What is self-care?
The term “self-care” refers to actions and attitudes we use to consciously contribute to the maintenance of our overall well-being and personal health. Self-care can include physical activities and emotional practices that help change our perceptions of situations in our lives as well as how we think and feel about ourselves and others. While the concept of self-care is an important part of healing and recovery in the field of victim services, it can also be significant for people who are not currently experiencing trauma but are looking to feel more internally healthy and balanced.
Why is self-care important?
Many crimes involve the use of force or violence against victims. Crime victims of all types of crime may experience trauma—physical damage to their bodies or emotional wounds or shock caused by the violence against them. Reactions to trauma vary from person to person and can last for hours, days, weeks, months, or years.
Physical trauma: Crime victims may experience physical trauma—serious injury or shock to the body, as from a major accident. Examples of physical trauma include:
- Cuts, bruises, fractured arms or legs, or internal injuries
- Intense stress reactions where breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate may increase, and muscles may tighten
- Feeling exhausted but unable to sleep
- Increased or decreased appetites, or digestive problems
Emotional trauma: Victims may experience emotional trauma—emotional wounds or shocks that may have long-lasting effects. Emotional trauma may take many different forms:
- Shock or numbness: Victims may feel “frozen” and cut off from their own emotions. Some victims say they feel as if they are “watching a movie” rather than having their own experiences. Victims may not be able to make decisions or conduct their lives as they did before the crime.
- Denial, Disbelief, and Anger: Victims may experience “denial,” an unconscious defense against painful or unbearable memories and feelings about the crime. Or, they may experience disbelief, telling themselves, “This just could not have happened to me!” They may feel intense anger and a desire to get even with the offender.
- Stress: Some crime victims may experience trouble sleeping, flashbacks, extreme tension or anxiety, outbursts of anger, memory problems, trouble concentrating, and other symptoms of distress for days or weeks following a trauma.
What are some examples of self-care?
- Positive Affirmations – Each day (or in stressful situations) think through some kind thoughts about yourself and your life. Remind yourself that you have taken steps to care for yourself that might seem easy but are very important, like taking a shower, getting out of bed, or going for a walk. Remind yourself that you are worth praising through nice notes about your appearance, goals, and confidence on your mirror or written down throughout your day.
- Relaxation Exercises – Anything from breathing techniques to practicing meditation and creating a bedtime routine can help to create a relaxing environment to heal and reflect.
- Channeling pain into creativity – Taking up activities like poetry writing, short stories, journaling, drawing, or dance serve as outlets to release and process emotions that might otherwise be overwhelming.
- Physical Self-Care – Getting up and moving your body in a way that feels good to you can change your whole mood. If you’re not a person who loves the gym, you can go for a walk with a friend, do some stretches, or dance at home to some feel-good music. Anything that allows you to connect to what your body physically needs in that moment.
- Know and communicate your boundaries – Let others around you know upfront what is and is not okay for you. This is especially important in the context of sexual partners but can be applied to any friends, loved ones, and acquaintances.
- Ask for help – No one should be expected to go through life alone and everyone needs help from time to time. Asking loved ones for help when life feels overwhelming is important.
- Remind yourself it is okay to walk away from situations that are too stressful or triggering.
Everyone reacts differently to trauma and crime. Self-care is taking the time to care for yourself in the ways that work best for you. There’s no one way to practice it and we can’t tell you what will work in your situation. For ideas and information visit Boys Town’s 99 Coping Skills, 101 Self Care Suggestions for When It All Feels Like Too Much on The Mighty, RAINN’s Self-Care Tips for Survivors, and National Domestic Violence Hotlines 5 Powerful Self-Care Tips for Abuse and Trauma Survivors.
Visit our VictimConnect Resource Map for additional resources or contact the VictimConnect Resource Center by phone or text at 1-855-4-VICTIM or by chat for more information or assistance in locating services that can help you or a loved one with self-care ideas.