vulnerable,” she adds. However, not having these symptoms doesn’t mean you were any less traumatized than someone who does suffer from after-effects.
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“As a general caveat, it's important to note that everyone responds differently to traumatic experiences,” says Carambio. “Though there are a collection of symptoms associated with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] …. a survivor may have one, some, all or none of the symptoms and, whatever the case, it doesn't mean their experience was any less valid or traumatic.”
DIY Healing Techniques
It may seem counterproductive for a therapist to advocate survivors begin or continue their healing process at home, alone, but Carambio says self-care is important. Of course, even better is combining that self-care with help from an expert.
“As a therapist who also goes to therapy, I'm a bit biased. One of the best ways for survivors to learn how to identify their needs and to identify strategies to meet them is with the help and guidance of a professional.”
If you can’t afford therapy, there may be some free or low-cost options near you. And if you have the means to afford a therapist, but don’t feel comfortable or are unable to go to them, they can come to you, via your phone or computer through online therapy.
In the meantime, consider these five at-home healing techniques that may help you feel more centered, less anxious and more able to deal with the trauma you’re recovering from.
1. Practicing meditation or mindfulness. This can simply mean sitting still (you don’t have to cross your legs, either. Sitting on a comfy chair or even laying down in bed is fine!), clearing your mind and breathing deeply for 10 minutes every morning. What you’re doing is practicing quieting your often racing and anxious thoughts. It may help to repeat a mantra, which can shift you into a positive mindset for the day ahead.
2. Exercise—even a little bit. You knew this was going to be on the list. After surviving trauma, some survivors may feel depressed, which brings with it fatigue and zero desire to get out of bed, much less go to the gym. But even moving for 20 minutes a day can produce visible benefits, such as boosting your mood and energy level. In “Exercise Can Help Zap Stress,” we list five easy options that could help you find your motivation to start moving.
3. Massage has been proven to help with the effects of PTSD by reducing the cortisol levels in the body, which can reduce that feeling of hypervigilance that makes you feel like danger is around every corner. But getting professional massages aren’t a realistic option for everyone. Luckily, you can reap the benefits of massage by doing it yourself at home, just by massaging your hands, feet, or above your eyes to relieve tension. Or, try one of these six self-massage techniques from WebMD.
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4. Harness the healing power of your favorite movie. If working out isn’t your jam, Carambio says self-care can also look like putting your feet up in front of the TV. “We talk a lot about self-care in my profession and there's no hard and fast rule about what that means. It can be something like taking a couple of hours to watch a favorite movie or TV show and focusing on relaxing.” If your favorite film or show is a comedy, even better. The Mayo Clinic says laughing can help relax your muscles and stimulate circulation, which can help reduce the physical symptoms of stress in your body.
5. Helping others. True, this may require leaving your home. But, it is free. Carambio recommends doing something to help others as a way to begin your own healing. “Volunteering at a soup kitchen, walking dogs at a local shelter or practicing small, random acts of kindness are all great examples of things to do to give back,” she says. And if you're not ready to venture out yet, learn more about microvolunteering, a way to give back from home in small but impactful ways.
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