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  • Grace Dowd

Why Routine is Important in Healing Trauma

When you think about healing from trauma, you might think about attending therapy, taking medications, joining a group, or attending an outpatient program. While all of these are oftentimes necessary building blocks in our healing journey, not one of these will be complete without daily tangible tasks and routine to support our healing.

Have you noticed your therapist, psychiatrist, or other healer, asking about your sleep hygiene, nutrition habits, and overall schedule? Have you been curious about why there's so much emphasis on your schedule and routine?

It might seem miniscule, but our routine is foundational in our overall physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. It is also a good indicator for how well we might actually be doing in regards to our mental health. This is why mental health professionals ask about your overall schedule. We may report that we are "doing okay" when in fact we doom scroll on TikTok until 2am, only eat 1 meal per day when we remember, and live on caffeine to maintain us throughout the day. This could be an indication that we are still living in survival.

When we have experienced trauma...

Our bodies are attuned to our fight/flight response. If we have experienced frequent, ongoing, or complex trauma, this response may remain in overdrive. We may constantly be waiting for the "next bad thing" to happen. This makes sense for those who had chaotic and unsafe childhoods. Trauma is unexpected and lacks routine, and our brains only focus following trauma is how can we stay safe and not let this happen again.

This makes it incredibly difficult to have routines that honor our whole being and include things like rest, relaxation, self care and nurturence, fun, play, joy, and overall feelings of calm. We have learned that we must remain on high alert in order to be safe and to stay alive. Even if we have escaped the threat, our bodies continue to search for the next threat.

A routine can help...

Routine helps by communicating to our bodies and nervous system that we can be safe and give space to relax. We don't have to be on high alert all of the time because we know when we will be eating, when we will go to sleep and that we will have a certain number of hours to sleep, and what we might expect the next morning. Of course life is not completely predictable, but it's important for us to supply our nervous system some things that are in fact predictable.

This doesn't mean that it's time to cut off your Netflix account or schedule every single meal. Going to the extreme and trying to manage every ounce of your time might actually lead to failure. The best solution is to start small. What is one routine that you can add in today? Maybe it is setting a specific bed time for yourself, or maybe it's attempting to eat that one meal at the same time each day and then increasing it from there.

A task to start...

Beginning to identify what we do with our time throughout the day is a great place to start. You can begin to identify how much of your time is devoted to work or school, rest, hygiene, eating, exercise, fun/play, chores, appointments, socializing, inner reflection, mindless tv or scrolling, staring/zoning out, etc. You can break it down by each day of the week if it fluctuates.

Once doing this, you can follow the same pattern, but write out a routine that is something that you would like to work toward. How would your time be managed and how much time would you spend on each task? Begin to compare the two lists and identify the place that you want to start.

If you have been impacted by trauma and you are having a hard time managing your day-to-day routine - reach out to a highly skilled trauma therapist.



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