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Survivors living with or healing from domestic abuse should think about self-care as a vital step in their healing process. Having lived through the trauma of an abusive partner, you probably rarely got to feel cared for or made a priority. You most likely put your own needs on the back burner to take care of the things your abuser demanded of you. You may have been made to feel like doing things you enjoyed was selfish.
It’s time to change that mindset. As psychotherapist Michael J. Formica told Psychology Today, “The simple fact is that when we do speak our needs … we become more substantial. We define ourselves more clearly and assert our presence. In asserting our presence, we become more present.”
He goes on to say that addressing what you need doesn’t make you selfish—quite the opposite, in fact. “With our fear and frustration set aside, we can be more consistently present for both ourselves and for those around us.”
So we asked you—survivors, advocates and support persons—what do you do to practice self-care? You gave us some fantastic ideas, which we’ve incorporated below into our list of ways to show yourself some love. We chose 52 of them. Which means that, perhaps, you want to try one out every week for an entire year.
Why not see if you can make it through the entire list? We'll join you. Post a picture of your self-care and tag us on social media, #DSyearofselfcare, so we can be inspired. And watch for our year of self-care pics, too.
- Dedicate a space just for you. Writes reader Paula, “After watching the movie War Room, I made one of my own. I start and end each day in there. I journal and write my prayers there. Most of all, I put quotes I love and reminders there. At the end of the day, I write down one thing I am thankful for from that day on a piece of paper and place it in a jar. When I am feeling weak or down, I look back on how many things I have to be thankful for. I have a lot of reminders in that room that remind me my abuse was just something that happened to me. It is neither who I am nor does it define me. I LOVE my war room. It keeps me grounded and moving forward in life.”
- Aromatherapy. Breathing in certain scents can relax and unwind you. Aromatherapist Suzanne R. Banks recommends rose oil for stress and something called Ylang Ylang to help with anger and frustration.
- Breathe. Deep, deep breaths. Like meditation, but simpler. Set a timer for five or 10 minutes, no matter where you are (a quiet room or a noisy subway) and just breathe deeply, in through your nose and out slowly through your mouth, like you’re blowing out a candle.
- Take yourself out for a coffee. Or, whatever it is you like to drink. Just get out of the house when you start to feel in a funk.
- Escape into a book. You might be drowning in self-help books when you’re on the road to healing from domestic violence, but once in a while, lose yourself in fiction, too. Not only are stories fun to read, one study showed people who read novels were actually more empathetic.
- Cookies. Mark my words—there is a healing power in home-baked goods. Find a cookie recipe you’ve always wanted to try and go for it. Reader Wendy says “I love to bake and decorate cookies so this relieves stress for me.”
- Pay it forward. Volunteering to help other survivors made survivor and reader Peg “count all my little blessings.” She writes, “I left when I was 45, struggling to survive. I'm 78 now. It was worth it. Because of how my life was for 20 odd years, I always had empathy for others. And I no longer feel like a victim.”
- Take a vacation. Pack a suitcase and get out of town, even for a night. Think you can’t afford it? Read “6 Ways to Get Away for Cheap.”
- Meditate. Here are five different ways to get calm and centered.
- Find your laugh again. If it’s been a while since something made you laugh so hard you cried, it’s time for the healing power of giggles. Treat yourself to the latest comedy on the big screen or grab tickets to a nearby comedy club (screen your comic ahead of time by doing a quick YouTube search—comedians prone to sexist humor could be triggering).
- Thought Field Therapy. It’s something you can do yourself, at home. Find a tutorial here.
- Treat yourself to a mani/pedi. Even if you’re not big on fancy toes or nails, the hand/foot massage that comes with this service is worth it. And, maybe it’s time to step out of your comfort zone. Speaking of comfort zones, yes, men get manis and pedis, too.
- Listen to music. For reader Wendy, it’s a three-step process to relaxation: “I will sometimes buy a bottle of wine, sit on my porch and listen to music.” Turn off the phone, quiet any distractions, forget the chores and just listen to your favorite songs.
- Turn to a higher power. Reader Candy says prayer is her go-to self-care strategy, but if you’re not religious, try simply writing down both your worries and your joys every day. There is something stress-relieving about getting your thoughts out of your head and down on paper.
- Look at cute things. Yes, this counts as “me-time.” Get lost on the internet looking at pictures of cute animals or watching a YouTube video of a turtle eating a tiny stack of pancakes. It’ll make you smile and possibly boost your productivity at work.
- Take a dance class. Time to step out of that comfort zone again. Who knows, you might find that dancing really does heal your soul. For reader Heather, who gave us the idea, it’s ballroom dancing that makes her feel good.
- Coloring. Yes, coloring books for adults are a thing. And who knows, it might become yours.
- Feel grass beneath your feet. Reader Mona writes, “I walk on green grass early [in the] morning for 10 minutes.”
- Sing loudly in the car. Reader Donna says that’s one of her surefire strategies for stress relief.
- Retail therapy. Allow yourself to spring for a gift (within your budget, of course) for yourself. Shopping can be an instant mood-lifter for many people, and at least one psychologist says it can even make us more creative and confident.
- Write a story. “I find writing therapeutic. I can work real-life situations into a piece of fiction, but make it end like it should have in my life,” says survivor Deborah.
- Dress up for no reason whatsoever. Pull the fanciest outfit out of your closet and put it on, even if you’re just planning on sitting on your couch reading all day. Wearing clothes you love can make you feel instantly good.
