Preparation: Trauma triggers, safety plan, self-care wheel

Taking on an additional educational program like this one can bring with it the same stressors that school, therapy, or work bring: adjusting to a new routine, learning and applying new concepts, strengthening your time management skills, and making sure you still have some downtime in your week.  That’s why it is important as you begin this program to make sure you are prepared both mentally and physically to take on a new commitment. 

This process might be intense!  It may bring to light some triggers you had no idea were there, or you may become frustrated during the process of learning that the research that has been done in an area you are passionate about is severely lacking. Or, even worse, you could feel angry and disappointed that service organizations have been doing damage when interacting with survivors.  It’s hard to prepare for the unexpected, and even when dealing with things we are aware of, we can suddenly find ourselves emotionally overwhelmed in a way that we didn’t think would happen.  These responses are not only OK, they are normal.  Extend yourself the same grace you would another survivor; we are often tougher on ourselves than we are with others in the same or similar situation.  Give yourself the time and space to process and know that every step forward is adding up.

Self-Care and Safety Plan

This course will focus on two forms of self-care: preventative and responsive.  Preventative self-care is what we commonly think of when we hear the term self-care. It is the day-to-day maintenance that we build in to help us stay consistent in our thoughts and behaviors. I’ve found the best approach to developing a preventative self-care plan is to first, clearly outline in words your plan for this new commitment and schedule it into your weekly routine, and second, to select some self-care ideas that work for you. 

Responsive self-care is what you will put into a Safety Plan – for the times that you are overwhelmed with thoughts, emotions, memories, and stress, and need help de-escalating and re-stabilizing.  I hope your Safety Plan will never have to be used, but I would rather spend the time putting one together than for you to be unprepared.

As you work through the activities in this course, take out your schedule or calendar for the next few months and identify a date and time each week that you can set aside a solid hour or two to work through this program.  Block this time off in your schedule for the next 12 weeks as you would work, school, or a doctor’s appointment.  Adding it to your schedule will guarantee that you won’t run out of time at the last minute, you won’t forget to take time each week, and you can enforce boundaries with scheduling conflicts.  If you can (and don’t already), schedule in an hour for self-care each week, perhaps right before or right after doing your reading and homework for this program.

Safety Planning List

(A word from our co-founder, Megan Lundstrom)

As I can only speak from my personal experiences surrounding the effects of trauma, I tend to find that I have an incredibly difficult time recognizing the warning signs that I am at my limit until I’ve already been triggered and am in a state of crisis. It is at that point that I realize I need to utilize my coping tools to de-escalate and re-stabilize. I also know that over the years, I have gotten a lot better at not only recognizing the warning signs as they pop up but also listening to them!

Like a lot of survivors, I tend to compartmentalize and push myself past what is healthy because, let’s face it, we’ve often sacrificed for so long, the logic becomes “what is once more?”

It can be helpful for me to periodically review the warning signs of increasing stress and anxiety, and I am sharing some of them here with you as well:

  • Feeling physically, mentally, or emotionally drained
  • Muscle tension
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Being sweaty or flushed cheeks/chest
  • Realizing your breath is short and quick
  • Feeling pressure on your chest, and struggling to regulate breathing because of it
  • Upset stomach or digestive issues or lack of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Swallowing, sniffing, coughing, etc. repeatedly when not necessary
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • Negative, overwhelming emotions (sadness, depression, helplessness)
  • Excessive nervousness (sporadic “butterflies” for no reason)
  • Racing thoughts (or repeating the same thought over and over again)
  • Fears or worry about the future or unknown variables
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Forgetfulness
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Being short-tempered
  • Social withdrawal
  • Excessive behaviors (smoking, eating)
  • Sleeping too much or not enough

If you are aware of your specific signs of stress and anxiety that aren’t listed above, it might be helpful to identify and note them.

As we move through this course, you can refer back to this list to re-evaluate your current situation. If/when you are noticing that you are seeing increased levels of stress, you can then use the Safety Plan coming up next as a reminder of some things that work to help you re-stabilize.

** Please note: This information and Safety Plan are not intended to replace the support provided by a licensed mental health professional. The information in the Safety Plan is designed as a supportive resource, however if you have specific questions, please talk with a mental health professional that knows your unique situation and needs. **

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