Friday, January 23, 2015

Pregnancy for Trauma Survivors

Pregnancy is a unique experience for every woman and one that is commonly emotionally charged. For trauma survivors, pregnancy can be especially trying as it can bring up painful old stuff- but it can also be a time of increased self-discovery, growth, and healing...

In your pregnancy, do you experience:
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling out of control 
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Judgement of yourself and others
  • Tendency to isolate
  • Resurgence of past patterns
  • Resentment of changes
  • Increased tearfulness
  • Feeling helpless
  • Increased physical pain
If you experienced any or all of the above symptoms, you're 100% normal. Pregnancy is not a completely beautiful, positive, magical, mystical, or otherwise spiritual experience. It is, at times, demanding, scary, uncertain, and otherwise uncomfortable. For women who have been impacted by trauma, these naturally difficult symptoms can be exacerbated by triggering old ways of coping, such as ruminating about painful experiences, over-reacting, and shutting down. Trauma takes away our ability to self-sooth in times of stress- but we can rebuild it. 

With practice, you can identify when you're suffering and offer yourself what you need to feel better. We therapists often call this safe coping. Safe coping paves the road to recovery.

Next time you feel those dark thoughts or feelings coming on, try changing the channel and being kind to yourself. Here's a list of ideas to get you started:
  • Remind yourself that you are in charge of this pregnancy. You can do this. Your body and mind know what to do. 
  • Distract from upsetting thoughts with enjoyable television, music, or reading.
  • Go for a walk or plan a time to go for a walk with a friend.
  • Physical and emotional pain cause tension. Take a warm shower or bath to sooth tight muscles.
  • Feeling agitated? Experiment with a heating pad, eye pillow, cozy blanket. Find what you need to be more comfortable.
  • Purchase or prepare yourself a delightful meal. Now is your time to treat yourself.
  • What would it look like to put yourself first, right now? Removing something from your life? Adding something? Take care of yourself.
  • If it appeals to you, explore prenatal massage and yoga options near you.
  •  If you desire it, find a friend or professional to do a maternity photo shoot.
  • Explore the pregnancy books at your local library, Goodwill, bookstore, or online. Knowledge is empowering. You'll feel better to know the facts.
  • Reach out to someone who is able to offer support. Many pregnant women find connecting with other mothers to be invaluable. There may be groups in your community to fill this important need.
When we restore feelings of connectedness to ourself and others, we heal trauma. Pregnancy offers us an opportunity to connect with our bodies and each other and uncover new strengths and abilities. With a little effort, you may find that you're stronger than you think. And, if all else fails, remember that you're growing a human! You're entitled to complain every once in awhile! 

Much love to all of the mothers out there. Society doesn't do enough to support us- but that's another blog post! As for today, just remember that you're good enough. You can do this. And, that's all that matters.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Centering Prayer for Relaxation

Centering prayer is a contemplative prayer, in which a strong emphasis is placed on calming the mind and body by focusing the attention on a single word or phrase. Many of us find it hard to focus on just one word, so I am including how we can expand the focus of our attention while still practicing relaxing. Many of us have also experienced trauma at the hands of organized religion. Centering prayer, for our purposes, transcends the limits of any one organized religion or way of thinking. 

The centering prayer I will offer today is inspired by my work with myself and countless other women who are seeking to reduce stress and increase gratitude, relaxation, contentment, and calm in life... It is also inspired by this magnet, many of which were gifted to a shelter for survivors of intimate partner violence where I worked as  a women's advocate.

Let's try it! First, decide why you are sitting, what you are wanting to focus on, to draw more of into your life. Then, find a quiet place to take a seat. Let's say you want to feel more gratitude... 

Let your back be straight and your feet on the ground. Take three deep relaxing breathes. Invite the feeling of gratitude in to be the focus of your sitting by either focusing on the word gratitude or fleshing it out by listing all of the things that you are grateful for- people who love you, a roof over your head, food in the cabinet- whatever these things are for you. Take your time. Let yourself feel into- or, better yet, savor- the experience. When you notice competing thoughts, feelings, or sensations, gently return your awareness to your intention- here, to spend a few moments focusing on what you are grateful for in life. Let it be your anchor... 

Each moment you practice you are cultivating your mind and body's capacity to unwind and relax as well as your ability to experience the focus of your meditation- in this case, gratitude. Research suggests that centering prayer helps us experience greater emotional well-being. What we practice becomes permanent- no matter how foreign it may feel, initially (and it will feel foreign if you are not accustomed to sitting quietly or practicing relaxing- that's only natural). In addition o providing an antidote to stress, centering prayer may help counter the effects of the harmful and contradictory messages we receive as women.

Remember, thoughts are things. Plant the seed of what you would like to grow in your life with centering prayer! Just a few minutes here and there can be enough.