- Ask for help. This can be an intimidating step for some in the self-care overhaul, but it’s oh-so-necessary. If you’re feeling overwhelmed in any part of life—leaving an abusive partner, your journey to healing afterward, becoming a single parent—reach out to someone you trust and open up. Start by saying, “This is hard for me, but I don’t think I can do this on my own.”
- Dig in the dirt. Whether starting a garden in your backyard or just potting a few colorful blooms on a windowsill, consider the healing power of plants.
- Release the guilt. Survivor Ann says she takes care of herself by letting go of things she feels guilty for. None of us are perfect, so take it easy on yourself. “Change what you can and let the rest go,” says Ann.
- Peruse a farmer’s market. Nix that busy grocery store next weekend and venture to a local farmer’s market instead. Pick up a locally roasted coffee, some freshly picked vegetables for dinner and a homemade candle that smells like lavender. Find a farmer’s market near you here.
- Have a picnic. A great follow-up to No. 26, consider taking your farmer’s market finds and heading to a local park for lunch al fresco.
- Acupuncture. Josie says this ancient Chinese medicine technique “resets” her body.
- Create an emotional safety plan. It takes only four steps.
- A bubble bath. “A really long bubble bath, with candles, a cold Pepsi and maybe a good book,” says reader Patricia.
- Find a furry friend. “My dogs help so much,” says reader Andrea. Take time to cuddle with your four-legged family members and, if you don’t currently have one, consider whether or not it might be a good time to add one (read “Could Adopting a Pet Help You Heal?”). If you can’t adopt, perhaps you can volunteer to walk dogs at a local shelter or bring a few toys to a nearby cat rescue.
- Make your favorite meal. Survivor Donna says “Eating really good pasta!” is her self-care strategy. You can find five foods here that may actually help boost your mood.
- Get hooked on a podcast. Reader Christina says it’s her favorite way to take some “me time.” There are podcasts on virtually every subject out there—from cooking to history to self-help to reality TV recaps.
- Learn something new. You can learn anything on the internet these days. Teach yourself how to knit, bake bread, juggle or do a handstand.
- Have a girls’ night out. (Or a guy’s night out!) Surround yourself with supportive friends who bring joy to your life.
- Start your morning with affirmations. Reader Felicia says, “As I am placing my feet on the floor first thing in the morning, I say out loud, ‘I am blessed and I am here.’ I have regiments and routines throughout the day but this one lets the universe know I made it and it's a reminder to me that I am alive and to keep moving forward.”
- Take a walk in nature. Listen to the birds, feel the wind, let leaves crunch beneath your feet … maybe even hug a tree—who are we to judge?
- Impromptu dance party. Not only is a dance party in your living room a great aerobic session, it can also improve your mood.
- Vent. Call up a friend or family member with a good listening ear and vent about whatever it is that’s bugging you. Then, return the favor and let them unload some stressors right back. This strategy also works well in person with a glass of wine, suggests reader Carrie.
- Go to bed early. There are few things more healing than more sleep. You can find six ways to get better sleep here.
- Harness the power of no. Want to take care of yourself? Start by putting yourself first. Sometimes, that means saying [a polite] no to an invite, offer or request for help. It’s freeing—try it.
- Pick (or purchase) a bouquet of fresh flowers. They’re beautiful, they smell good and they’ll make your space prettier. An instant pick-me-up.
- Make your own bucket list. Have you always wanted to see the pyramids? Try dog-sledding? Learn Mandarin? Start your own business? Sample every single flavor Ben & Jerry’s has to offer? Write it down. It may seem far-fetched, but having a list of your goals in front of you can be empowering.
- Try a new workout. If that treadmill isn’t doing it for you anymore, maybe a renewing yoga or tai chi session will refresh your soul.
- Go to the water. Be it a pool, lake, pond or ocean, head toward a body of water. Reader Paula says being in or near water is her way to relax and unwind.
- Be a kid again. Be it racing go-carts, building a Lego castle, going mini-golfing or testing your skills at video games, it’s time to put being an adult on hold for a little bit.
- Organize your closets. Some people say that if you de-clutter your house, you’ll de-clutter your mind. Grab some garbage bags and see if that holds true.
- Two words: Binge. Watch. There’s no better way to waste an entire Sunday than settling into your couch and taking in all the episodes of a new show. Declare at least one day a Netflix binge-watching day.
- Be alone. Surrounded by people? Take a half hour to be by yourself, whether it’s shutting yourself in a room with a good book or sipping a cup of coffee on a park bench solo. Take in the quiet and enjoy.
- Pick up heavy things. For survivor Robyn, her “me time” is spent lifting weights. Strength training is not about bulking up—it can be a great way to relieve stress and feel strong, both in body and mind. Find a tutorial on how to get started here.
- Get a massage. Massage therapy has been shown to increase serotonin and dopamine levels in your brain, two “feel good” chemicals that help the body more easily deal with anxiety and depression.
- Let your heart guide you. Does your heart feel like doing laundry or does your heart feel like sitting outside in the sun with a glass of iced tea? Says survivor Maureen, “For me, each day has its challenges and accomplishments. Depending on how I am feeling, I truly let my heart and energy level guide me. I feel it is so very important, after being in constant fight or flight mode with my abuser, that I allow myself any and all options, sometimes on an hourly basis, to choose for myself how to spend my time. If I need to grieve, I grieve.”
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