29th November 2022 was no ordinary Tuesday for the Action Trauma Network, as this was the day we held our first ever in-person networking event. We live in turbulent times of great uncertainty and stress, so it was clear that our theme for this event needed to be ‘self care’.
Our membership is comprised of people who either work directly with trauma, care for or support traumatised people, or value a trauma-informed approach to their work in supporting or serving people and communities. We designed this event to allow an important chance for social connection, focused around practical activities and exercises.
This blog has been designed to give you a taster of the activities so you can start building your own self-care toolkit.
This is a great exercise to try with staff, colleagues or associates. We used it as the ice-breaker for the networking event, but it can work well even if there are only two of you.
If you’re trying this on your own, you can take the following questions/conversation starters as journalling prompts. If you prefer, you could ponder them out loud, or simply think them through in your mind while on a walk or resting.
Begin with this question: “What can self-care be?”
This language is really helpful in helping us consider self care from all angles. “What is self care?” suggests a binary of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers, whereas asking what it ‘can’ be encourages our imagination to get involved.
It also allows us to consider context – maybe self care can be scrolling on social media – if it means 10 minutes of mindlessness to give ourselves a break from a heavy piece of work. But if it’s an hour of doom-scrolling bad news or procrastinating on a deadline, it can be the opposite.
At our in-person event, we gave attendees two minutes to discuss the question with others at their table and write their answers down; then each table shared with the room what they had written. During our virtual version of the event, we asked each attendee to share their thoughts. Both approaches were effective and produced interesting and thoughtful answers.
If you’re trying this exercise within a small group, you can try asking everyone to write down their answers and then discuss everyone’s ideas as a group, or see what comes up when people share their thoughts. For larger groups, break-out groups (either in-person or virtual) will probably be most effective, with one person from each group sharing the group’s ideas afterwards.
Here is the word cloud we created from attendee contributions during our digital Permission to Pause:
It’s a deceptively simple question, but having opened your minds to the variety of ways we have available to care for ourselves, it’s easier to think holistically about the ‘why’ of taking care of ourselves.
Asking the questions in this order is helpful because we begin with the ‘blue-sky’ thinking / brainstorming. Then we get to connect all of those ideas to our own needs when we consider the importance of self care. We approach the “why” with minds that are pre-populated with the “how” – which can help to counteract resistance we may have around taking time for ourselves.
“Art therapy is not about being good at art or creating works of art. It’s simply a way of helping you express how you feel when words don’t come easily.
“It’s relaxing and enjoyable and can give you a greater sense of well-being at a difficult time in your life.”
Joanne Boal facilitated an arts journalling exercise at our in-person event which attendees greatly enjoyed. To try this at home or in the workplace, each person will need:
During our virtual event, Action Trauma Network team member Amanda led a mindful art session, which only requires a piece of paper and a pen or pencil – or whatever writing/mark-making tool you have to hand.
As we move up, notice your core. Are you sitting upright? Where do you feel pressure in your back? How does the fabric of your shirt of jumper feel on your skin?
Think about the position of your shoulders and arms. Try to relax the muscles in your shoulders. Take a moment to notice how your elbows are placed. Feel free to reposition your arms. Now move your attention to your hands.
Can you feel a difference between the hand that is holding your pencil and the other hand? Are you holding your pencil loosely? Or do you have a firm grip? Relax your hand and feel where your pencil touches your hand and fingers.
How does it feel to let your pencil slide over the surface? Is it textured or smooth? Listen to the sound that the pen or pencil makes. Feel the sensation of the movement going up your hand and arm.
If you have any thoughts popping up into your mind, that’s okay. Observe your thoughts; don’t judge them. There is no right or wrong. Bring your focus back to your pen or pencil and be aware of the movement across the paper. Be aware of the speed that your hand is moving across the page. Gradually slow down your hand.
How does it sound? Can you hear the pencil moving over the surface? Let go of thoughts about the end result. Just focus on the pencil and how drawing these patterns feel. Give your mind and body a moment to relax and just enjoy the pencil moving on the paper.
If you have any thoughts popping up into your mind, don’t judge them – just let them be and return your focus to your hand and the patterns that you are making and listen to the sound of your pen or pencil moving across the paper. Feel the muscles in your hand as it moves.
Michelle McMaster, Trauma Consultant and Founder of Kintsugi Healing, rounded off both our in-person and our virtual version of ‘Permission to Pause’ by bringing us back into our bodies with some gentle movement and breathing exercises. She reminded attendees that they could move as much or as little as they liked; remain seated or get up and move around and take up space.
Michelle’s reminder to listen to our bodies resonated beautifully with Joanne’s advice to follow our instincts when creating our art journals, and Amanda’s sensory-focused drawing exercise.
Whilst sitting or standing, begin to gently explore movement in your body. Michelle began with gentle side-to-side swaying motions, which can be done seated or standing. She encouraged us to gradually make the movements larger, bringing arm movement into the practice and building up to letting the arms guide the body in circular swinging motions. Allow the arms to swing into the abdomen; enjoy the sensation of heat and energy growing within the body.
If and when comfortable, get up and begin exploring the potential for larger movements. Michelle next guided us through a movement designed to engage and ‘massage’ the vagus nerve.
Massage the vagus nerve
Hold arms out in front of you with your palms facing towards yourself at chest height, with elbows pushing out – almost as if you are hugging someone. Take a deep breath in and on your exhale, slowly bring your shoulder blades together to open your arms out wide and hold this for a few seconds before returning your arms to the starting position in front of you.
The vagus nerve runs the entire length of the body, so this is a great exercise to engage the length and the core of the body. Repeat this exercise at least 3 or 4 times – and as many times as you feel you need to.
Breath focus technique
Michelle introduced a variety of breathwork exercises, but an excellent one to finish on is a simple breath focus technique. Try this technique for five to ten minutes.
We hope this blog has been helpful in inspiring or guiding you to build your own self care practice, or to share these tools with staff, colleagues or volunteers.
For more great CPD-accredited learning opportunities, check out our Events Page.
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