One of the best ways to nurture your emotions (believe it or not) is to take care of your body.
Think of the last time you were sick. Or the last time you missed a meal. Or the last time you ate way too much. Or the last time you were hung over. Or the last time you didn’t sleep the whole night. Were you a happy camper? Were you at the top of your game? Or is it fair to say you were more cranky, more depressed, or less “with it?”
This blog post is all about managing your garden of emotions. Well let’s start by planting the right seeds! There are five simple “seeds” for taking care of your body—and therefore, your emotions:
- S – Symptoms
- E – Eating
- E – Exercise
- D – Drugs
- S – Sleeping
Seed 1: Take care of your symptoms!
It is normal for trauma survivors to have more medical problems than other people. In fact, one famous study found that the more traumatic experiences you have as a child, the more medical problems you are likely to have as an adult (Curran, 2016). If you are sick or your body is injured, make sure you take care of these symptoms! It is really hard to have balanced emotions when your body is constantly screaming for attention. Each time your body has a symptom, it is actually crying out for help. So learn to pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you. One leading trauma expert (Van der Kolk, 2014) said that all healing from trauma starts with this step! Consult with a medical professional if you feel you need additional help with your physical symptoms.
Seed 2: Eat well!
It is normal for trauma survivors to experience problems with appetite and diet (Berk-Clark, CVD; Secrest, S; Walls, J; et al., 2018). Sometimes they eat too much, and sometimes they don’t eat enough. Make sure you are consuming a balanced diet of healthy foods. This doesn’t mean you have to become a health nut; it simply means you need to include healthy foods (such as fruits and vegetables) in your daily diet. And it also means learning to balance your portions: Not too much and not too little. How can your emotions be balanced if your diet isn’t even balanced? Remember what grandma used to say? You are what you eat! Consult with a dietician or nutritionist if you feel you need additional help with your diet.
Seed 3: Exercise daily!
It is normal for trauma survivors to avoid any physical activity or sensations that remind them of their traumatic experiences (Van der Kolk, 2014). Unfortunately, exercise tends to fall in that category, since exercise can cause the body to feel certain aches and pains which you would rather forget! This is tragic, since it is well known that just a little bit of exercise releases chemicals in our brains that improve our mood. But let’s be realistic: Exercise doesn’t mean you need to start training for marathons or become an Iron Man. It simply means that you need to engage in some kind of physical activity on a daily basis. My personal philosophy of exercise is this: Don’t make it so painful that you dread doing it again…and therefore make excuses not to! Instead, just do enough exercise to lift your mood. That will help you want to do it again. Remember the old saying? “Moderation in all things.” Consult with a personal trainer if you feel you need additional help setting up an exercise routine.
Seed 4: Be careful what drugs go into your body!
Many trauma survivors use alcohol, street drugs, or other substances to “help” manage their painful emotions (Van der Kolk, 2014). The only problem is this: Although these chemicals may provide a quick temporary relief, as soon as the effects wear off, your emotions will feel even more out of control than before! If your doctor prescribes you certain medications to help regulate your emotions, that is fine. But if you want to balance your emotions, it is really important to ONLY take the drugs—and dosages—which have been prescribed by your physician! Consult with a doctor or therapist if you feel you need medications to help balance your emotions.
Seed 5: Get enough sleep!
Trauma survivors also tend to have a tough time sleeping at night (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Sometimes they have nightmares. Sometimes their minds just won’t shut off. Sometimes they worry all night. And sometimes they even worry about not getting enough sleep! Unfortunately, it is really hard to have balanced emotions during the day when you haven’t slept well at night. Everyone has a different sleep schedule and rhythm, and some people need more sleep than others. But what everyone has in common is that we all need a good night’s rest! How can you score A’s in the game of life when you haven’t even gotten your Z’s? Consult with a doctor or therapist if you feel you need additional help with your sleep routine.